Monday, July 13, 2009

Did Someone Call for a Doctor?

There are many things I will never be. Some examples include: Olympic gymnast, carpet salesman, nun, marine biologist, Hell's Angels biker, bodybuilder, dictator of a small island nation, card-carrying member of the NRA, Pokemon card collector, or...a doctor. Those who know me well know I tend to pull a Wicked Witch of the West and melt into the floor when people start talking in too much detail about blood or needles. I hate blood...a lot. Thus, it may surprise others to know that when a bunch of American soldiers came to my school to ask for volunteers for a medical project, my first response was not, " thank you." In fact, I said, "Yeah, that sounds great!" Caveat: the soliders did not need people to tie sutures or administer IVs to burn victims. They had set up a medical center in a school, and needed translators. Now I may not know my tibia from my fibula, but I can speak Spanish pretty well. I was game.

The school where the Army and Marine personnel set up the medical center is located in an area called Omayra Sanchez. The name itself has a pretty incredible story. Omayra Sanchez is named after a 13 year old girl who died when Nevado del Ruiz volcano errupted in 1985. Omayra was trapped up to her neck in mud and rubble, and the villagers didn´t have the technology to extract her. She stayed trapped for three days before dying, but there are photos and a video of her speaking that can be found online if you´re so inclined. (I haven´t had the nerve to look at the video yet.)

Omayra Sanchez didn´t die anywhere near Cartagena, but I was told there are many neighborhoods all over Colombia named for her. Throughout my two days working at the center, I kept thinking about her incredibly courageous story. It seems so obvious that today we would have the technology to save her, but hearing the story made doubly important the work that the American troops were doing - they were bringing technology and expertise to an area which would otherwise go overlooked.

The first day was basically a crash course in Spanish medical terms. I sat next to the triage nurse and a Colombian translator, and wrote down everything I didn´t know. The second day I had a firmer knowledge base. A Colombian triage nurse would ask the patient questions, and then I filled out the medical form in English for the English-speaking doctors. It was so interesting. The majority of patients who came in were pregant women or women with children. On breaks, I sat with the soliders/marines (who were great) and learned about life in the armed forces. Fun fact: I can now recite the chain of command for both enlisted personnel and officers. It is long. The army, apparently, is big on organization.

At the end of two days, I felt like I´d definitely made a contribution. One of the officers asked me at the end if I´d like to translate again when a large medical ship comes into port to perform on-ship operations and do more advanced medical treatment. They´ll be here starting the end of the month, and I´m already getting excited. I may never be a doctor, but it seems I can help them do their job.