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

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.


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