Remote MedicineFebruary 06, 2014
One of the wonderful things about practicing medicine in the Military is that it allows us to put a good foot forward into other countries and show a better side of us. I worked in the Air National Guard for several years treating pilots in Oregon, which I loved doing, but I also had the opportunity to practice medicine in Guatemala and Haiti through the military. In Guatemala we traveled to remote locations by bus in sweltering heat, in our uniforms, to set up clinics where none existed, and staff them with our people and supplies. I had worked as a wilderness and emergency doctor previously so I was excited to practice medicine in a remote environment, meet new people, and learn about their culture. I spoke Spanish but we still needed local interpreters for the Ki'che Mayan language.
Our group comprised 20 people, including dentists, optometrists, and medical technicians. I'm glad for the help because I soon learned how hard it was to practice emergency medicine in a community of need, but how important it was to practice dentistry and optometry. Often, I would be asked about abdominal pain, headaches, or past fevers. I could follow up with questions and exams and determine that it wasn't an emergency, but without further tests I often could not diagnose the specific problem. That seemed to never be the case with teeth and eyes. Each day I spent time with the dentists examining and removing rotten teeth. At first it was difficult to find the right pressure and wiggle the tooth enough but soon they came out easily. Similarly, we brought a range of preset prescription glasses and after working with children I was able to find a working prescription. It was amazing to see their response after being able to read again or see once more into the distance.
It was unbelievably rewarding to explore the jungles in Guatemala and see a new country, but at the same time be of service to the people and also share a part of their experience on a more intimate level.