Amazon Medical Service
By Lee Jeffrey
When the “A Team” of doctors, nurses, and essential supporters from UMVIM with whom I had made two trips to Democratic Republic of Congo called asking if I would join them on a Medical Boat on the Amazon River near Manaus, Brazil, how could I say no? We met in Spokane WA to plan and assign roles. The villages we would visit had not seen doctors for several years. We decided on the medicines and supplies we would need and assigned who would get what, arranged for interpreters, and worked out the logistics.
March near the equator means rainy season with temps in the 90s and high humidity. Rio Negra branch of the Amazon meant mosquitos would not be too bad, but malaria prophylaxis was required. The 4 males would bunk in a 7x9 foot room but it was air-conditioned when the generator was running. We would share the head with the male crew members. Not too bad compared to some of the places we had worked.
Village schools were converted into our clinics. Brazilian health workers assisted with patient registration. We hauled our day’s supplies from our boat’s now replenished pharmacy to make our day’s makeshift farmacia. Interpreters quickly learned our typical greetings and questions, making it possible to see about 100 + patients each day. There were only a few acutely ill among the chronically ill and “worried well”. These were sent to Manaus by boat. Our main goal was to let the villagers know that someone cares, so everyone got something like vitamins or Tylenol. We tried to do some lasting good with the rampant dental cavities by education and hundreds of toothbrushes. Our electrician became an optician and dispensed about 600 reading glasses, resulting in instant and dramatic results for some.
Over the past 15 years I had done medical work with this core group of caregivers. We have come to know and trust each other; even during very trying situations. We have also learned how service is different from just helping someone or fixing something. We also understand that we often need to do all three. The other lesson learned is that as you work together serving others you often find that you yourself receive friendships and positive feeling that change your life as much or more than the lives of those you were serving. This renews us and makes us eager to face the next challenge. Although this team is religion based, the same issues and effects relate to our Rotary service projects. Engage Rotary. Change lives.
OUR SERVICE SERVES US AS WELL AS OTHERS. SERVICE IS RENEWING - Rachel Naomi Remen