Ecuador - Cultures of Caring

by Tamara Friend

I sling my baby blue stethoscope around my neck; the one piece of equipment that has been with me throughout my nursing career, and the only piece of equipment that is my own in this foreign environment. I reorganize my station. Line up my blood pressure cuff, oxygen saturation monitor, and clean my thermometer. I pump hand sanitizer into my palm and massage it over my hands for the third time in the last few minutes. I can hear the buzz of people talking outside the closed glass door. Everyone in our little room is starting to sweat, the air conditioning working its life away, the heat and humidity overpowering its little engine. My scrubs feel hot and thick. The glass door opens and with it, a rush of the Spanish language. I have a moment of panic – what am I doing here?

My first patient is seated across from me. I hear a quiet “hola” followed by a warm smile. Two other young people snuggle in beside her, followed by two additional bashful smiles. My panic subsides a little, as I offer a meek “hola” in return. MJ, our team’s translator and my lifesaver, saddles up alongside me and I offer a big exhale in response. She begins speaking in impeccably fluent and enunciated Spanish, which even I’m able to understand – explaining that she is here to help translate, as unfortunately, my Spanish is minimal. Luckily for me, the warm smiles continue. I learn that the family is here for all three to be seen. The one child, nine years old, has bumps that itch (pica, in Spanish), the other child, 12 years old, has white spots on her skin that have started showing up over the last few months. The mother is here for kidney pain that has lasted about three months. After writing down a few notes on their official medical forms about their ailments, I begin the process of taking vital signs for each patient. They are all extremely patient! The children giggle as I pull their chairs close to check their blood pressure, the mother smiles and sighs at them. I glance around the room at Lindsey, my close friend and co-volunteer with Project C.U.R.E., who is rambling off impressively in Spanish already, not missing a beat in conversation and making the children around her giggle; and at Lisa, an experienced co-volunteer who is off and running, getting a detailed medical history from her patient.

Just one day before, our team walked into the small medical complex, each with a 50 pound bag full of medical equipment, vitamins, and medications to begin the effort of providing medical care to this small community in Junin, Ecuador. All of the items we carted with us from Denver were a donation that was received by Project C.U.R.E. We offered examinations, minor procedures, and treatment to all the people we could in the short amount of time we were there. I saw ailments and medical conditions I had only read about in textbooks. I held hands of elderly men and women, and listened compassionately to their stories to sort out what medical care they might need. I cuddled babies and children, tried my best to make people open up about their issues, and received nothing but shy smiles, kind words and light caresses of my face – a gesture to show how much the people cared and appreciated us being there.

According to our head physician in charge, Dr. Carlos Morales – a native Ecuadorian and the Director of Medicine at the University of Cuenca, we were able to see and provide medical care for over 700 people. SEVEN HUNDRED PEOPLE. At my current job, I’m lucky if our group sees 100 in three days, much less 700 in four! This was done with the hard work of over 20 Ecuadorians and our nine person American team. We had physicians, med students, nurses, interpreters, nursing students, pharmacists, coordinators and more. I can’t say enough about the Ecuadorian team with whom we partnered. What an incredible group! They were helpful in organizing the care of the patients, translating words, phrases and dialects I had no ability to understand, simplifying their Spanish so we might attempt to have a conversation together, and teaching me how to dance and laugh into the night. They were the first people to check in on us after the earthquake happened; knowing full well we experienced it and wanting to be sure we were ok and traveling safe. They were the most incredible and loving group of people.

Going on the clinic trip to Ecuador with Project C.U.R.E. was so extraordinary. After volunteering with the Young Professionals Network at Project C.U.R.E. for the last two years, I was starting to feel a little bit stagnant. This definitely reignited my enthusiasm for the work they do. Not to mention it was an incredible time in my life to feel so unconditionally supported in my passion for this work. There have been numerous occasions in the last two years when I have asked for attendees or monetary support for Project C.U.R.E. Many of my friends have donated to help support my efforts, but the most beautiful thing occurred when I asked family and friends to specifically support this mission trip. People came, in DROVES to support the cause. And I can’t even begin to explain how deeply that touched me. So this is also a massive THANK YOU to all of you who gave your hard-earned money to support me in this mission. There will never be a way I can thank you enough, except for you to see the pictures, hear my story, and know, that for a moment in time, we made 700 people’s lives just a little bit better – by offering them access to the medical care that they so truly deserve.

---A brief note of thanks to the following donors: Drew and Margi Moldane, Kate and Justin Moser, Ken and Debbie Rudolph, Ginny and Phil Fox, Mitch and Caroline Long, Jay and Johanna Kelleher, Laura and Aaron Jones, Sharif Abdelhamid, Kirsten and John Glennon, John and Karen Kangas, Cheryl Averill, Cassie Green and Ben Lochridge, Andrea Ennis, Katie and Caleb Roehrs, Jordan Stokes, Charlotte and Lee Ott, Jess and Dave Lerchbacher, Michelle and Nick Kern, Gina Hawk, Alan Curtis, Steph, Andrew and Owen Sand, Sydney Bergen, Nyles Quenzer, Stacey Banks, Joe Kocur, Sean McAuliffe, Emily and Adam Lowell, Callie Withers, Kristin and Chad Scannell, Brooke and Bryan Wallace, Kristen Peterka, Melissa and Jason Miller, Diane Banks, Penny Duncan, Rick and Barb Keepers, Yvette San Souci, Damien and Patty Mulvany, and Eric Van Trump. A million and one times THANK YOU.