Vanna Ramirez ’18 Volunteers with FIMRC in La Merced, Peru: Part III

CHAPTER 3: One Last Story

One of my favorite memories throughout my two months in La Merced began one day while I was shadowing in the OR. It was the last week of June and we were having our final hospital visit before the next month began. Our program manager asked us about our shadowing preferences, and I agreed to go to the OR alone and was excited to have another opportunity to observe that area of the hospital again.

That morning, only two surgeries were scheduled. The first one was an orthopedic surgery repairing a fractured tibia and fibula. The other surgery started just as the first one was ending. From what I had been told earlier, the patient had been stabbed in the abdomen earlier that morning and was currently being stabilized. I soon switched over to the other operating room, but was not allowed in at first. As I was peering in the small window of the door waiting for permission to enter, I noticed the lead surgeon was a young female, the first and only female doctor I had seen while shadowing—that in itself made this observation quite special. Once the patient was better stabilized, I was allowed in the room. It was quite the operation, with two main surgeons on the job, three blood bags used up, and the patient received a colostomy in the end.

About a week later, when I was walking back to the homestay with two of my fellow peers from hospital observations, we decided to stop by the coconut stand to get some fresh coconuts. While we were waiting, one of my peers picked up a conversation with an older gentleman and his wife. As we were walking back home, she recounted how the couple was asking us what we were doing there, and if we were volunteering we should help donate blood. They knew someone in the hospital who really needed help, but no one was there to help. Coincidentally, soon after we got back home, I received a message from one of the FIMRC staff asking me if anyone would be able to help donate blood at the hospital; that someone had been injured and was in need of blood. When I asked what blood type, she said it was O+. Right away I volunteered myself, and soon another volunteer and I joined our staff member to walk over to the hospital where our program manager was already donating her blood. After the basic check-up and blood test, we were cleared to donate! I had been wanting to donate blood for a while, but had been declined in the past for different reasons. But this time I was finally able to give my first blood donation!

After we finished our blood donation, our program manager wanted to introduce us to the recipients who were in the waiting room as we were leaving. I was thinking the whole experience couldn’t get sweeter. But actually, the best and most beautiful part of it all was finding out that the couple we had seen earlier at the coconut stand were the recipients of our donation! Apparently, the patient with the stab wound I had seen in the OR the week before was their son, and they were looking for people to donate blood to help reimburse their blood loan (since their son needed three blood bags during his operation). Because they live several hours away from the hospital, they didn’t have any family around the area that could help. Fortunately, my program manager met them at the coconut stand as well, and immediately stepped forward to help, notifying us FIMRC volunteers to help out too. As we said goodbye, the father held our hands and kissed us on the cheek, thanking us quietly and dearly.

When I think back on this string of events, I often wonder at how neatly they tied back together in the end. Perhaps, it was a gift of chance that allowed me to view and participate, in full circle, the struggles endured and the small acts of kindness that hold the power to lighten the weight of suffering that some are burdened to bare. I truly feel so humbled by the entirety of these happenings, and by the touch of someone who was able to receive.


Some Final Thoughts:

For those who are considering studying and volunteering abroad, there are many factors to consider, but most importantly, know your purpose and go with the right mind and heart. This kind of experience requires much patience in adapting to the differences and openness to learn, change, and grow. As a dear friend of mine told me once, traveling is really one of the best forms of education; there is so much you learn about yourself and others.

One of my biggest reasons for applying for the SIHF program with FIMRC was that I had been undecided as to what career path I wanted to pursue (as I mentioned in my first post). Throughout college, I studied both Studio Art and pre-med so I would have the choice of either pursuing medicine or art in my career after graduation. However, come spring semester of my senior year, I still felt stuck in the middle. So I decided to find an opportunity that would allow me to learn more about medicine and giving back to the community, as well as give me a space to reflect on my experiences and my true passions. After finding out about this program, I knew that working with FIMRC would allow me the opportunity to learn about a different healthcare system, continue improving my Spanish skills, and also work with and learn from the people around me whose mission is to help others.

During this summer, one of the things I realized was that there are many ways to help someone outside of medicine, especially since a lot of our volunteering was mostly focused on education rather than clinical assistance. For me, while medicine cares for the physical body, I find that art is a way of caring for the self. While I love the idea of being a doctor and helping others through medicine, I know now that art is the way I must learn to help others, at least for now, though I will continue to keep the doctor’s door open if I find it is right for me later in life.

I am so grateful to have been able to travel to La Merced and work with the community as a FIMRC team member for an extended time. I would like to thank Skidmore’s Summer Experience Fund again for supporting me with your generous fund this summer and allowing me to not only grow as a person in awareness, kindness, compassion and humility, but also find my true vocation.


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