Notorious for their cramped, sardines-in-a-can feel, airplanes are not my favorite means of transport. I let out a sigh of relief when I felt the hard bump of the plane’s tires making contact with the smooth, even runway. I have landed, safe and sound. And this time around, I knew that the landing brought me one step closer to an internship of a lifetime. After I collected my baggage-probably more clothes than I need, but hey, I’m an over packer- I found Tim, the Director of Student Affairs and Communications, waiting for me with a warm hug and weary smile. We took the scenic route back to the apartments, the silence of the night only amplifying the sounds of the South Pacific waves crashing on the Peruvian shore. I knew that that moment of serenity would be a constant during this internship from my previous experience with a MEDLIFE volunteer trip to Lima. MEDLIFE’s cause- providing medical assistance, improving education and implementing development projects for impoverished families around the world- is near and dear to my heart. It brings me closer, in a sense, to myself, keeping that overwhelming serenity ever present in every action I take.
Over the first few days, I got settled in and began to get a feel for the surrounding area. I found fresh fruits and vegetables sold right around the corner and quaint restaurants offering all types of cuisines every few steps. The first few steps around the city were daunting: rapid-fire Spanish came out of every mouth, and my ears, unaccustomed to so much of the language, struggled to keep up and make sense of every word. As the days go by, I pick up more Spanish, and even converse back in broken Spanish, pulling out the vestiges of the vibrant language from the back corners of my mind.
My first week in, I got the chance to follow Ruth, one of MEDLIFE’s nurses, as she checked in on a few of our long term patients. We first met a middle aged man suffering from cancer in his leg, surrounded by his wife, two young children and his parents. They all hovered around, giving us Inca Cola (a local favorite soda that tastes a bit like bubblegum to me), listening to our questions and offering answers. MEDLIFE helps him pay for treatment and medications, and continue to follow up with his care.
We then visited a woman on the other side of the city, traveling in packed buses and walking through dusty roads to her home. After she unbarred the door to her small one room home, we spoke to her about her recent throat surgery. We laughed as we all tried to communicate- she spoke Quechua, Ruth spoke only Spanish, and the other interns and I spoke English with only a preliminary understanding of Spanish. She looked as if she was recovering well from the surgery, and explained that some other pains in her body had lessened since she had been receiving care from MEDLIFE.
The last patient we met with was an elderly women, cared for by her daughter, living only a street or two away from the previous patient. She suffered from uterine cancer and spoke with Ruth about continuing her treatment, with Ruth making necessary adjustments in her health plan. The tears of gratitude each patient shed spoke volumes; they were genuinely thankful for the care they received from MEDLIFE, care they would not have otherwise received. They all spoke about the pain and suffering they endured on a day to day basis, and how, with treatment, they were able to come closer to leading more normal lives.
That one trip into the field reaffirmed why I am here. I hope to make a significant difference in the lives around me. Knowing that the work I do both in the office and outside the office makes an impact on the lives of patients and volunteers alike makes every effort all the more important. Over the summer, I hope to be able to converse in Spanish, see more of Peru (Machu Picchu!), and indulge in some delicious (vegetarian) cuisine!