On this medical mission trip to Nicaragua, we based in a lodge deep in the jungle at the mouth of the San Juan River. Instead of traveling by van or truck to visit villages, we headed out by boat each day into the rainforest to care for villagers who lived along the river.
Our first day of clinic got off to a busy start. We welcomed 167 patients in our general family practice clinic and saw 11 in our dental clinic. We diagnosed pneumonia, offered gender-identifying ultrasounds to pregnant patients, sent a cancer patient to the city for care, and pulled painful teeth that were badly in need of being extracted. All our patients were grateful to receive attention and care from our team.
“Being a second year pre-dental student, I have had my fair share of exposure to a variety of different dentist and orthodontist offices. However, none of these rival the experience that I had during my first day of dental clinic today on the Rio San Juan in Nicaragua.” – Avery, Team Nicaragua volunteer
The next day, our team really got into the groove and we saw 40 percent more patients in half the time as we did the day before. Part of our group went off to make a house visit to a 94-year-old man who had fallen three weeks prior and was unable to move about since his fall. When he saw our team arrive at his home and realized we were there to help him, he became overwhelmed with emotion. We went to work assessing his injuries and were able to give him medications and antibiotics to help him heal.
Another group visited a preschool full of 2-4 year olds to help them learn the basics of taking care of their health. Through a fun song in Spanish, we were able to teach them about the importance of washing their hands. We gave each child a bar of soap to take home and a sticker for demonstrating his or her newfound hand-washing technique. We also talked to them about bad mosquitos, good nutrition, and how important it is to drink lots of good, clean water.
The next day our team divided into two groups as we boated up the river to visit small, remote villages. The first group set up clinic in a one-room school. They saw patients with coughs, colds, fungal infections, fevers, urinary tract infections, general pain, and gastritis, and as well as some who just wanted to take advantage of having a doctor in town to make sure they were healthy.
When our doctor learned that one of our patients was pregnant, she used one of our Dopplers to let the mom listen to her baby’s heartbeat. This simple act that we are so accustomed to in the U.S. was a gift that brought joy and relief to the mother – hearing her unborn baby is not likely something she would have ever gotten to experience if we hadn’t been there.
Our second group also set up clinic in a one-room school where they vaccinated babies, treated coughs and colds and gave the children de-worming medication. A 12-year-old girl came limping in with a painful, badly infected big toenail. We cleaned it carefully and explained to her how to take care of it. She left with medications and a smile.
Our team was packed and waiting for boat transportation back to the lodge when a family with five children arrived. Even though we were done for the day, since they had taken the time to come see us, the medical staff did a quick evaluation of the family. They treated a few infections and gave the children worm medication and the family was good to go.
The last day of clinic involved an adventure deep into the rainforest up the San Juan River to visit the indigenous Rama tribes. As we traveled up the river, we were able to watch their daily activities, as the men fished from hollowed-out canoes and the women herded their families from one destination to the next.
We left Nicaragua feeling fortunate to be able to provide people with care that they likely wouldn’t have received otherwise. We look forward to a trip to this wonderful country again soon.