Friday, June 13, 2008

I have been feeling like I need to write something recently, but I hadn’t quite figured out a topic until one found me…we ate an early dinner tonight, and as the humidity and ants are doing a number on the lap-top I’ve been using, I took a walk down to the clinic to use a different computer and to get some studying done…

I received a great email from an old friend this week…we haven’t been in contact for years…she had been catching up by reading my blog posts…she thought that as I keep mentioning clergy in my stories that I must be doing a religious mission…that made me realize that I haven’t really described my work to everyone…I better set that straight, huh??

I also better straighten out the fact that despite photographic evidence to the contrary, I am still young on the inside. I have shaved since this photo and all is well.

I am working for the Pastoral Social for the Dioceses of Apartado in Colombia. This is the social arm of the Catholic Church dioceses which includes the area where I am living. We work exclusively in this regard. But I didn’t find them on my own. The support for the volunteers is provided by Concern America (situated in California and Chicago); which is a non-profit, non-religious, and non-governmental group. That is why the majority of our local contacts are church-related, but our work is not. Our work benefits the church as we improve the medical care in their jurisdiction and they help us with transportation, and occasional space for working and lodging. THAT is why I needed to ring the bell and wait for a priest to answer the door.

If what I am doing has an official title it would be a teacher and advocate for health promoters. The idea of educating local people to act as medical care-givers in a community far-removed from official medical services is not new. As I mentioned before, Susana is working with the same model in Guatemala and Juan is in Mexico. It has been proven effective all over the world. My colleague Alan created the program locally just over 5 years ago. The program has grown slowly, but steadily. He has his wife Julie and his close friend from Riosucio, Ismael, doing a massive amount of work concerning logistics and transportation; but he has done the majority of the medical portion single-handedly. I can’t fathom how much work it has taken. Now there are roughly 3 levels of health promoters, living in nearly 30 communities along the Atrato River and its tributaries in Northern Colombia. As I am so new to the project, the best thing I can do is learn Spanish as quickly as possible and start teaching medicine to the promoters.

Our primary goal is education. The promoters leave their homes for weeks on end to come to Riosucio to learn from us. If Alan is alone here he spends a week teaching a specific course to a specific level, but as we have 3 others physicians here presently, all the promoters have been convening here for three different courses…the last series included the gastro-intestinal system for the first level, advanced suture and trauma for the second level and eye diseases and treatment for the 3rd level. As we had a larger group in Riosucio than we could fit into our small classroom, we used the 3 separate classrooms across the river. They have adequate space, but no electricity or bathrooms...yep... Here we are crossing to the other side for morning lessons. The classrooms are the small group of buildings in the background.

Here is Alan teaching IV access. I needed two tries to find Alan´s vein, the promotors, on the other hand, did great! All the other classroom photos from the week have a pig dissection or pig suturing...I figured I would leave those out...
ummm...sorry about the tease, but this photo kept crashing the computer...I´ll send this post without it...

That was about 3 weeks ago. All the promoters will arrive back in Riosucio next Sunday, June 15th. The first level will learn the respiratory system, the second will be wowed while they absorb growth, development, immunizations, and illnesses of childhood, the most experienced group will learn neurology and auto-immune illnesses. Here is a picture of Susan at our kitchen table working on a game illustrating the life cycle of different worms.

(Alan and Julie have spent a long time fixing up their home. It is a really nice place to stay. The kitchen is in the background, the three bedrooms are along the wall on the left. On my last visit, we lived downstairs as this upstairs’ floor had burned down.)

Each course adds to the promotors´ knowledge as they go back to their village and practice. They are volunteers and are busy. They have families to care for, food to grow and harvest, and other jobs to complete. As much as I admire how much Alan has accomplished, I am completely impressed by the work and dedication of the promoters. The amount of experience with classrooms and structured learning varies. A challenge for me will be structuring a course that is practical and helpful. I have been planning this course steadily and have enjoyed coming up with games and activities to make the concepts more real, understandable, and hopefully more memorable. I am scared stiff. I think I have a knack for teaching, and I am certainly comfortable with the subject matter. The scary part centers on teaching pediatrics with my present 4 year-old Spanish vocabulary. I hope I am exaggerating. I also hope no one was wondering how that is different than me teaching pediatrics in English.

