Recently, fellow Caradigm employee, Larry Nicklas, and I travelled to Tena, Ecuador to take part in the volunteer Timmy Global Health medical trip. Several members of the Caradigm team had volunteered in the past, and it was upon hearing about their experiences that I was inspired to volunteer. Timmy’s volunteer ‘brigades’ visit regions where there is very limited or no access to healthcare and set up makeshift clinics in a number of communities.
Most of the volunteers’ journeys involved 15+ hours travel time and several flights. Doctors, nurses, dentists, an ophthalmologist and general-purpose volunteers converged in the Amazon basin from other areas in Ecuador and as far as North America and Europe to volunteer their time and expertise.
A Clinic Under a Tin Roof
Being a Spanish speaker, I had the unique opportunity to rotate through various stations as an interpreter and engage with patients. The stations were small areas often separated by cords and hanging sheets. They included patient history and registration, vitals, consultation rooms and a working area for dentists, an ophthalmologist and in some cases a counsellor was also available. I found working alongside the doctors and nurses eye-opening as I was blown away by the level of care and compassion displayed to each patient despite the sometimes rudimentary conditions.
Even though Timmy Global Health and the local partners did an excellent job of preparing the community for our visit, I can only imagine how unusual it must be to see a bus load of international volunteers descend upon a community and set up a makeshift clinic for the day. For this reason, I made sure to welcome patients like I would a family member. The crux of my role was to engage with the patients so I would take a knee, crouch to eye level and verbally walk them through what the clinician was about to do and why. For example, I would say “we are about to put this around your arm to measure your blood pressure” or “we are going to check your baby’s temperature to see if he or she is running a temperature.” Especially when helping dispense medicine at the pharmacy station, it was extremely gratifying to see when patients had a sense of ownership of their treatment and gained an understanding of what each pill was for and when it was appropriate to take it.
Working with mothers and young children was especially endearing. One day one of the doctors requested a blood sample from a young girl who was about 5 years old. She could tell straight away what was coming and cried loudly as the nurse pricked her finger. After the blood was collected, we countered the girl’s sobs by clapping and cheering enthusiastically, and she eventually gave the nurse a big hug and smiled. Her mother looked on with a huge smile as well, and I think was reassured that we were there not just to provide healthcare, but to care.
Having lived in developing nations before, I was conscious of flying in, doing my part and flying out, having only made a short-term impact. I’m glad to say that Timmy Global Health does an excellent job of balancing short-term medical needs while also referring more complex cases to local medical centres or the capital. Even in such a remote location, it was also clear that basic prevention and patient engagement is essential in order to create a sustainable health system. The teams worked with the locals on prevention programs such as employing fluoride varnish to protect against tooth decay, teaching songs to children about the benefits of brushing their teeth regularly, and giving advice to older patients on how to better cope with arthritis pain. Timmy Global Health are also implementing safe drinking water projects in communities where there is limited access to drinking water and plumbing, which should help decrease some of the most common ailments we saw.
After I returned home to London, I realized that I was much more cognizant of the increasing number of homeless in the city. Thinking back to my time in Tena prompted me to talk with an elderly lady one cold rainy day and provide her with a hot meal. Some would describe volunteering as a selfless act, I tend to regard it as an investment, in me as a person and our collective wellbeing. Volunteering with Timmy Global Health and working at Caradigm, a population health company, have changed me for the better. In both cases, I am proud to be part of something bigger than myself and being able to make what I hope is a valuable contribution to the world we live in.
Larry Nicklas supporting the Pharmacy Station
Me in the “Kids Corner”, where children received preventive treatments