These last ten days I was lucky enough to travel up the the Amazones regions of Perú to a beautiful town called Chachapoyas. This is the sixth year Chachapoyas has held their annual medical mission. About a hundred volunteers come from around the world to help serve thousands of patients in three days. Volunteers ranged from Chile to Brazil to Columbia to Mexico to the United States.
During this medical mission I was able to work with Dr. Burgas, an eye doctor and surgeon. Dr. Burgas is from Trujillo and has participated in this mission now for five years with his wife and his staff. The day before the mission started I was able to work with Dr. Burgas as he did initial consultations with patients to check their eye sight and evaluate if patients needed cataract surgery. After about 200 consults, Dr. Burgas had 56 patients ready for cataract surgery for the next three days. Beginning early in the morning on Friday, patients were called in, prepped for surgery, and we began. I was in charge of helping patients change into “surgery” clothes which included an apron dress, plastic bags over their shoes, and a hair net. I would also mark each patient’s forehead with an “x” next to the correct eye for the operation. Once the patient was prepped the gotas would begin, also known as eye drops. Every five minutes I would administer two sets of eye drops into the patients effected eye. These drops would dilate the pupil and begin the initial numbing process.
Most of the time there would be about five patients prepped with drops and waiting to be called up next for surgery. In the surgery room, there would be three patients – one patient in surgery, one patient on deck, and the last being sterilized and receiving more eye drops. Each surgery lasted about 30 minutes, but the process in total for each patient lasted around five hours due to preparation and wait time. One of the biggest differences I noticed in the Peruvian hospital systems is the disorganization of appointments and timelines. Patients would come to the hospital in the earliest hours of the morning to get in line for an appointment and then wait all day with no gauge of when their name would be called. Yet, patients who waited all day had no complaints and only praised the doctors, nurses, and volunteers for helping them. Throughout the days at the mission, I was able to talk to some of the patients and their families. One of the patients, Maria, was 62 and had been blind for 6 years unable to see her children, grandchildren, or husband. Dr. Burgas operated on her on Friday and she came in for her post consult on Sunday blessed with the gift of sight again. It was truly an awarding experience to learn from these patients and witness the value of sight.
In addition to helping Dr. Burgas with cataract surgeries, I was able to observe and assist with multiple other surgeries including c-sections, hernias, pancreatic cancer exploration, gall bladder removal, and appendicitis. Even though the days were long, I learned much from the patients, nurses, and doctors in Chachapoyas. This little town holds so much spirit, faith, and gratefulness that I will never forget.
After the mission, our group got to travel to the third largest waterfall in the world, Gocta, and visit the “Machu Picchu of the North”, Kuelap. Along the way we got to know more of the volunteers and some of the locals in Chachapoyas. Also, throughout the week was the town’s celebration of the Virgin Mary and we got to see some of the parades and celebrations that filled the streets and the plaza. After ten full days in Chachapoyas, we traveled back to Trujillo. This mission has been the highlight of my trip so far. It was so rewarding to witness the community coming together to support this mission and how health care can change a patient’s and their family’s life. I’m finally back in Trujillo and can’t wait for the next half of my trip!
– Lauren Cherrey, Class of 2021