Interview with Laura Calisi, FCRH ‘16
Can you tell me a bit about your project?
Last year I spent spring break in San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala on a medical outreach trip with about 20 Fordham students. We traveled through Volunteers Around the World (VAW), an NGO that serves poverty stricken communities through both medical and dental care. They have projects in various locations including Albania, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Panama, and Peru. It is not an official Fordham club, so it was entirely student run and we are known as the Bronx Chapter. We gathered interest through word of mouth, social media, flyers, etc.
What was your housing situation?
After 24 hours of traveling in total to our destination, we were welcomed into the homes of our host families. There were about 4 of us in each house, which was a great cultural immersion experience. My host was a woman named Tula, who was well respected and very intelligent, with one of her sons being the community’s only doctor. She had a beautiful garden and was careful with the water, which was a luxury. Some of the other homes couldn’t eat the vegetables they were given.
How did your schedule look on a typical day?
Every morning we’d wake up at 6:30am, walk to headquarters by 7, and leave by 7:15 to get to work. Our buses had tons of chairs, tables, vitals equipment, and medication. When we would arrive to set up the mobile medical clinics, there were already lines of over 100 people. Adults take off work and kids skip school to get checked. We stopped at mostly schools, churches, and one Mayan nursing home far out in the countryside. In our 8 days there, we treated over 800 patients.
What was the overall layout of the clinic?
The clinic was broken up into a few different stations: patient intake, vitals, diagnostic, and pharmacy. We would do intake and vitals on our own, checking blood pressure and doing glucose tests. Then they would meet with the doctors and we would shadow. After diagnosis, they would get a prescription from the doctor and hand it to us. We’d give them a bag of medication, measuring out milligrams and explaining how to take the proper dosage, such as taking it with food. Nearly everyone had diabetes, so we gave out a lot of Enalapril, which is short-term medication since we couldn’t give insulin or a real regimen. Many of them also had gastritis, or inflammation of the stomach, due to their impure water.
How was the language barrier with the doctors/patients?
Dr. Israel Hernandez and the two other doctors who worked under him spoke no English. The doctor I shadowed would give me his sheet with all the patient information, letting me say what I think and guess the diagnosis. I don’t speak Spanish, but I got by with the Italian I know and hand gestures. It was difficult with the patients as well, as they spoke in Guatemalan dialect. Even that, for a lot of people, was their second language because Mayan was first.
Do you have any other thoughts you’d like to share on your experience?
It was definitely very difficult to see so many people without the proper health care provided. There are not many doctors in the community, and patients are terrified that they can’t afford it, as they have no insurance. On a lighter note, even though it’s a poverty stricken area, the people have such a spirit about life. They appreciate everything they do have, and seemed so grateful and happy we were there.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.