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Dr. Buck’s Experiences in Peru with the Flying Doctors of America

Posted on March 21st, 2018

May 23, 2016

The Flying Doctors of America Mission is about to begin! Carilyn and I (Dr. Buck) left MQT at 6:20 AM on Saturday. After transferring in Detroit and Atlanta, we flew to Lima, Peru (6.5-hour flight) and arrived around 11:30 PM (Lima is on Central Time).

Our plan was to stay at a hotel at the Lima Airport, however, I made the reservation for the wrong date! Thankfully, the nice gentleman at the front desk offered us a space to lie down in a side room and told us that he would let us know if some guests don’t show up. Around 1:30 AM, we were allowed to check into a room and got a nice, solid 3-hours of sleep in preparation for our early morning flight to Cusco.

Our team leader met us at the airport in Cusco (short 1-hour flight from Lima) and we began our preparation for Monday’s mission. We checked into our hotel, met the rest of the group and ate lunch. The group consisted of 20 people: 4 dentists, 2 dental assistants, 8 doctors, 2 nurses, and 4 auxiliary members. Then the medical team sorted medications and the dental team sorted dental supplies into rations for each day of the mission.

After a quick stroll around the neighborhood, we came back to meet the translators and had some questionable pizza (trust me, anywhere outside the fabulous US of A, the pizza has a high probability of being mediocre or just plain weird!).

We’ve been staying hydrated and drank some tea which is specific for altitude sickness prevention (Cusco is at an elevation of 11,000ft). We can’t tell if it’s the lack of sleep or the altitude that causes us to have a few weak moments or very slight headaches, but overall, we are doing very well. Carilyn and I got into bed earlier than we can remember (7:30 PM) to catch up on some sleep for Monday’s mission. We’ll keep you posted on how it goes—we couldn’t be more excited!

May 24, 2016

For our first day of the mission, we set up at the main market of downtown Cusco. This market is the original indoor market in the city, and we were told the same architect who designed the Eiffel Tower also designed the trusses in the roof. The people of the market coordinated tents just outside for us.

The medical team setup a triage station, pediatrics, dermatology, ob-gyn, and two internal medicine stations. The dental team had a larger tent to share (maybe 10′ X 30′ or so) and we all got to work.

Working without electricity does require many adaptations from dentistry in the United States! We sterilized our instruments by washing them in water, then two changes of cold sterilization solution, followed by another wash of water. For extra visualization, we used headlamps. We were limited to only extractions, checkups, fluoride treatments and cleanings. We performed many of each of these.

Having done very few cleanings since dental school, I was out of practice, and boy, did my ring finger get sore! I already appreciate our incredible hygienists, Amanda and Kim, but that helped me to appreciate them even more. Thank you for all that you do, ladies! I did notice at one point when music was playing near the market that I was humming to it. I guess you can’t stop me from humming while I work (but please feel free to stop me from singing—it’s not pretty!).

Much of the general population in many Third World countries, including Peru, often make only a few dollars per day or per week. Toothbrushes cost a lot here, around one dollar or more, so it is understandable that many people do not even own toothbrushes. It was wonderful to be able to distribute toothbrushes to so many people (especially seeing the children smile with excitement when they received them!).

One memorable experience was having to use the bathroom in the market. It costs 50 Soles (Peruvian “suns”-about equal to twenty cents) to use the bathroom. This was a dirty room with stalls and urinals all in the same location. And guess what? There’s no toilet in the stalls! Carilyn and I had the pleasure of peeing in a hole jaggedly cut into the tile of the floor. I’ll tell you what, these Yoopers prefer the woods over the hole in a floor any day!

We did unfortunately have a team member fall ill due to altitude sickness. She was nauseated in the morning and got worse throughout the day. They tried to give her oxygen, but the hotel’s oxygen tank (which they keep for foreigners not used to the altitude) was empty due to another guest recently using it. By evening, she was starting to feel much better, but she might not be able to join us on Tuesday’s mission. Carilyn and I are doing well adjusting to the altitude (taking our Diamox for altitude sickness prevention helped us I’m sure), with very minor symptoms, at times no symptoms.

Given that we are in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are switched, so it is nearing winter here. The sun began to set shortly after 5 PM. We had to start wrapping up by 5:15, otherwise, without electricity, we wouldn’t be able to see enough to clean up. After a tour of the market by the workers learning about local food and products, we ate dinner and went to bed, satisfied with all we did and experienced.

Tuesday’s mission will take place in a town about 45 minutes away from Cusco. We are ready for another hard day’s work! Stay tuned for the next update of the mission!

