V. Single-Day Clinic Week in San Cristobal and Tierra Oscura

After a fun weekend in Bocas Town, Nica and I returned to base Sunday evening to prepare for the next week of clinics. Our week started with a day on base on Monday organizing the pharmacy and packing our cases for clinic this week and next. You can tell that we were all return volunteers because we really hit our stride with our work and got all of our tasks done in record time. Nica and I also saved a bunch of expired sutures to practice and teach suturing to others on base!

Working through pharmacy tasks
Spent an evening teaching a few other aspiring physicians basic suturing techniques using old banana peels. When thinking about last time we were here as first year medical students, it feels pretty incredible that we are now “experienced” and able to mentor others.

After a long day of chores around base and several informative lectures from the staff physicians, we relaxed in the afternoon before dinner. Nica went to the dock to have a refreshing swim/snorkel while I played volleyball with a few of the staff members. Needless to say one of us was refreshed and one of us was extremely sweaty for dinner.

The next day was our clinic day in San Cristobal. This village is on the same island that our base is on – Isla San Cristobal – so our commute was only 10 minutes. It took longer to pack/unpack the boats than it took to travel. We had started clinic by 9:30am.

Clinic at San Cristóbal

The day started like usual for Nica and me. We were both working our own intake stations and we were flying. Nica and I had definitely found our rhythm again and were working through patients faster and more thoroughly than we had before. Many of our patients here come for depo injections which we are allowed to handle ourselves without them ever having to see a provider. Within the first hour Nica and I had each fully manged 4-5 of such patients.

Much needed lunch break after a busy morning at San Cristóbal

After lunch, Nica went off to do home visits with one of our excellent staff doctors from Argentina – Fermin. She and Fermin saw three elderly patients in their own homes and provided care on-site since traveling would be difficult for those patients. It was great to see the actual livinig conditions of their patients so they could provide more tailored care and recommendations. They were able to provide a walker for one elderly gentleman who had gone blind and was having difficulty navigating his own home.

Patient home (photo consent acquired)

Meanwhile I stayed in clinic and transitioned from an intake to a provider role. My first patient that I saw on my own ended up being a fairly complex patient with multiple issues needing management including colicky abdominal pain, chest pain, arthritis, and several other chronic issues. As it turns out, her abdominal pain was being caused by a gallstone that we were able to catch using a provider’s personal portable ultrasounds. It was so exhilarating to catch a gallstone using ultrasound in the field. We gave this patient medication for her pain and a referral for surgery. She was so pleased that we had finally found an explanation for this pain she had been suffering from.

San Cristóbal clinic just before opening

The next day we rinsed and repeated by going to another nearby clinic called Tierra Oscura. All the staff were very excited to return to this village because there is a dog that is well known to Floating Doctors. This pup will, without fail, be at every FD clinic every three months and greet everybody with a hug. The clinic was not too busy that day, but that didn’t stop Nica and me from having great days working as intake/providers and growing more and more comfortable. Funnily enough, we had yet another gallstone patient that we caught with the ultrasound – just a day after catching one.

The friendliest dog in the world greeting lead medical provider Cate.

Since we only had two clinics this week, we had an extra day to ourselves during the week. As a special treat, our volunteer coordinator organized a trip to a local finca (ranch/farm land). One of the staff chefs at FD base lives in a nearby village and owns a finca up in the mountains where she grows sugar canes, cacao, and many other delicious fruits. We strapped on some rubber boots and set off on a surprisingly grueling but stunningly beautiful hike. We reached the finca at the top of the mountain and were greeted by a herd of her cows who were less than pleased with our presence. We kept our distance from the cows. Once we reached the top we piled into our guide’s house to rest, eat our sandwiches that we packed, and indulge in some delicious sugar cane, soursop, and cacao fruits.

Lead medical provider Fermín hiking barefoot on the way to the finca

Breathtaking views from the finca

Pharmacy manager and logistics guru Philip cutting up sugar cane for everybody.

1 Comment

  1. Mae Pham says:

    So proud of you and all the volunteers! May God work many miracles and heal all sickness through all the healthcare providers and volunteers! I know this will be an experience you will cherish for the rest of your career! I’m sure you’ll be a great doctor with a big heart and will continue to put time and effort to make a difference especially to those who need the most!


    Liked by 1 person

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