The Fun That Was Peace Corps Guyana - Mark's Blog

Postings from just north of the equator. Let's see if training in CPR and First Aid prepares me to teach Health Education in a small, remote village in Guyana. I'm thinking... no. Read all about this ill advised decision! In addition, here is the required Peace Corps disclaimer: "The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the US government or the Peace Corps." So, please, don't confuse me with the White House Press Secretary.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Read This After the Post Before

I thought I should add a little something to that last post about working with the USNS Comfort doctors and support staff. First off, those military guys and girls were great. They were really nice people. They had been on the ship for the past three months, seeing ten countries already. After Guyana, they were going to finish off in Suriname and then go back home. Though they’d been working hard, they were all, without exception, incredibly professional, efficient, and courteous. Everyone’s bedside manner with the patients was exceptional. One of my very close Guyanese friends stood in line for over six hours to see the doctor. He’s a little bit of an older man and has a back problem – he said he couldn’t remember standing that long in a very long time. Yet, he didn’t complain at all because of the bedside manner of the doctor who saw him. He said some of the nicest and most grateful things I’ve possibly ever heard someone say about a doctor. And after working with those doctors and support staff for three days, I know they deserved every last compliment they got.

Also, and possibly more importantly, I got the pleasure of eating a MRE. For those of you who are not hip to military food, MRE means “Meal Ready to Eat.” It’s the food soldiers eat while out on missions. And in case you don’t know it’s for soldiers, the logo on the front is a silhouette of a soldier with a gun. Classic! Though most might cringe at the thought of eating, say, beef pot roast out of a bag, keep in mind that most of you haven’t been living in Guyana for a year and a half. And as much as I like Guyanese food (especially when made by my host mom), I haven’t been eating much beef pot roast here. So these MREs have individually packaged foods in them – usually the main course, crackers, cheese spread, a cookie, and an energy bar. So you have to heat up the main course. But you don’t need a microwave of anything. Oh no. It’s much more interesting than that. You put the packet of beef pot roast in a larger plastic sleeve. In that plastic bag, there is a chemical packet. Then, in a slightly scary chemical experiment, you pour a bit of water into the bag and the chemical packet heats up really hot to heat your food. Crazy! The thing was actually smoking and too hot to hold within about ten seconds. After about five minutes, it’s ready to eat! Hmmm-hmmm good.

But really, it was pretty good. I mean, like I said, it’s been a little while since I’ve had beef pot roast or beef enchiladas or cheese tortellini. So they tasted amazing to me. All the military guys were laughing because they are so sick of them. But I was as happy as can be. When they were packing up on the third day, they still had a box of 20 MREs. And Hector, our military hook-up for the MREs, asked me if I wanted the whole box. Ah…. yes. So thanks to Hector, I am sharing about 20 different MREs with two other Peace Corps volunteers on the coast, both of whom are not quite as excited about these preservative-laden food packets.

So anyways, it was a lot of fun working with these guys. I think Hector might be reading this post, so thanks a lot for the MREs. Make sure to send me those pictures when you get a chance. And to any other guys or girls of the Comfort, thanks a lot! I had a blast working with you guys. And more importantly, I know how grateful people were on the Essequibo Coast after your visit. You guys really made a difference in three short days. Thanks.

Working with Military Doctors

So here is an essay I wrote for my Peace Corps boss about a job I did. The essay should be self-explanatory, but basically a US military hospital ship visited Guyana for a week, and I helped out with an outreach team for three days. When reading this, keep in mind my audience was originally my boss and his superiors at Peace Corps Washington DC. Here it goes:

The day started at 5:00 am. I needed to get up early to meet with the three US Embassy staff members in the Anna Regina car-park at 6:00 am. My Peace Corps Project Manager had volunteered me to help with the outreach of the medical team from the USNS Comfort, a military hospital ship that had been touring Central and South America for the past three months. The Comfort doctors and staff were in Guyana for a week, mostly stationed in Georgetown, the capital city. There were also two outreach teams that were going to more rural communities. Luckily for my region, a team was coming to the Essequibo Coast to be stationed at the Charity hospital for three days. Because of the relative remoteness of my area, all the supplies and staff had to be flown in and out by helicopter. This meant that there was to be only a small number of support staff. Hence, Peace Corps Guyana decided to offer my and two other Peace Corps Volunteers’ services to augment the three US Embassy staff to help administer surveys to the patients. What it meant for me at this moment, though, was that I was “enjoying” a bucket bath at 5:00 am.

This morning ritual was essentially repeated for the next three days. I’m not complaining; it was a great experience. Our group of six was tasked with administering surveys to all of the patients: we asked the first part of the three-page surveys while the people were in line and the second part as they exited the hospital. We were gathering basic demographical information as well as information about the quality of care. As simple as it sounded, there were many potential problems. From the beginning, it was clear that we were understaffed for the task. We also needed to figure out the most efficient system to organize the half-completed surveys at the exit, though this system would have to be implemented at the same time we were pulling and finishing the surveys. And these were just the challenges we identified before we got there! This being Peace Corps, more challenges popped up immediately. We only received the surveys halfway through the first day. We ran through the 1,500 surveys by the end of the second day and didn’t receive any more. And we had administered the first part of hundreds of surveys to people on the second day who were told to come back on the third day to actually see the doctors. That left us with hundreds of half-completed surveys that needed to be finished, assuming the people did actually return the final day. Nonetheless, we were able both to complete almost all the surveys and then, in lieu of completing surveys, keep a general count of how many patients saw which specialist. Despite the challenges, we largely met our goals. In other words, it seemed like a typical Peace Corps project!

Of course, our role was solidly secondary to the job of the military doctors, but we did see the results of their efforts. Patients would stand in line for up to six hours, yet they were, without exception, glowingly happy and incredibly grateful to see the doctors. The only negative comments were about the length of the line, though a majority seemed understanding that such an event as American doctors on the Essequibo Coast would result in long lines. People even happily put up with our line to finish the surveys, even though they had seen the doctors, received medicine, and were ready to return home.

It was especially nice to be a Peace Corps Volunteer working on my coast with the doctors. Over the three days, I saw many people whom I recognized from my community. Other people assumed that I was with the military and therefore new to Guyana. It was always fun to tell them that I had actually been living on the Essequibo Coast for the past year and a half. That always resulted in a huge smile and comments about what a great service we were doing, not only with the medical outreach, but also as Peace Corps Volunteers who spent two years in Guyana.

By the end of the third day, we were exhausted. The doctors saw about 2,500 patients over three days and still had to turn away another few hundred for lack of time. Busily working from 7:00 am until 5:00 pm for three days, I almost missed the more laid-back schedule of my local health center. But I was extremely happy that my Project Manager had volunteered me for this job. I had seen, up close, the joy and appreciation of my fellow Essequibo residents to see these American military doctors. And I was grateful to be a small part of it.