(To read Part 1 of this journey, click here.)
Before I continue with the rest of my week-long experience, the following is a quick overview of what became our daily schedule:
Our days started early. 7:00am breakfast call (the Koreans had bible study at 6:30am!), loaded and ready to go on our little truck by 8:30am-9:00am, and to our location by 9-9:30am. Except for Sunday, which was a day off b/c the crew went to church, everyday from Saturday to Thursday we worked from about 10am to about 6:30pm, with about a 1-hour lunch break in between. From 6:30 to about 8pm we had set down, packing and Pastor Aaron and his assistant Omar would share their Christian faith with the people we treated earlier in the day with songs, puppet show and slide shows. We’d then head back to the hotel and have dinner around 8:30pm, and I tried to be in bed and sleeping by 10:30pm every night. I had a hard time sleeping the first few nights from all the excitement and nerves but by the third night both from exhaustion and getting the swing of things, I was in a routine and sleeping pretty much through the night.
Day 2 - PLAYA OESTE
Oh talk about being nervous and excited! I could barely eat my breakfast that morning, as it was going to be my very first of 5 medical visits to the surrounding neighborhoods in the week to come. I knew to expect a huge line of people and chaos, but I still didn’t really know what to expect, so my poor stomach was all in knots.
We arrived to Playa Oeste, an area about 20 minutes from the hotel. We were to be housed in a small 4-room school. There weren’t too many people when we first arrived, which surprised me, but it let me sigh a sigh of relief. I jumped the gun, though. After about 30 minutes, there was all of a sudden a long line of people waiting outside! The school became quickly filled with Dominicans eagerly waiting for our services. General medicine and I (acupuncture) quickly set up our stations, and after people went through registration, having their name, age, blood pressure and chief complaints recorded, they were directed to the appropriate departments.
Rio in Puerto Plata
To read Part 3, click here
I was given the wonderful support of a daily local assistant, hard working and sweet Mirla, who helped with removing needles and keeping the flow of patients coming and going. I asked her to keep a tally of how many patients I was seeing, and according to her records, I saw 93 on this day! (And as the days went on, I was averaging about 100 patients a day.) Holy cow, I didn’t think I had it in me! Thank god for my energy bars and protein shakes I brought from home. They helped so much in between meals. As the days progressed, I remembered to take frequent short breaks, drink tons of water (with electrolytes in it), take my herbs, and pace myself, too.
That's my awesome assistant, Mirla
People waiting in line to get acupuncture
As part of our mission, the crew had also brought a supply of canes for the visually-impaired. The president and vice president (I believe) of the local blind organization came to the school that day to receive the supply from us. Both general medicine and I were able to provide care for them as well for their non-vision related health concerns. At the end of our day, before we headed back to the hotel, the crew formally presented the two representatives with the supply of canes. It was gratifying to hear that these canes would help the visually-impaired to gain a little more independence, as those with handicaps in the DR are not yet given much social or governmental support.
Pastor Aaron and Mirla speaking to the two visually-impaired representatives
I learned a lot from my day at Playa Oeste. First and foremost: Pace Yourself! That day, I had about 5 patients at a time sitting in chairs, randomly placed in the room, and I would go from patient to patient, taking a quick look at their registration form, asking them couple questions, then taking their pulse and looking at their tongue to make a quick diagnosis. I would then begin inserting the needles in the limbs and ears of the patients, requiring me to bend over, kneel down, get up and overall get a real work out on my back and knees. I quickly realized this would not help me last for the next 6 days.
Later on during dinner, I mentioned this fact to Jae, and ever the smart woman that she is, she came up with the brilliant idea of having a 4-patient acupuncture station with patients sitting, with their legs up on chairs, all side by side. In between patients, we were to put single chairs so that I could sit between patients and do my care by just turning around in my chair. This allowed minimal getting up and out of chairs by me as well as not having to get on my knees. This was to help me tremendously in the days to come. ...And of course, the frequent snack, water, and breather breaks.
DAY 3 - DAY OFF
Because this was Sunday, we were given the day off. The Koreans went to church in the morning, I slept in, had breakfast and hung out by the beach with my friend Tomoko until it was time for lunch. We all joined together for lunch, then went on a little excursion of Puerto Plata.
Pastor Aaron and Omar took us on a furnicular ride up one of the highest peaks in Puerto Plata to enjoy the wonderful panoramic view of this beach town. DR is so lush and verdant! And it was so cool up at the peak. There was a nice botanical garden we could meander through. There was also a little bit of Rio de Janeiro going on up there, too, with a huge Jesus Christ statue.
One of the rare group shots
Rio in Puerto Plata
After the furnicular ride, we went to a local supermarket to purchase water for the next several days. We also indulged in refreshing sherbets made with local fruits.
Being tropical, there was an abundance of fruits in DR, here frozen to make a sherbet.
This was also the day that the husband-and-wife team, Drs. Lee and Karen, and the dental assistant John arrived from Los Angeles.
I ended the evening with a nice stroll on the beach, before heading to the hotel restaurant for dinner. This would be the last time I would see this beautiful beach sunset b/c after this, every night, we were too busy, away on site, or tired to stroll for a leisurely walk.
To read Part 3, click here