la lluvia sobre San Miguel

June 20th, 2011

rainclouds bear a different meaning here. a thick dark cloud draped over San Miguel can hardly be called ominous, not when the desert has waited over six months for its arrival. thunderclaps bear good tidings, not danger. the flashes of lightning through the window are more like the celebratory fireworks that so frequently illuminate the sky than like some frightening warning sign to stock up on duct tape and milk. rain is always peaceful and serene, but somehow when it falls here, there is almost a sigh of relief from the earth and a city which has been so desperately thirsty for it. driving home under moonlight, drizzle and the city lights was relaxing and restorative, holding hope for is yet to come.


this morning, at 7:15 sharp, we set off for our first health fair. after passing Dr. Ashkin’s taxi on the highway and waving him to follow us, we arrived at the school to find the gates locked and no one in sight. fortunately, a few madres soon showed up to let us in, and we pulled some desks from the classroom out onto the playground and set up shop. we went from 2 moms to 20 in just a few minutes, and as forgiving and welcoming as people are, we started to feel a bit of pressure to get folks through and on their way. we all dialed it up, and tried to push through the mayhem to help folks as best we could. “glucose checks here, are you fasting? no? thats ok, we can still do plenty at today’s fair.” “yes, i’d say 20 tortillas in a day is too many, even if they are the small ones.” “and you’ve never been told you have diabetes? i think you’d better talk with the doctor…”

i can’t write too much about what we found due to the fact that it is research related, but let’s just say that we first wondered if we were having equipment malfunction due to some of the fasting blood sugars we were finding. but with Dr. Ashkin’s help, i hope we helped some folks, and we certainly got the chance to speak with a good number of them. it is a much more personal experience, doing health fairs, than giving health education talks to a group of a dozen moms. it is an opportunity to directly connect with, advise, and learn about the lives of average campesinos (rural folks). i also did some depression screening as part of another project we are working on, and found myself at times feeling almost over my head in what these women revealed to me. it was heartbreaking to realize that with some, in our 15 minute conversation, i had become one of their closest confidants about some of their most personal problems. i consulted with our faculty advisers and have amassed a few resources that i think may be able to help these women more than just the ear of a concerned but inexperienced american medical student.

unfortunately, when we finished, we found out that neither teacher in the community had their car that day, so we were stuck hiking the 8 or 9 kilometer trek back to the highway to catch a bus back to San Miguel. each passing truck raised our hopes for a moment, then dashed them as they sped on past in the blazing heat. by the end, we had become defiant (although i hope not belligerent, an early warning sign of heat stroke) that we wanted to finish the hike for our pride and sense of accomplishment. whether fortunately or not, no car tempted our declaration, and we finished the trek, found a bus, and sank exhausted into the plush seats.

this evening, we had a lovely dinner at a fantastic italian restaurant in downtown San Miguel with Alex, Kelly, Dr. Quiroz (the local nephrologist who has been involved and very supportive of our project from the beginning), Drs Clark and Ashkin, and our four-some of students. fried calamari, bottles of red wine, fresh foccacia bread, large plates of richly prepared pasta, and lively conversation highlighted our dinner. a few plans were made, a few jokes shared, and all around, good will and partnership were spread from Carolina del Norte to Guanajuato. that’s the point of this whole thing: Proyecto Puentes de Salud (Bridges to Health) – we want to form some lasting bridges between a region with both need and support for better health, and the resources, enthusiasm and youth of our medical school in NC. and while working in communities and hospitals is one essential part of that, so is conversation, planning, friendship and positivity to ensure that these connections are not fleeting.

on our ride back from the restaurant, Alex took a short cut (or long way, I’m not quite sure) through a beautiful section of the city where they used to live. we enjoyed the light rainfall, the cool evening, and the company in which we have so fortunately found ourselves. hopefully the rain will not be too short lived, and while we want to pull of our health fair tomorrow, we want to see prosperity, life and health return and thrive in a region that is ready for it. onwards and upwards, but for tonight, i’ll doze off to the drizzle outside and hope to continue what we’ve set out to do.

Jake Stein (Proyecto Puentes de Salud)

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About IHF

The International Health Forum at the UNC School of Medicine is a student-run organization that aims to support students in their pursuit of international health opportunities. We see this as a critical part of today's medical education.

Posted on August 25, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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