Today's update comes from Abteen Asgharian, who, while one of our younger volunteers, proved himself to be a huge asset when he joined us for a week in the remote community of Ensenada.
Going to a foreign place without electricity or running water was a concept I had never before experienced. I didn't know what to expect on this mission. In the beginning of this arduous yet exciting mission, my mother and I traveled to the heart of Panama- Panama City. It was a beautiful city; it had an adequate amount of diverse fast-foods from all around the world and wonderful tourist sites such as the Panama Canal. After almost a week in Panama City, we traveled to Bocas del Toro, where I met some interesting members of Floating Doctors.
Bocas del Toro is located on the island of Colón, on the outskirts of Panama. On the Sunday of June 21st, we went to the Floating Doctors warehouse. It was the orientation. A few of the members talked about their experiences in the past and what to expect on this fun experience. I felt a little bit shy and uneasy at first just thinking about no phone for three nights, no pleasant bathroom, sleeping in a hammock instead of on a regular mattress, and the same food for three nights. Honestly, I had never thought of being in a situation like that. I never lived too wealthy or too poor- I loved my life just the way it was and thinking about the whole new experience of living a poor life in a foreign community just sounded astonishing. I didn't worry too much about this idea that night, though, for I really wanted to see what it was like to live life "differently."
The next day was the first day of our journey to Ensenada, and our group dropped all our bags on the boats for the start of a two and a half hour boat ride. It was a relaxing, enjoyable ride as the scenery was quite exquisite and a few droplets of water splashed when the boat approached the big waves. When our group arrived at Ensenada, I was dumbfounded. My first glimpse of the scenery there was a few rooftops made out of wood, something I usually didn't see coming from the United States. We set up our hammocks that day and went out to the beach for a peaceful swim. Wow- that beach was easily one of the best beaches I've ever visited! The sand was smooth and soft, the water was not too cold nor hot, and there were a ton of trees all scattered together, making it look like a jungle. It was a great first day at Ensenada, but my journey was only beginning.
The second and third day of Ensenada were busy, as we had to see over 100 patients each day. I was working in administration with a couple other hard-working members. it was a difficult, tiresome task, but I really improved my Spanish in those two days I was working. Moreover, I had the opportunity to gain a sense of satisfaction from looking on the faces of the locals and knowing that my hard efforts are for a good cause. Although I didn't help with the prescribing and handing out of medication to patients, I still felt that my work had helped Floating Doctors a great deal. Surely, these two days I won't forget in a long, long time!
The following morning, our group packed our items once more for a trip back to Bocas del Toro. It was an amazing experience, and I've been truly blessed to have the opportunity to help others and live the lives of the locals for three nights. I really loved the environment I worked along with the friendliness of the locals there, and the love of the members of Floating Doctors. Without these three elements, I don't think I would have enjoyed the trip as much. In my previous years, my parents and I have made donations to many different causes, but I didn't feel the special impact from those donations compared to what I experienced first-hand in Ensenada. For certain, I would go on this journey again (hopefully more fluent in Spanish) and maybe I'll feel a bigger impact than the first time. I recommend this to everybody, as it teaches you the other side of live people don't usually experience and the feeling people get when they help others in need.
Photos courtesy of Sam Paci
Today's report come from Dr. Kevin Lan, our indefatigable Lead Dental Provider.
In the early months of 2015, Floating Doctors added another paddle to its ever-expanding Cayuco (wooden canoe) by launching its dental programme in tandem with the flourishing mobile medical clinics. It has always been the dream of Ben LaBrot, the founder of Floating Doctors, to have a long-term dentist join the crew. The need for dental treatment is in high demand but unfortunately very rarely accessible to the Ngäbe communities.
In its inception, the team’s first clinic was set in the mountainous village of Norteno. From dawn till dusk, spanning over two days, 80 patients were seen by our tireless dentists who maintained high spirits despite the failing light and increasingly limited resources. It is this drive and motivation to deliver healthcare in such challenging conditions that epitomises the spirit of our leadership team and volunteers representing our organisation.
Since then we have visited multiple communities where we are continuously amazed by the extent of dental caries prevalence, especially in young children. On each clinic we will see an average of 30 patients, many who have suffered in pain with toothache or infections for several months or even years! Imagine, or can you remember the debilitating sensation of dental pain and being without access to dental treatment for that length of time? Our clinic is currently restricted to extractions and minor oral surgery, but with time and correspondence to those with invaluable resources or expertise, we will strive to make Ben’s dream come true.
The development of the Floating Doctors dental programme would not be possible without the support and kind donations from our benefactors and organisations, for this we cannot extend our gratitude enough. We have set a target of $10,000, which once achieved would provide all the equipment necessary for a fully functional dental clinic to serve the Ngäbe communities. With Floating Doctors we have a fantastic opportunity to implement positive changes to the oral health of the communities in Bocas del Toro.
It is a privilege to share this journey with you. Our working environment is such a challenging, exciting, very tiring, but thoroughly rewarding experience. Improving a patient’s quality of life is not based on what procedure or medication I give them, but my ability to show compassion and care to a person where they are expected to expose their problems and fears to a stranger whilst overcoming language, cultural and social barriers.
Chao, until next time..
This month's report comes from the viewpoint of two of our awsome volunteers from University of California, Irvine, Jessica Vaughan and Amanda Purdy. We have developed a partnership with UC Irvine to continue their work in the communities we serve.
It is difficult to explain the transformation that happens while you volunteer with the Floating Doctors. For the group of us nine medical students there were six months of planning, coordinating, and fundraising topped off with much anticipation and excitement.
