The past two months Leonard Voorhout (22), a medical student at the Radboud University in Nijmegen in the Netherlands, volunteered in one of our partner projects: Healthcare project Hermano Miguel. Leonard assisted in various disciplines and had some very special experiences. We asked him to write about it.
I started my voluntary work nearly two months ago. Besides English classes and the soccer- and swimming school at Local Dreamers, I have also been a volunteer at Hermano Miguel. Fundación Hermano Miguel is a non-profit organization who provides medical care and revalidation services for people with physical handicaps. Because of the crowded public hospitals this place is a great alternative for people who normally can´t afford to get the medical care they need.
The first time I went to Hermano Miguel, I noticed that it was quite a drive. I had to take three different busses and it took a little over an hour to get there. I was warned that the people there spoke only Spanish and since I was only for about a week in Ecuador, my Spanish wasn’t really on level. But to my surprise, the doctor I would assist most of the time had studied in de United States and spoke fluently English. Especially for the first few weeks that was really helpful. Nevertheless, when my Spanish improved we spoke mostly Spanish. Another thing what surprised me on my first day was how close the medical staff was with the patients. Hugs and kisses are really normal, and a personal gift isn’t uncommon.
The people who work at Hermano Miguel are truly amazing; they work hard and show a lot of passion. I loved how they always tried to get me involved and never missed an opportunity to teach me something new when they had the time. Although the language barrier was a little difficult in the beginning, with some primitive sign language we always understood each other in the end.
Due to the great variety of medical care that Hermano Miguel provides, have I seen and learned a lot. Most of the days I helped Doctor Maria, she is a general doctor which means that people with all kinds of different problems came by. For example, there was one elderly lady who had a hearing problem. After I took her vital signs, Maria performed an examination. I turned out that her right ear didn’t have an inside ear at all, just the outside, she was born with it. Now that her left ear was getting worse, her ability to hear was declining rapidly, but that was because of an ear infection and it fairly easily recovered with the help of antibiotics.
Besides helping Doctor Maria, I´ve also assisted a traumatologist, aided at the rehabilitation clinic and supported at pediatrics. In the rehabilitation clinic were mostly people who had undergo an amputation for various reasons and needed to learn to walk again with a prostheses. It was quite the experience to see and learn how that process is achieved and how rapidly some patients improve. At pediatrics were mainly children with a mental disability what resulted in different complications. At Hermano Miguel the focus in pediatrics was mainly on improving their physical functions. Sometimes the physical therapy consisted out of stretching the extremities and other times the exercise was getting up from a sitting position or riding on a specially developed bike. Working at the pediatrics department really gave me a feeling that I contributed in helping the patients and their parents.
To conclude, doing voluntary work at Hermano Miguel has been a great experience for me and I believe it will help me with my education in the future. I’ve learned how medical care is provided differently, aided a lot of patients and seen issues that you will probably never see in the western world. I’m already looking forward of working again in a hospital in South-America.