There had always been something inside of me that yearned to reach out to those who were less fortunate. Subconsciously, however, I think that I always knew that it may provide more change for me than I expected. Recently I was fortunate enough to serve on a pediatric medical trip in Jamaica through the ISSA Foundation where we treated approximately one thousand children in the surrounding cities near Ocho Rios. This was a dream of mine from the moment I pondered “what I want to be when I grow up” and continued to be one during my training to become a nurse practitioner.
Arriving to Jamaica, I was filled with overwhelming emotion as soon as the plane landed on the runway. I am not sure if the emotion was of pure happiness from being in a moment which I had dreamed about for so long or due to the sadness of the poverty and lack of medical care I knew waited around the corner? Stepping off the plane, the humidity was one I had never experienced and again saddened me for the future patients who lived with no central air or all the comforts in which I was accustomed to. This was one of many moments where I would think of my daily comforts and realize the obvious “taking for granted” that occurred every single day. Throughout the trip, I was constantly reminded how blessed I was and how oblivious I seemed to be to this fact. This was the small change that started just minutes after stepping out of the airport and interacting with the locals and continued for the remainder of the trip. The people of Jamaica were so humble that it would stop me mid-thought to take a mental note of “I really need to be more like them”. They were friendly and upbeat at all times that it became contagious. We had local volunteers from our resort who were our drivers and also helped set up each clinic. This involved manual hammering and drilling of make-shift walls out of 2x4s with sheets draped over them and setting up tables for the laboratory and pharmacy. I never witnessed them complain or sit to take a break. They also provided us with local intel, like how to flush a toilet that had no running water and deciphering local slang for medical concerns. They were the first to ask if we had enough air from the fans or if they could fill up our water bottles to keep us hydrated from the heat. They were friendly and dedicated to helping us, but also intent to give back to their own community, the love you felt and witnessed was heartwarming.
Even with all of this amazing interaction, the most impactful and life changing moments lived in the treatment I was able to provide to the children. I was overwhelmed by the “simple” medical conditions they had but became serious due to lack of basic medical care. We saw children with lacerations from walking to school that would have required stitches and antibiotics in the U.S., but due to lack of treatment were infected and causing illness. Other children received glasses for the first time at the age of ten who couldn’t read a page from a book in their lap and parents brought young babies for a well child exam that were found with serious heart abnormalities. The fact that these conditions were occurring due to the lack of basic care was so foreign to me. It was often hard to wrap my mind around. The foundation’s amount of supplies and resources had to be carefully considered in order to provide for the most people in the amount of time we had. This often left us feeling like we could have done more but was unable to, a hard realization to become accustomed to and again derives from the easy access and abundance of supplies we have in the U.S. Even with limited supplies and medications, the parents were so elated and grateful to receive basic things like vitamins, Tylenol, Band-Aids or topical creams.
These interactions and medical treatment I was able to provide was life changing. It gave me a new perspective on life and what really matters. Despite the lack of medical care these individuals were HAPPY. It made me rethink my bias prior to participating on this medical trip that poverty stricken individuals would be sad or maybe even depressed due to their situation, but in fact it was the exact opposite. They were happy with what they had; they supported each other and were ultimately grateful for everything, even the “simple” things. There was much more to this trip that I could elaborate on but the most important life lesson was being grateful for what you have. During the last two days, I started to ponder whether I had it all wrong, or maybe as a country we had it all wrong? Maybe the people of Jamaica had it right and were living life the way it was intended to be lived? Yes, they definitely need more medical support but despite a situation in which they have no control over they are grateful, happy and humble. I completed the medical mission fulfilled by giving back to others, but it also made me more grateful and mindful of my daily blessings. It made me thankful for my healthy children, the car I drive, the job I have and the basic amenities like running water and air conditioning I often forget is also a blessing. Who would have thought that a medical trip where I provided care for others actually provided the most care to me?