Monday, January 23, 2012

Ruined - by Matthew Niehaus

It’s been 7 years since as a naive high school junior I traveled to Duran, Ecuador with a group of my classmates and two teachers to live in solidarity with the Ecuadorian people.  A great deal has happened in my life since then; I graduated from high school, moved to the Bronx to attend and graduate from Fordham University, applied and was accepted to medical school, and am now living in Philadelphia where in just a year and a half, will graduate and become a doctor—a prospect that absolutely terrifies me.  Life was easier before my trip, before truly knowing exactly the inequalities and injustices that are present in the world.  That trip, as one of my fellow classmates so astutely said, “ruined” us—it shattered the protective bubble we lived in, where it was all but too easy to get wrapped up in our “first world problems” that in today’s word, would manifest themselves as trying to decide between the Iphone or Droid, Starbucks or Dunkin-Donuts, Pepsi or Coke, BMW or Mercedes, and the list goes on.  In one week though, I will leave all my first world problems behind and return to Ecuador, this time as a somewhat jaded and sometimes confused young medical student.
I have been asked by many people over the past few months many questions about my trip.  The most commonly asked question, and one that I have been thinking a great deal about over the past few weeks, is “what do you hope to get out of this trip?”  First and foremost, I hope this trip reminds me why I chose to become a doctor.   I hope it reminds me of the awesome obligation and the immense responsibility I will have to others, whoever they may be.  To remind me of how blessed I have been, and continue to be.  
In one week I’ll be leaving behind my comfortable city apartment, my cell phone, constant and unrestricted internet access, and my family and friends to go and get ruined again—and I am looking forward to every minute of it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Observations about the Ecuadorian life - by Ron Benjamin

Trying to see patience

There is an air of familiarity as I become more accustomed to my surroundings. I don´t know what to make of certain practices, however. When waiting for the bus stop, it is best to have a woman get on last because the bus driver doesn´t start moving if a woman is still getting on, otherwise it´s that man for himself. In the bus itself, people bump into others without thinking twice about it. No one gets up for the elderly woman or pregnant mother with children. I think if these are how a desperate people act, or simply survival instincts.

At the leprosy clinic I am fortunate to work with Dr. Martinez who has specialized in the disease. He calls in a patient who not only had Leprosy, but Leprosy Type 2, where red nodules encompass his entire body. His skin is dark, peeling, and he is a mere 95 lbs. The doctor tests his sensation by making him close his eyes and tell him if it´s a sharp or dull pain he is feeling. There is no response. The doctor looks at me and says, he feels nothing in this hands or feet. I think about how the other leprosy patients at least still have the pleasure to laugh from a foot tickle, but this patient seems removed, both from sensation and our current conversation. ¨He doesn´t want to take his medication¨, the doctor finally interrupts the silence. ¨Why not?¨ I ask. ¨It makes his skin darker, and that isn´t a good thing here¨. I´ve read about this. The darker the skin still symbolizes a status of class and though this man is in an isolated Leprosy clinic, these things must still matter to him. ¨He doesn´t care about getting better?¨. The doctor looks at him and then looks at me. Enough has been said.

On the bus back home I am standing in the entrance because the main cavern is simply too overcrowded. I see a woman with her daughter by her side get on the bus. She squeezes in and tries to hold a stable stance but the bus veers and she and her daughter nearly fall into a seated passenger. When I look again, I see a woman has moved over, and a seat has opened up for the mother. I wonder how this can be and see that there are now two mothers with their children on their laps, and understand there must be an unwritten rule between two mothers. I smile at the one who made room by putting her daughter on her lap. Patience is tried here, but it is also rewarded, I think to myself.