Monday, September 22, 2008

Project HOPE Volunteers Dispense Education Not Just Medication

In this excerpt from Lynne's notes she writes about the different ailments, sometimes uncommon in the US, Project HOPE volunteers see on these missions. She also writes how volunteers also try to dispense education to their patients while treating them.

Thanks for reading!

Snap Shots from the Field... "Every contact with a patient is an opportunity to educate."

The mother is clearly proud of her son. He’s a handsome boy with bright eyes and hair neatly brushed back from his forehead. Her hand drifts over his shoulder and her fingers gently alight on his back as Project HOPE volunteer MD Dale Rai quietly asks him questions. The boy, maybe about 12 years old, appears to be in good health.

The mission offers doctors like Rai the chance to tackle cases not normally seen in a standard practice, like malaria and dengue fever. But for the moment, another patient arrives and the man in front of him is complaining of a sore back. To the bemusement of his patient, Rai drops down to his hands and knees and slightly arches his back to demonstrate an exercise that will relieve back pain.

For many people, this is their only chance to see a doctor. The Project HOPE volunteer doctors and nurses who have descended on the school are some of the best in their field. But even so, health care this day comes in a bare bones classroom with rough cement floors, no private rooms and only the instruments carried on shore by doctors and nurses. People plagued by problems for months, even years, are hoping doctors can do something, anything to help them.

Inside another classroom, Christopher Truss listens as a translator tells him the woman in front of him is complaining of worms that have crawled up her GI tract. He’s seen it many times before. “They block your intestines and you pass worms in your stool,” the gastroenterologist says matter-of-factly. Worms are endemic within the local population and de-worming for parasites is one of the most common problems encountered by medical providers.

“Many people are the walking-well,” says Truss, “people with chronic problems but no access to care. He admits that not every problem can be dealt with, “but even some suggestions can make a huge difference,” he says. Every contact with a patient is an opportunity to educate; telling patients to frequently wash their hands or to clean food with boiled water is just as significant as dispensing medications.

All day a Navy combat photographer weaves in and out of the various clinics set-up in classrooms. One moment he’s assisting an injured man through a door, the next, snapping compelling photos of the people who have come here this day. “This is the best work I’ve ever done while in the military,” he says proudly.

And so it goes throughout the day. Teams of translators, medical providers and support staff work their way through a maze of problems hour after hour. They sit without complaint, listening, questioning, and utilizing the best of their expertise.

“Easy, easy, does it hurt?” Rai asks while scraping a benign tumor from one man’s scalp.

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