Spring Break ’17 (Puerto Peñasco, Mexico)

Hello friends! Wow, what a hectic week it has been. Life has finally slowed down enough for me to share all that went down on my ISL (International Service Learning) trip to Mexico. I cannot emphasize how much I treasure everyone’s support, encouragement, and prayers. They mean the world to me and this trip would not have been possible without them!

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March 4, 2017

On Saturday evening, after an exhausting day of air travel and layovers, I along with ten other Belmont science majors arrived in Phoenix, Arizona. We gathered our things, boarded a 14-passenger van, and began the drive to Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

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It took three hours to get to the US/Mexico border and another three hours to arrive at our final destination. We arrived at night and were excited to see our house for the week was really cute, plus it was located right by the beach. (Fun fact: the house we stayed in is the house of the man who founded ISL – how cool is that?)

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the view from the house

March 5, 2017

On Sunday, we had our recreation day. A great portion of it was spent in the van driving to Pinacate Biosphere. There we learned about the area’s natural wildlife and got to take a mini hike outside. From there, we took a very very very bumpy drive to one of the volcanic craters in the area. It was massive, and it was awesome. We didn’t spend much time there though because it was extremely windy, to the point where it was kind of hard to walk straight. We got back in the van and drove the 2 hours back to the city. We visited a local area and went shopping and got dinner.

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March 6, 2017

Our second full day in Mexico was the true start of learning about why we were there. We spent the morning in medical training and orientation. We refreshed our skills on taking blood pressure, listening to heart sounds and breathing, and checking out the eyes/ears/nose/throat. For many of us, it was also our first time learning how to check blood glucose levels.

In the afternoon, our Belmont group split up into groups of 3-4 and began doing house visits. The job of each group consisted of walking from door to door in this residential community and take people’s health information and history. More importantly, we were there to promote the clinic we would be hosting later on in the week. It amazed me how people were so willing to give us strangers their medical information. The people were overall very friendly, and some even invited us into their homes.

Luckily for us, the language barrier was not too much of an issue. The forms we filled out had Spanish translations to any questions we had to ask the local residents. And like every other group, we had an awesome translator, Ruben, who stayed with us the whole time. One of our group members, Crystal, was also fluent in Spanish, which made our job even easier.

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house visits were fun with this dream team

After house visits, we returned to the house and sorted through vitamins, school supplies, medicines, and other donations in preparation for the community clinic. To end the day, we got tacos at a local taco place (some of the best tacos I’ve ever eaten) and churros at a churro stand.

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March 7, 2017

On this day, we did more house visits. It was awesome getting to know different people and their families. There was one sweet lady who invited us into her home and offered us fresh tortillas. Her family also had a cute dog that kept biting Christopher’s and I’s scrubs:

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After our lunch break, we visited one of the public hospitals. We were so lucky in that we got to see a surgery: the removal of a Fallopian tube cyst. This was my first time seeing a live surgery, and it was the greatest experience. We observed and took in all that we could (with Today’s Top Radio Hits playing in the background). The anesthesiologist in the operating room was great; he was very instructive, guiding us step by step through what he was doing. He even let a few of us administer the patient’s IV drugs.

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March 8, 2017

On Wednesday, we started the day by visiting a men’s drug/alcohol rehab center. We stuck with our same groups from house visits and made mini stations for patients to come to. These visits were some of the most enjoyable, I’d say. The people we assessed were all very nice and talkative. A few of them also spoke English, alleviating the language barrier for awhile.

We spent the second day doing our last round of house visits. These visits throughout the week were our best view into the lives of the local people. It was definitely a humbling experience. We saw that many people had houses that were not sustainable in the long-term. These houses had mosaic-like walls, patched up with various sizes of plywood, sheetrock, and cardboard. Despite what we in the US might term poor living conditions, some of the people in these houses were genuinely happy and loved the life as they had it.

March 9, 2017

The 9th was our first day of the community clinic! It was quite fulfilling seeing people from our house visits waiting in line to receive care. Our group’s job was to check the patient’s vitals and to assess the patient before he/she was seen by the doctor.

