Thursday, January 21, 2016

Timmy Global Health Brigade: Regreso de Los Tufitos

Text and photos by Elizabeth Barnes (unless otherwise specified)

Tufts University sophomore Emily Van Doren is no stranger to a dentist's office. An aspiring orthodontist, she has over two years' experience working with dentists in the U.S.

Nevertheless, assisting Dra. Luján Méndez Bauer on her first Timmy Global Health Brigade last week was transformative. Emily not only sanitized dental tools and scribed for Dra. Luján but also assisted with a filling and extraction.

"Since I have some knowledge about dentistry, it was intriguing to see the similarities and differences between Guatemalan and American dentistry," Emily said.

The involvement of community members in the brigade especially struck her. "I had patients take heavy tables and boxes from me several times when setting up the clinic," Emily said. "One 16-year-old girl helped me find patients all day (as I don't speak Spanish) while I was working with Dra. Luján, and dozens of translators, many younger than myself, gave up their entire day to translate from Mayan dialects to Spanish." Local volunteers joined international ones like Emily to make last week's medical brigade a success.

Emily helps Dra. Luján in the Pop Wuj dental office on Friday, January 15, the final day of the brigade. The patient, Ingrid, is a student at the Family Support Center in Llanos del Pinal. (Photo courtesy of Emily Van  Doren)
Emily came to Pop Wuj as part of Tufts Timmy Global Health, a student group that has come to Pop Wuj for brigades in the past. The Tufts students were supplemented with Timmy staff and affiliated medical professionals and joined here by Pop Wuj medical students amd staff for a week-long brigade.

Timmy allows Pop Wuj to provide a broader variety of services and treatments to a greater number of patients, and we couldn't have the same impact without volunteers willing to share their time, funds, and expertise. In just over a week, the Tufts "Tufitos" and their fellow Timmy volunteers tended to over 350 patients in five communities — Llanos del Pinal, Xeabaj, Pujujil, Buena Vista, and Xela. Via local translators the group served patients speaking K'iche', Kaqchikel, and Mam as well as Spanish.

Timmy volunteers unload medicines and supplies from the last of three vans in Xeabaj. Our talented drivers steered the vans backward down a twisting hill to park close to our mobile clinic site.
At the end of a long Wednesday, Tufts students settle into their van for the 90-minute drive from Pujujil back to Xela.
Since four of the five clinics take place in community buildings not designed as health centers, brigade groups have to bring their own supplies and adapt the spaces for medicine.

A Timmy doctor and scribe settle into their improvised consultation room in Pujujil, where community members partitioned a large hall with sheets and tarps to create privacy for the day's patients.
Tufts students count medications in the pharmacy in Llanos del Pinal on Monday. Though pharmacists review prescriptions before and after they're filled, trained students are crucial to an efficient pharmacy.
Dentistry was a new feature of this brigade, and dozens of patients in more remote rural communities who took advantage of these less accessible services kept Dra. Luján exceptionally busy.

"She's an incredible doctor and perhaps an even better person," Emily said, "and I felt as though the other students should get a chance to work with her as well." She gave her Tufts peers that opportunity by switching up her duties, assisting Dra. Luján for two days but also rotating through the vitals station, non-dental consultation rooms, and pharmacy.

Collectively the brigade members filled over a dozen roles each day: taking histories, checking vitals, seeing patients, translating and scribing for doctors, applying fluoride treatments to children's teeth, checking and filling prescriptions, distributing medications, administering eye exams for reading glasses, and educating patients.

Not all brigades administer fluoride, but many Tufts students working registration, vitals, or medical consultations would finish their duties for the day and begin offering these treatments.
Tuft students, Timmy staff and volunteer medical personnel, and Pop Wuj staff and volunteers celebrate a successful day in Pujujil. (Photo courtesy of Tufts Timmy Global Health)

Emily is not sure whether she'll be able to return next year as she hopes to study abroad, but she plans to stay in Tufts Timmy and hopes to go on another brigade eventually. "This was an experience that I know will stick with me," she said, "and change the type of doctor or dentist I become someday." You are always welcome at Pop Wuj, Tufitos & Co.  gracias por todo!

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