Sweat dripping off my brow, I walked out of the sweltering three-room cinder block clinic into the grasslands, under the spotlight of a full moon. It was midnight, and I had just finished assisting the repair of a thirddegree perineal tear on a woman who had given birth to a beautiful, healthy little girl moments before. There was no electricity, our supplies were limited, I was wearing open-toed sandals, OSHA didn’t exist and I was a wide-eyed fourth-year medical student at Des Moines University.
I was on a trip organized by the late Dr. Steve DeVore to Mali, Africa, through his nonprofit group Medicine for Mali. I returned to the States and my medical rotations with a changed outlook on medicine. I pursued an orthopedic residency of which I am now in my third year. I vowed to continue to serve the underserved in whatever medical capacity I was able, and this past March the opportunity to participate in another trip with Des Moines University arose. My wife, Tami, and I (shown in the photo) jumped at the opportunity.
Twenty-eight medical students, three physicians and a physical therapist partnered with the international nonprofit group Global Brigades and traveled to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, March 19-25. In just four days our group, with the assistance of two Honduran doctors, a dentist and a pharmacist, treated more than 1,000 patients in rural communities some two to three hours’ drive from the city. Most of these patients did not have routine access to medical care and were suffering from an array of common (and a few uncommon) ailments. The medical students took turns translating, triaging patients, taking vitals and examining patients with the physicians.
I’ll have to admit, as excited as I was to have the opportunity to participate in another global health trip, I was a bit nervous. After all, I am an orthopedic surgery resident. Probably much to my former DMU physical exam instructor’s chagrin, I haven’t picked up an otoscope or ophthalmoscope in several years! But Dr. Roberta Wattleworth had taught me well, and in no time we were diagnosing acute otitis media and cataracts without missing a step. We even witnessed a case of Bell’s palsy.
We saw newborns to octogenarians. There were, of course, the slew of common musculoskeletal complaints we had expected, and I had come well prepared with a full suitcase of supplies donated by my hospital back in Lansing, Michigan. There were a few budding orthopedists in our group who didn’t hesitate at the opportunity to learn how to inject a knee or shoulder. The tropical dermatology book was opened frequently, hundreds of teeth were pulled, many Pap smears were performed and through all our encounters there was a common theme: joy and gratitude. No matter the symptom, no matter the treatment rendered, the patients we gave care to truly appreciated the fact we were there to serve. Waiting three hours to be seen – no problem!
Walking five hours in the heat and dust – no problem! Words can’t describe the sincerity expressed by the patients we saw. I witnessed this sincerity of gratitude as a student in Africa and now again as a physician in Honduras. The attitude these patients expressed is why I gave up my vacation to serve.
The DMU students on the trip were phenomenal. Their attitudes and abilities truly speak to the preparedness the University bestows upon them. I can also say the same for my own training. I was given the opportunity as a medical student to participate in a global health trip, and I was taught the basic osteopathic skills and philosophies that would allow me to give back to the general medical community as a proud Des Moines University alum. I’m already looking forward to the next opportunity!
Joel Post, D.O.’08, resides in Lansing, MI. DMU’s partnership on this trip with Global Brigades came about thanks to Hiral Patel, D.O.’14; as an undergraduate at the University of California-Berkeley, she went on that university’s first Global Brigades trip to Honduras, helped organize another one and has since spent about two years in the country, where she’s helped develop a sustainable community health program.