Our goal was to teach local providers working with the Floating Doctors how to screen for high-risk pregnancies and heart defects in children using portable ultrasound machines. We planned to study the feasibility of the training as well as help screen as many patients as we could. Our hope was that by empowering local providers with the knowledge and tools to perform these potentially life saving exams, we could leave lasting impact beyond our eight week summer.
Soon enough we were in Panama, working along side Dr. Ben and Floating Doctors doing just that- educating and empowering the locals, and giving them the tools to sustain the improved health of their communities. As UC Irvine medical students, ultrasound is a part of our curriculum. Working with Floating Doctors validated just how useful portable ultrasound technology is in resource-limited settings. We were able to inform a pregnant woman that she had placenta previa, an extremely dangerous condition that can be fatal during childbirth. Floating Doctors provided transportation to the woman from her residence on a remote island to a nearby hospital, where she safely had a cesarean section. She and her baby are alive, and that would most likely not be the case without the ultrasound screening, and without the assistance provided by Floating Doctors. Throughout our cumulative eight weeks with Floating Doctors, we were able to forewarn many women with high-risk pregnancies, and children with congenital heart defects that they should seek attention from a hospital to receive life-saving treatment.
We went into our Floating Doctors experience with a goal- to make a sustainable impact while improving our clinical skills, but we ended up coming out with so much more than that. The greatest lessons learned weren’t which ultrasound probe worked best to assess fetal head diameter or which view of the heart was easiest to get on a small child. The most profound lesson was discovering what being a healer meant for each of us. Everyone goes to medical school for slightly different reasons, but the underlying theme for all of us is that we want to improve the lives of others. When working and learning in the United States it can be easy to lose sight of the human aspect of medicine. Your time is limited with each patient, you send your patients to get X-rays, CT scans, blood tests. To some, a patient can become a list of lab values and radiology reports who can be treated with a medication. Every hospital needs to have the latest equipment to make that list of lab values and radiology reports that much more accurate. But that is not what medicine is about, and working with Floating Doctors helped us remember what it means to be a healer. We made house calls and lived along side the Ngobe people. We got to know each patient as a whole person and took as much time as we needed with each patient. We didn’t close the clinic at 5:00pm, we closed the clinic when there were no patients left. Many times we saw patients into the night with our headlamps as our only source of light. That’s what the Floating Doctors experience, and medicine, is all about: providing healthcare to people in need.
With Dr. Ben and his fearless team as a model we learned what a privilege it was to be let into the lives of people in their moments of need and how as providers we are in the unique position do something to make it better. We have learned that being a healer means doing the best you can with what you can. It means putting in the extra work to figure out what is going on when things are unclear. It means asking for help when you can’t solve a problem on your own. It means being reliable and keeping your word. It means carrying this sense of awe and responsibility with us for the rest of our careers. Our Floating Doctors experience has undoubtedly influenced each and every one of us, and we will all be better physicians because of our experience.
Over the past few months, Floating Doctors has seen an amazing flurry of activity, particularly in the realm of maternal and fetal health!
Recently, in La Sabana, a 9-month pregnant patient came to clinic. We performed an ultrasound and found that her baby was in a transverse, or horizontal, position, which can be very dangersous for both mother and baby. Usually, a baby in transverse position must be delivered by cesarian section, which is nearly impossible in this isolated mountain community accessible only by foot and packhorse. To compound matters, the team recognized that she could befin labor at any moment. As daylight was fading, and a night journey down the mountain is very risky, the team was preparing to transport her to the hospital in the morning. Luckily, we had an obstetric nurse practitioner on our team, who showed the woman some poses and stretches to try in an attempt to get the baby to change position. The woman listened intently and followed the instructions, and in the middle of the night, the baby moved into the right position.
The next morning, she went into labor, and was able to give birth to a healthy baby with the aid of the local midwives in her own community, without the stress of having to travel many hours to the hospital. This is one instance where the outcome was the best we could hope for, and we were immensely grateful that we could be there to care for her and provider her with an option to transport to ensure advanced care if necessary.
At another clinic in Playa Verde, where we've built our first remote outpost, we treated a very high number of pregnant women in one clinic at over 30. On the first day, literally an entire boat full of pregnant women from elsewhere on the peninsula pulled up to the clinic. Later, in the middle of the night, another boat arrived with a woman and her husband. She had not been to clinic, but had begun feeling intermittent contractions that evening so had been rushed to us so that we could perform and ultrasound and ensure the baby was in the right position. Thankful that we have a building to provide privacy and comfort from the weather with our outpost, we took her up to the ultrasound room and were able to confirm that everything looked okay and ready to go. As she still had quite awhile to go before the birth, she decided to return home and give birth in her community with the parteras that had been caring for her. We look forward to returning to Playa Verde within the next few weeks to check on mother and baby.
At one of our most recent clinics in Norteno, a woman went into labor on the first day of clinic, but the local midwife was sick and wasn't able to help with the delivery. A few of our volunteers went to the birthing house and delivered the baby. In order to get to the woman, a river had to be crossed. During the hours of labor, it rained heavily and the river swelled, trapping the team for many hours. Thanks to the skills and care of our volunteers, and the strength that so many of our patients share, the birth went flawlessly. There for the majority of the labor, the woman's husband was present, but he disappeared shortly after the birth without word. When he returned, he was carrying huge bags of fruit from his farm. He gave them to our volunteers to show his immense gratitude.
We are so grateful for the support of our many donors and volunteers, who are helping us bring healthcare to pregnant women and new mothers!
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Chief Executive Officer