Thursday, May 28, 2009

Volunteers at Medical Clinic Help Record Numbers of People

Tuesday we left the boundaries of the USNS Comfort and traveled through the crowded streets of Colon to the Roberto Mariano Bula Stadium. People were already standing in line when we arrived before 7:00 a.m., hoping to see a doctor or nurse. As we arrived a woman approached me, pulling her son behind. All business, she pushed her son forward and showed me two burn marks on her son’s thigh. Despite his injury, the little boy was grinning from ear to ear. My rudimentary Spanish was not working well, so I pointed the mother in the right direction. As they walked off, the little boy continued to look back at me smiling and waving the entire time. I think that means thanks for being here, no matter what language we use to communicate.

This was the second day of medical clinics in Panama. Project HOPE volunteers, integrated with other NGO care providers and military counterparts working at two separate sites, saw more than 2000 patients today, many of them children. This is the largest single day number since the mission began.

But numbers never tell the whole story.

Project HOPE’s Medical Director Dr. Iserson was examining pediatric patients at the stadium-turned clinic. One of his first patients was 6-year-old Jassid. Conversing with Jassid’s mother in Spanish, Dr. Iserson found out the little girl has been seriously anemic. The mother had not been able to take her to a doctor for the past six months and she was very concerned about her daughter’s health. In the dim light of the clinic, Dr. Iserson examined Jassid, coaxing a smile from the little girl with the use of his small flashlight and finger-bending antics. Jassid was sent for a blood test to measure her iron level. Happily, Dr. Iserson was able to give the mother very good news. Jassid’s iron levels were within normal range. The mother’s eyes moistened with obvious relief as she thanked Dr. Iserson.

Later, Dr. Iserson was called upon to use his emergency room medical skills as someone collapsed in the crowd, another patient suffered an asthma attack and a volunteer interpreter fell and hurt her knee. Taking it all in stride, Dr. Iserson said, “I am here to help wherever I am needed.”

In the back of the clinic, HOPE volunteer Kathleen Britton, a certified nurse midwife, stayed busy from 7:00 in the morning to 5:00 at night continuously seeing dozens and dozens of women in the make-shift women’s clinic set up in the bathroom of a building on the stadium grounds. “This is a wonderful set-up,” she said of her sparse cramped setting. “It’s private, and there is even a bathroom for testing.” Working though an interpreter, Kate was patient and gentle with the women. Often times, she is the first medial professional the women have visited for years.

This is the second mission Kate has been on for Project HOPE. Last year she volunteered in Southeast Asia working in the remote areas of Papua New Guinea and Micronesia. “It is tough sometimes when you see all the need,” Kate said. “But last year, I can think of about a dozen lives that were probably saved because of the work we did there. That is why I came back.”

Volunteers Marley Gevanthor and Stacey Giglio had the hottest job of the day, working out it in the heat screening patients who had been taken out of the regular line due to fevers or accompanying a person with a fever. The Ministry of Health in Panama is being very proactive when it comes to Influenza H1N1 and throughout the mission in Panama, all patients being seen by volunteers are required to first be prescreened by having their temperature taken. Those with a temperature above 99.9 degrees are sent to a second stage of screening before being triaged to the appropriate doctor or health professional.

“Despite the extra step the patients were very understanding,” Marley said. Volunteering on her fourth mission for Project HOPE, Marley didn’t even mind having probably the least desirable job of the day. Through a green surgical mask, she said, “This is where they needed me to be today, so I stepped up.” That seems to be a familiar theme for volunteers and their military counterparts.

Thanks for reading-Melanie

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