Besides structured coursework, we also complete visits to the communities. I love this even more than the teaching, primarily because it combines teaching and medicine with traveling and camping. We work hard in the communities, but for me the reward is meeting people and seeing places that I would have no opportunity to encounter other-wise.

As I mentioned, the towns are along small river valleys, accessible only by boat or by foot. In each of the communities that I have visited we have been put up in an open-walled platform with a roof. We set up our camping mattresses, our mosquito nets and we are good to go.

The large majority of the towns do not have electricity, and water for washing and other things is provided by the river. We spend these visits with the local promoter talking about town needs: water sanitation, mosquito prevention, creation of latrines, and vaccination. We also see ill people in the community. This is very different from the clinic at home. As our priority is the education of the promoter, we see all patients with the promoter. What we teach depends on the promoter’s level. With an early promoter we might work on history-taking, examination, or obtaining vital signs, while with another we might talk about the sequellae of diabetes mellitus or the specifics of treating emergent hypertension. The promoters improve steadily and it is great to watch and be a part of the progress, not only for the promoter as a person and care-giver, but for the community. It is our goal that eventually some promoters will become teachers and form the foundation of a solid, sustainable medical care system for this remote part of the world.

That is what we are doing in a nut-shell. I am so proud to be doing this. It seems completely worth-while. I realize that my 2 months of work here pales compared to the years and even decades of experience of my 3 current colleagues. It feels strange even to sound like I am doing anything more than just starting to help out. I am humbled.

Thinking of you…hoping all is well...


Bakers4 said...

Dr. Good,
We have always been so greatful for what you taught us in clinic. Thanks for all your hard work and dedication here(utah) and down there. It does not go unnoticed.
God Bless

Anonymous said...

Dr. Good,
Thank you for all that you do! I think you are a wonderful example to all of us. It is too easy to get into the habit of only helping ourselves and those who are close around us...and yet you have had the courage to branch out and serve those so far away! I am excited to explain all of this to my children, they need good role models like you! I think we all do! You always make me smile with your positive attitude! God Bless
Brendy Saunders and family

Hartleys said...

Hey, Doc Good,
We are so proud to know you and to know that you are on our planet making a difference in people's lives. I think that we do focus too much on what we have and what we know as life in our "world." There are so moany opportunities to reach out and be part of something that is bigger than who we are and what we seem to represent. I appreciate your blog, as it is a good venue for my children to see how someone can make a difference in the outside world. I don't think Americans are selfish and spoiled; I think you live with what you know. To be given a chance to learn how to live another way is a blessing. Any level of learning is a blessing, but to be able to have a chance of personal growth while teaching others is wonderful, and potentially contagious. Please take care of yourself. The beard looks great, by the way. Don't worry, we know you're well.
With love,
Tami and the Hartley gang

Bangel_mc said...

Doctor Brian Good, Christy, Johnny, Emma are doing great. They really miss not seeing you @ FFP. All three are talking a little more. I think what you are doing there is wonderful. I love your Blog. You are a blessing to so many, this is the time and place you need to be, just like when you where in Utah. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Hi Brian. So glad to read about your travels and good work. All is well here in Utah. We miss you and happy can keep up with you through the blog.
Kristina, Scott and Sophia

Jennie Stephens said...

Dr. Good! How are you! All is well here with the Stephens Family! Jackson is doing great with his skin treatments, still has litle issues under his eyes, but I cant really wrap his eyes now can I! It is so neat seeing what you are doing, as sad as we were to see you go, it is really wonderful seeing the wonderful things you are doing down there. COME BACK SOON!!