Nursing and Volunteerism: On Becoming an Engaged CItizen of the World

Clinging on to our luggages packed with supplies and medications, our group hurdled through the busy Toncontin International Airport only to be greeted by the hot, humid air of Tegucigalpa, Honduras. It was only 10 in the morning but the hot blazing sun felt harsh on the skin. The honking of horns sounded eternal and the smog billowing from the zigzagging cars seemed to seep directly into my pores. After a total of about 10 hours between driving, flights, and layovers, my body was already feeling the fatigue.

Nina, our Global Brigade Coordinator welcomed us to Honduras. Her excitement caffeinated all 46 members of the student-led UCSD Global Medical and Dental Joint Brigades. Although spent from the long trip to Tegucigalpa, we boarded the bus to our camp. The bustling view of the city slowly transformed to a more rural and scenic sight as we ride for two more hours to a small mountain village of Nuevo Paraiso. The asphalt road turned into a dusty one as our bus screeched and groaned climbing the dirt road leading to our site. Most decided to keep their windows closed and endure the suffocating heat inside the bus only to escape the cloud of dirt assaulting our lungs.

The next day, we visited Sociedad Amigos de los Ninos, an orphanage located in the same village as our campsite. We were welcomed by bright, smiling faces of neglected and impoverished children rescued by the orphanage. The gleam of hope in each of the children’s eyes provided me with more motivation for the mission.

The rest of the day was spent on labeling and bagging medications, putting the supplies together, and planning the set up for our mobile clinic. I also had to teach all 35 members of the Medical Brigade how to properly take blood pressure and check for blood sugar since I was the only American medical professional in the group. Not even half way done bagging all of the supplies and medications, we had to retire early since the only generator that supplies electricity to the entire camp is shut off every midnight.

The next three days were very long and tiring. Each morning, we woke up at 6 am to get ready for the 2-hour bus ride to our service site. Located in the small municipality of Danli, Matasanos is a very rural community of about 200 families. Although connected to a water system, the water supplied by the river only arrives every other day and most families do not have a usable latrine system. Living below the extreme poverty line, earning only about L400 ($21.18) per person per month, most cannot afford the highly priced consults and medications from the nearest clinic. No health centers available, many suffer from infectious and tropical diseases, malnutrition, diabetes and hypertension.

We set up our clinic in the local public elementary school forming a number of stations including Intake, Triage, Consultation, Public Health Education Workshop (“Charla”), Pharmacy, and Dental Stations. In the Intake Station, volunteer community members write down the name, sex, age, and community affiliation of each patient. Each individual then go to the Triage Station. Being the only nurse in the brigade, I was in charge of patient flow through the triage and assisted each brigade member assigned in the Triage Station. Each patient’s symptoms and chief complaints were listed and blood pressure, weight and temperature were taken. Blood glucose tests were also administered on diabetics and those who are high risks of developing diabetes. Each patient then proceeds to the Consultation Station where two Honduran doctors who joined our brigade provided prescriptions and recommendations. Patients then proceeded to the Charla (meaning “to chat”) Station where a facilitator discussed about basic hygiene, nutrition, first aide, and water sterilization. Hygiene packets were also passed out at this station. Finally, the patients received their prescribed medication and vitamins at the Pharmacy Station managed by a Honduran pharmacist as well as three of the pharmacy interns. In addition, the dental part of our brigade set up their own Dental Station managed by the two Honduras Dentists that joined our brigade. There, the dental students assisted with teeth extractions, sterilization of equipments, dental cleaning, as well as teaching the patients dental health while distributing dental hygiene packets.

The string of patients from Matasanos and nearby villages seemed endless. But our group, despite the sweat, heat, and exhaustion plowed through. The effervescent smiles and the raining of “thank yous” revitalized each member of the group. So many fond memories I had during the medical brigade – all of which I wish I could have shared with everyone back at work. I wish I could have shared how I saw a little boy so happy after receiving even the simplest thing such as a toothbrush from his hygiene kit or how an old lady gave me a hug, telling me to share her thank you and hug to everyone who donated to the brigade.

Truly, caring is a universal language. Having this belief as the core of my nursing profession helped me break down language barriers and taught me to listen not only to the words spoken but also appreciate the connection between caregiver and patient. My recent medical mission to Honduras not only brought me great experiences but also was a testament of how the nursing profession empowered me as a person and as an engaged citizen of the world.

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