As an intern at MEDLIFE, getting to work the mobile clinics week-in week-out during the clinic seasons is definitely a perk.
I awake most days at 6am, which sounds horrific but after a couple months of Lima’s infamous grey winter skies, the sunshine that fills my room in the morning is compensation enough. It seeps through my blinds, thick like syrup filling the air — a glaring luster that beats any alarm clock that I’ve ever owned. After a short walk through the district of Miraflores, with its leafy suburban streets punctuated at this time by joggers, dog-walkers and gardeners, I arrive at the hostel: a hive of excited activity. The breakfast room is filled with stories of yesterday’s tour and discussions on what will fill the day ahead.
By the time the bus leaves – normally after a healthy dose of ‘Peruvian flexible time’ – this excitement is reaching its peak. The driver cuts his way through the hustling morning traffic, to the soundtrack of beeping horns and passing cumbia rhythm. As we power further away from the urban metropolis that is Miraflores and deeper into the barrio of Villa El Salvador, there are fewer cars on the roads and increasingly more people, as one would expect on entering a 35 km2 area, home to almost 400,000 residents. Roads become market places, filled with vendors selling fish, vegetables, clothes, watch repairs and live chickens amongst other things.We pull into a small plaza where we grind to a hault. There is already a queue of about 50 people patiently waiting for us. We unload the supplies into the street: boxes of medicines, tents, dentist chairs and OB/GYN beds, whilst a muffled voice attempts to drum up attention through a distorted tannoy system overhead. Within minutes our disheveled pile on the road has transformed itself into a fully funcional clinic in full-flow. A mobile clinic is composed of seven stations: triage, education, medicine, dentist, OB/GYN, pharmacy and toothbrushing. Patients are first seen in the triage where their vitals are taken and recorded, they are then held in the education tent until the appropriate doctors are ready to see them. When running smoothly (ie. most of the time) a MEDLIFE clinic resembles a finely cogged machine: humming, perring until the day is done.
I spend a lot of my time in the medical tent translating the doctor’s diagnoses, which range from the common cold to parasitic infections, and even tumors. I am constantly shocked at how avoidable the majority of the conditions we treat are — the result of a lack of basic knowledge of personal hygiene, bacteria and nutrition. By midday, the sun’s intensity is reaching its apogee, and the students, who have plucked themselves away from one of the coldest US winters in history, are revelling in it. They roll up their sleeves and shut their eyes tightly, with their faces tilted towards the clear blue sky, and they hold it there until the heat gets too much or they are called into action by a nearby nurse.
As the queue for triage finally begins to shrink, and the doctor sitting on my left wipes the sweat from his brow, the local children find the courage to initiate games with the students. They throw water balloons, kick a can around and enjoy a wealth of attention, embracing the great photo opportunities that they are providing the students. By the time the last balloon is thrown the last patient of the day leaves the OB/GYN room and initiates a conversation with Doctor Raul about her cats. She talks quick, with a thick accent impenetrable to my level of spanish. She keeps talking whilst everything around her is dismantled, including the tent in which she has found herself.
As the sun sinks lower in the sky the light resumes its thick golden aesthetic and the bus pulls away. We leave no trace behind but for the laughing children who chase the bus until out of sight.