We arrived with doctors from Cusco, the biggest city in the area, at a small rural community to provide free medicine and medical care, courtesy of ProPeru.
Many of the people who come to the health campaign have never been to a doctor before.
There is much work to be done – the dentist has to pull teeth from the children (sometimes three or four per child). Many people have intestinal parasites and a variety of maladies, from the common to the severe, seem to be everywhere. We brought a dentist, doctors, a gynecologist and three nurses.
Two of the nurses are completing health internships in rural hospitals. I was scared enough when they used a syringe in my ear to treat an ear infection. One of the interns told me that the rural hospitals are barely clean; there is often urine and blood on the floor.
But we use what the community has. The rooms are cleaned thoroughly, but the ragged beds and concrete floors reflect the area’s poverty. The pharmacy has to be set up outside.
Even though I have no medical training, it’s easy enough to put on scrubs and talk women through their first visit to a gynecologist. While taking notes for the doctor and preparing supplies, I can distract them by joking in Spanish or speaking a few words in Quechua. I translate the consultation quietly for the nurse who doesn’t speak Spanish.
One woman going through menopause was incredibly worried until the doctor surprised her by telling her that it happens to all women. A woman five months pregnant became teary-eyed when we offered to let her listen to the heartbeat of her unborn child.
Some of them brought their children along in colorful shawls they tied around their backs. Some are just stopping by from working in the fields.
Other volunteers do everything from explaining prescriptions to taking blood tests. This is our first visit to this community, and at first people are slow to come for help.
But it becomes apparent as the day wears on that these people need a doctor. One man needs to be tested for tuberculosis; one girl has teeth so rotted that it hurts to open her mouth.
It’s not just the difficulty of obtaining health care, either – many people are distrustful of going to the doctor. A woman refuses to submit to a pap smear, despite the gynecologist’s best attempts at persuasion.
People come who have aches and pains for years but have never trusted the clinics enough to visit.
One woman tells the gynecologist that she is afraid to take medicine.
“You need to be here to take care of your children,” she is told. “If you don’t get better, who will take care of them?”