Clinic ended at lunchtime. We had a free day for the rest of the day, so we went to the beach and got dinner at this place called Get Wrecked, a really tourist-y restaurant right by the beach that we had had our eyes set on since Day 1. The hashtag #getwrecked became a recurrent joke throughout our trip and is also featured on all of our group’s Instagram posts;)

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laying out on the beach after a long day of clinic

March 10, 2017

This was our second day of community clinic. We had a lot of fun this day, because after clinic, there was a piñata party with cake and ice cream for all of the kiddos we met on our house visits and the clinic. It was amusing to see some kids arrive right when our clinic opened at 8:30, then sit and wait patiently until 12, when we had the party.

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this is Victoria, the cutest 1-year old with a deep fascination with stethoscopes

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After we wrapped up the clinic, our group hit the town one last time before our return to the States. We made a quick stop at the Tequila Factory (the legal drinking age in Mexico is 18, so…) before going shopping at a different shopping area. I got a fun mug to remind me of all of the fun we had on our trip (thank you, airport security, for dropping my backpack and subsequently breaking my mug. To be repurposed into a pot for some succulents…)

To end the night, our group went on a sunset cruise. We headed out on a boat for two hours and got to see the most beautiful sunset. What made the trip even more special was seeing dolphins swimming literally less than 5 feet from our boat. It was the best way to spend our last night in Mexico!

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March 11, 2017

On Saturday, we said our goodbyes to Puerto Peñasco. We left our house at 7:30 and drove back up to Phoenix. We all made it to the airport on time and said our goodbyes before heading off our separate ways.

A fun story: my friend Marcie and I had the same flight back to Nashville (yay!). But our connecting flight through Salt Lake City got delayed by ~3 hours (boo) so we had to reschedule flights. We weren’t able to leave Phoenix until 12:50am, 11 hours after we were originally supposed to leave. We ended up getting back to Nashville at 11am the next day. What made it all the more annoying was that they left my luggage in Phoenix. Luckily, they delivered that to me at 11pm. What a journey this was.

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I am so appreciative of this Spring Break. As I’ve never been on a mission trip before, this was a great chance to use what we’ve been blessed with to bless others.

I no longer take simple amenities for granted: clean, potable water; smooth, paved roads; immediate access to basic health necessities; flushable toilet paper; fresh fruits/vegetables that are safe to eat.

I have a renewed fascination with languages and the intrinsic uniqueness and beauty found in each one.

I also view healthcare in a new way. Did you know that in Mexico (or at least the area we were in), the doctor gets paid no matter what, even if he does not show up? On the day we visited the public hospital, there was a surgery supposedly scheduled in the morning which was ultimately rescheduled simply because the surgeon decided not to show up.

I have a deepened appreciation for the qualities of empathy and concern that physicians ought to display. While the community clinic was definitely beneficial overall, it was astounding to witness the way our doctor treated some of the cases we presented to him. He was there to get the job done, with not much regard for the patient’s feelings. Thus, when he told our patient that “you have severe hypertension, you will die, and at this point there is pretty much nothing you can do about it,” I was slightly taken aback.

I am reminded of how crucial it is to stay openminded. Despite these stark contrasts I noticed between Mexico’s healthcare system and ours, sometimes people just do things differently than we do, and sometimes that is okay. But more importantly, if we are unwilling to view things from a different perspective, we are missing out. Positive or negative, there is always something to gain from different perspectives and new outlooks.

Every moment on this medical mission trip was a blessing, but the trip would not have been what it was if it weren’t for the people I got to experience it with. I had the pleasure of serving and learning alongside ten outstanding individuals. They were all acquaintances at most in the beginning, but now we all share a new special connection as friends. These people taught me a lot about what it looks like to serve on your knees, putting others above yourself.

The joy and laughter each of them brought to the group was contagious. In loving on Puerto Peñasco, they made the love of God so tangible and so evident, and that was pretty cool.

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