May 25, 2016

“No comer ni beber durante mediahora por favor.”
This translates as: “No food or drink for a half hour please.” We’ve been practicing this phrase mucho! Tuesday’s mission was spent in a municipality named Poroy, 20 minutes away from Cusco by bus. Since the schools were involved in organizing this event, many more children were seen this day than Monday. Over 100 fluoride treatments were done for the children of Poroy.

Each child was such an individual; some were shy, some were outgoing, some were brave, some were not. In general, the children seemed very happy. I often think about happiness and what a person needs for it, and often, it isn’t much. People might not have electricity, glass in their windows, toothbrushes, or lots of money, but happiness, a feeling that is as impermanent and fleeting as any, can be found in a sunrise, a wonderful bite of food, or in a child’s laughter. We are each the masters of our own happiness, no matter where we live.

The mission was a lot of hard work, a lot of fun, and very interesting on Tuesday. Although most people spoke Spanish, some people were not fluent in Spanish. They were “Andinos” meaning from the Andes mountains. A few people we saw spoke the language Quechua. The Spanish translators (we shared 2 among the dental team) relied on a third person to help us. Imagine, translating from English to Spanish to Quechua, and then the other way around!

Most of the treatments other than fluoride were extractions. I only did one cleaning on Tuesday and thank goodness, because my fingers were very sore from no practice! We learned phrases like “Buen Trabajo!” (Good job!) and “Muy Valiente!” (Very brave!). The mayor of the town thanked us at the end of the day, bringing us to the town building and feeding us coffee and sandwiches. Everyone was so thankful.

On the bus ride back to Cusco, Carilyn and I spoke about what we were both feeling observing the people of Peru. Each human wants similar things: Food in our bellies, a roof over our heads, the best for our children. How different would life be if I had been born here? How would my life outlook be different? What choices would I make? What opportunities would I have? We pondered this as we watched the beautiful lights from houses twinkle in the mountains as we returned from the town of Poroy.

We ate dinner at our hotel and got a chance to speak with the team about their other missions. Almost everyone had been on numerous missions previously and it was interesting to hear about them. Syrian refugees in Jordan, Israel, Ecuador, Honduras, jungles in Peru, Africa. It has me excited for my next mission already. I can’t wait to do more. So many people in this world have it tougher than the least fortunate American.

Wednesday will be spent in a village called San Jeronimo, near their market, in similar conditions as Monday and Tuesday. Carilyn and I made sure to get tons of sleep!

May 26, 2016

“Dame cinco!” This translates as “Gimme five!”

Wednesday’s mission was in a municipality named San Jeronimo. We set up inside a fenced cement soccer field. Mary, who couldn’t join us on Tuesday, is mostly recovered from the altitude and was able to rejoin the group. Many senior dental students and three of their professors joined the dental team. The students had an entire presentation for preschool children, dressed up as Olaf, Anna, and Elsa. Don’t worry, they didn’t play “Let it go.” They had a cute act and dance about sugar bugs and brushing your teeth.

They also asked the children dental questions and gave out toothbrushes for the right answer. For the third question, one little boy was so excited, he ran up before he was called. “How many days per week should you brush your teeth?” And he had the best answer! He said ten!

Many fluoride treatments were done, cleanings and some extractions. The first little girl I had, an 8-year-old, was so afraid. A dental student set up a selfie stick with her phone playing cartoons for the girl, and we got through gently wiggling out three baby teeth. At the end, when I was giving her a toothbrush and stickers, she surprised me by lunging in for a big, long hug! My favorite moment of the day!

The largest celebration of the year in Peru, Corpus Cristi, lands on Wednesday and Thursday this year. Due to all of the celebration, there weren’t as many people as we had hoped at the clinics. However, we made the most of it and helped everyone we could. While Carilyn was doing an excellent job at cleaning one woman’s teeth, we noticed that she might have lice, so we brought the dermatologist over. He said there might be louse eggs in her hair and he gave her some shampoo and instructions for her and her family. Keep your fingers crossed for Carilyn and I!

For dinner, we got a chance to try a traditional Peruvian restaurant. The goal was for us to be able to try “Cuy” (pronounced Koo-ee), which is guinea pig. Funny, but because of the holiday, it was very, very difficult for our leader to track down any Cuy in the entire city of Cusco! But with perseverance, we found an excellent place with traditional dancers and a Peruvian flute band. The guinea pig was roasted and presented to us with the head still on! Yes, it does taste like rabbit. We also got to try beef heart (thumbs up) and cold pig feet (thumbs down).

An artesian market was near the restaurant, so we had the chance to see some hand-made artwork before heading back to the hotel. There were blankets, masks, wooden carvings, trinkets, hats, scarves, purses and backpacks, all with such detail and so many vibrant colors around.

Before traveling home (a 30-hr journey), we will visit one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu. So, to bed early again for Carilyn and I!

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