Sunday, January 17, 2010

Focus on Jamaica Missions

Some of you have been asking for more information about my mission trips – in particular, the Jamaica medical mission trips and my Guatemala mission trips.

So, this post will be about Jamaica – as it’s fresh on the brain – and this is for Noelle, who will one day get her RN license and will be traveling to 3rd-world countries herself to provide medical care.

Looking over a map of Jamaica, one’s eyes may focus along the coast, imagining such pleasures as swimming in the warm Caribbean sea of Montego Bay or climbing the fresh water falls outside of Ochos Rios; however, it is harder for all of us to imagine the space between those points on the map—the face of Jamaica outside of the resorts.

Falmouth, Jamaica is a sleepy little town situated about 18 miles east of Montego Bay. It is often compared to Colonial Williamsburg, as it is noted for being one of the Caribbean’s best-preserved Georgian towns.

Approximately 20 years ago, a physician from the United States, Dr. Carpenter, began a medical clinic in Falmouth, with the goal of providing quality health care to the Jamaican population that would otherwise suffer without care. The Jamaican health care system requires payment BEFORE (as opposed to our system – which allows patients to pay after) services are performed, and many Jamaicans do not have the money to be cared for. Now, teams of volunteers that include physicians, nurses, nursing students, lab technicians, dentists, pharmacists and concerned individuals work at the clinic during the week, seeing dozens of patients each day.

Teams usually arrive on a Saturday, living out of their carry-on luggage for the next week so that the checked baggage can contain donated supplies for the clinic – medical supplies, eyeglasses, and medications. The teams stay in a dormitory close to the clinic – the dorm has beds for 24 people, 5 showers, and a large dining hall where a local cook whips up some delicious food each day to be enjoyed after a hard day’s work.

When Monday begins – so does the work. Patients will often travel up to 3 hours to get their name on a list to be seen by the medical team when they’re in town. Word has traveled fast among the hills of Jamaica – the population knows “the doctors are here!” and the porch of the clinic will be packed with hopeful patients when the team arrives to begin work at 8:00 a.m. Some patients may end up waiting up to 8 hours to be seen that day, and you will never hear them complain.

The majority of the patients that we see are experiencing “the sugar” and “the pressure” – Jamaican slang for diabetes and high blood pressure. These two complaints are the most common amongst the patient population – and so our future efforts there will be on nutrition education, hoping to alleviate some of this. We also see a lot of skin conditions – dermatitis, fungus, dry skin, and eczema. This man (below) had one of the worst conditions that I remember seeing in the 2 years that I’ve been there:
His condition was so bad that he could barely walk…it was all he could do to hobble back into the examining room with the physician. This photo is a close-up of what his hand looked like: The doctor gave him some medicated ointment, as well as prescribing some Prednisone and antibiotics. A few days later, a group of us were walking through the streets of Falmouth when the same gentleman literally came dancing up the street to us, praising and thanking us for the miraculous cure to his skin. It was a heartfelt moment, for sure – it was amazing to see his mobility, as compared to how it had been when he first came to see us. He was so effusive in his praise, it brought tears to our eyes.

This overwhelming outpouring of appreciation by the local community continues to amaze me. In the clinic, in the street, at a restaurant – it seems that everyone we encounter expresses their deep appreciation to those who have freely given their time and talents to keep this mission going. Evidence of God’s blessings are apparent every day.

Some of you have asked what my role is in this. I am not a nurse. Nor a doctor. Nor a dentist. Nor a pharmacist. I guess I am what you would call a “concerned individual.” Although the only medical background I have is programming computers at a hospital for over twenty years – I have found that there are various ways I can support the mission.

I have worked in Intake – where I greet the patient, review their chart, take their history and medical information, and measure their height and weight.

I have worked at the “pee and dip” station – after the patients have collected a urine sample in a small cup, I dip the sticks and record the lab results – blood, nitrates, sugar, etc.

I have worked in the pharmacy, where I’ve assisted the pharmacists by cutting pills in half, counting out pills, labeling prescription bags, and being the general “gopher” that is so needed.

I’ve held babies as they’ve slept; I’ve sat and talked with patients while they’ve waited; and I have done the “Papaya Education” – which is a treatment for the ever-common worms in the people of Jamaica.

I’ve assisted the residents of Falmouth by rebuilding their shops, repainting their fences, caulking their roofs, measured screen for their windows – any little thing that helps make their lives easier and richer.

Our trips go from a Saturday to the following Sunday – about 8-9 days. Our schedule looks something like this:

1st Saturday: Travel Day/Customs/Getting Settled in the Dorm
1st Sunday: Church in A.M.; Leisure in P.M. (Beach in Montego Bay)
Monday: 8 – 5:00 p.m. Work at clinic with a brief lunch
Tuesday: 8 – 5:00 p.m. Work at clinic with a brief lunch
Wednesday: Ochos Rios Trip for shopping & climbing Dunn’s River Falls
Thursday: 8 – 5:00 p.m. Work at clinic with a brief lunch
Friday: 8 – 5:00 p.m. Work at clinic with a brief lunch; evening spent at Luminous Lagoon
Saturday: 8 – 12:00 Work at clinic; Afternoon spent rafting the Martha Brae River
Sunday: Travel Day Back Home

The cost of our trip this year was approximately $1,500 – this was all inclusive – our airfare, transportation, food, lodging, leisure trips, and money spent to purchase medications to bring with us.

If other groups are ever interested in going, your best contact is Mrs. Marjorie Chin, who is the secretary at the Methodist Church of Falmouth, Jamaica. She can be reached at 1-876-617-2866.

Good luck! And if anyone else goes – LET ME KNOW! I want to hear about it!!!!



Mental P Mama said...

Amazing work you do. I feel so pulled to go do this....but I have no training. How do I start? PS...I just friended you on FB.

Noelle said...

fascinating! thank you for sharing those details! i'm over 40 and have done many, many other things career-wise but have always longed to go back to school to obtain my nursing degree. in fact, tomorrow i'm taking the first steps...tomorrow i begin an eight week course to get my CNA license and then i have a job lined up at our local hospital as soon as i'm certified. then after six months, i'll begin prereqs for nursing school. i'm choosing to go the CNA route first because nursing school is a point-based system and being a CNA first gives you a leg-up. although it may be a few years before i get there, you have just cemented in my mind that my goal is to go to a third world country and help. it must be so gratifying to be able to give something i've said before, you are doing God's work. bless you!

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Drama Queen said...

Mental Mama - for the Mission trips, no training is necessary! We train you on the spot - and sometimes, just common sense is needed. The best way to get involved is to "tag" along with another group for your first time - and watch how they set up/operate the trip...then take that back to your church or group and lead a trip yourself. That is what we're doing next month in Belize...we're tagging along and will then know how to lead one ourselves.

Noelle - that is awesome. We had a nursing student on this trip who was 52 years old - had just gone back to get her degree. It is never too late, that's for sure! Set a goal - stick with it - and you will most certainly be making a difference in the world!

I will most certainly post information about upcoming trips we have coming - and if you all want to join us, you are welcome!


Aunt Juicebox said...

I definitely see why you do this.