Medical Reflections from a Global Volunteer

Medical Reflections from a Global Volunteer
March 18, 2013 Callie Daniels-Howell

by Craig Matthews, PhD, PA-C

Craig Matthews is a physicians assistant working in emergency response in Stuttgart, Germany. He has volunteered as a medical provider in Timmy’s clinics in Tena, Ecuador for three years, and just returned from a January trip with the Ball State team. After providing care to some of the country’s most isolated communities, Craig plans to return to the Amazon Basin for a fourth trip in November 2013. This blog post shares a culmination of his stories and experiences. 

It did not take too much research for me to find Timmy Global Health and realize the quality of their humanitarian work that is offered in Ecuador. As cliché as it may sound, the reason why I ventured into a medical career was to be able to use my strengths to help less fortunate people than myself and to improve the quality of life of people who have little or no access to basic healthcare. On March 2nd, 2013, I was fortunate enough to participate in my third Timmy medical trip—and my second working with the Ball State University students, who have a special place in my heart, as I completed my first Timmy trip with them back in 2012. The students are highly motivated and caring and show a lot of interest in learning and developing their skills and shaping their futures. Together we spent 7 days providing medical care in Tena, Ecuador.

My journey to Tena was long and began in Frankfurt, Germany. After two stops in the Dominican Republic and Panama City, my flight finally landed in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. An exciting bus journey winded through green mountains giving me the feeling of life and energy. Along the road, local people were seen with livestock, carrying wood or simply walking with their families to reach the small villages and communities that they live in. With happy and loving expressions on their faces, the children waved as we drove past.

We reached what I like to call “base camp” after having spending the time in the bus getting to know other medical professionals and students. It is always interesting to meet so many people, all with different backgrounds and cultures. Our accommodation was basic, clean, and managed by very friendly and helpful staff. The first evening we enjoyed a welcome dinner, which comprised of local culinary specialties. After a group discussion in the evening and a short meeting for the medical professionals, the pharmacists and the students began to prepare the medications for the first clinic day. In Tena we serve two sites per day and so we are, as medical professionals, divided into two teams for each day. Although we were all tired, the students organized and managed to prepare the clinic materials for day one.

Our first day took my best friend Shawn Hake (PA-C ) and I, to a small island community. In order to reach the island we had a bus journey into the Amazon rain forest, which then brought us to a river. We transferred all our equipment and medication to small canoes and set sail for a short journey across the water to the island community. The island community received us with welcoming smiles and the various teams made up of registered nurses, pharmacists and students set up clinic. The varieties of patients we see bring with them a variety of illnesses—which make it interesting for us as medical professionals and also sometimes very challenging.

The patients lined up and waited patiently to be seen by us. I had visited this island on the first two brigades that I had been on and it made it exciting to see familiar faces, and very gratifying when the patients recognized me. I completed 3 small surgical procedures and supplied intravenous rehydration therapy to a number of patients. The language barrier was successfully overcome with very competent translators ensuring that our patients felt comfortable. As the patient lines became shorter, the first day of clinic drew to an end.

Our return journey was filled with exchanging of experiences and the need for a cool shower. The joining up of the two teams back at base camp was exciting as it gave us the opportunity to hear about the other site’s experiences. The evenings were spent enjoying local food and sometimes a relaxing walk around the small town of Misahalli. The town’s inhabitants included small friendly monkeys who made it necessary for us to keep our cameras and wallets safe and tucked away! The coordination of our clinics were managed by August Longino—Timmy’s staff member on the ground in the Amazon Basin. August is a young man with incredible management and organization skills. He has established a solid trust with the local communities, and is very knowledgeable and sensitive to the needs of patients that we treat.

The 4 days of clinic brought with them new and exciting experiences and remained very challenging emotionally and physically. We managed to achieve a lot as a team despite our limited resources and time. The lack of resources and diagnostic possibility’s certainly sharpened my medical skills and brought me “back to basics.” It was a true cultural and medical learning experience. My heart remains in Tena, Ecuador and the Amazon basin and I look forward to my next trip in November 2013.




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