For the fourth day in a row, I opened my graduate school application portal only to reread the question – What are your reasons for interest in public health? – and minimized my browser. Although I had chosen to apply for graduate programs in public health before arriving in Peru, I was still not entirely certain this area of study was for me. For this, I am grateful to MEDLIFE: My experiences working with this organization thus far have reinforced the importance of the public health field and my desire to influence it.
“Falta uno!” (“One more left!”) Announced Beatriz, nearly as out of breath as I was. We had one last flight of stairs to climb until we reached the fourth floor of the Maria Auxiliadora Hospital in Villa Maria del Triunfo, a smaller district on the outskirts of Lima and the third-to-last stop on the city’s green line metro. We were scaling the hospital steps to check in with Maura, one of MEDLIFE’s follow-up patients who was recovering from surgery after a mototaxi accident had mangled her right leg.
After some effort, Beatriz and I finally reached Maura’s room, a small four-bed space of which she occupied one corner. We had bought her a large bottle of water to replace her empty one, which I placed on her bedside table. As Beatriz began asking Maura how she was, I watched as light emanated from this woman. Maura inexplicably answered every follow-up question with a smile and a laugh, in spite of her bedridden condition. Beatriz and I joked along with her, as if we had come to visit an old friend. When the time came for Beatriz to take a photo of Maura to document the follow-up visit, she put an arm around me and pulled me in with her.
Beatriz explained to me that Peru’s patients suffer from an overburdened, underfunded health care system, similarly to the situation we face in the United States. A lack of physicians results in brief doctor’s appointments and little explanation of a patient’s diagnoses or treatment options.
Enter MEDLIFE’s nurses: armed with a lot of knowledge and even more compassion, Beatriz, Carmen, Ruth, and Janet fill in the gaps left by the system, providing a vital service to disadvantaged patients. Maura had suffered more than most could ever imagine: following her tragic accident in 2011, she underwent a botched surgery, battled infection, and endured many years of painful recovery. She struggled to obtain insurance that would cover her multiple operations and maintain financial resources as a disabled, single mother unable to work. MEDLIFE was able to pay for the final operation she needed, relieving some of the burden that she faced. Our organization also built a staircase near her home in the rocky hills of Villa Maria to prevent further accidents while recovering. During our patient follow-up visit, I saw the world of difference that MEDLIFE and its nurses made; in spite of her suffering and the poor infrastructure in place to address it, Maura had a source of infallible support. The light within her had not dimmed – the nurses would never have allowed it.
In one of our staff trainings, MEDLIFE’s founder Nick Ellis gave a word of advice to those interested in entering the field of public health following the internship: ‘when writing public health policy, write it with the poorest people in mind.’ These are the stakeholders that will fall through the cracks; the people that will bear the worst of a faulty healthcare system and unsafe infrastructure. People like Maura, who brighten the day of all who have the chance to meet them, who deserve the utmost support while they wrestle with the multitude hardships associated with poverty. Maura deserves to live in a society in which not only health is prioritized, but access to healthcare as well. She deserves to have not only her physical health in mind, but her wellbeing, protected by healthcare workers such as Beatriz. When I am hopefully writing and influencing healthcare policy one day, I will do so with Maura in mind.