Archive for Leslie Church

¡Wepa!

Yesterday we drove from Caguas (near San Juan) to the south side of the island. We are in Ponce to work at a nursing home for our last service day, but first we had a delightfully warm welcome from the Ponce civic representatives, including the head of tourism. We explored the quaint and colorful town square and some of the city’s main sights, including a tree believed to be more than 500 years old.

At Parque de la Ceiba

The director of tourism passes out “Ponce Passports” for our tour of the city. Credit: David Zhao

Ponce town square. Credit: David Zhao

 

Today we served at Asociacion Benefica de Ponce, home to about 35 senior citizens. We helped with bathing and dressing, medication administration, and wound care. We also attended a lecture on palliative care by one of our leaders, Dr. Weihua Zhang. Members of the nursing home staff as well as nursing assistant students sat in on the lecture, which included an insightful comparison of end-of-life care in the continental U.S. versus Puerto Rico. As one might expect, many of of the emotions and rituals are the same, but we did learn that some people on the island practice Santeria, a Caribbean religion with its own spiritual traditions.

 

One of the most profound parts of our visit to the Asociacion was connecting with the clients one-on-one. One of our leaders, Gladys Jusino, took out her guitar and sang traditional Puerto Rican songs with the clients.

Gladys Jusino plays guitar for a nursing home client. Credit: David Zhao

A bed-ridden woman listens to music at the Asociacion. Credit: David Zhao

A client and nurse of the Asociacion clap along to music. Credit: David Zhao

 

We were reminded that a smile and a gentle squeeze of the hand are universal gestures that transcend language barriers.

Credit: David Zhao

Credit: David Zhao

Credit: David Zhao

 

We ended the day with a bird’s eye view of Ponce and sleepy car ride back to our headquarters near San Juan.

Credit: David Zhao

 

Our service learning trip has come to an end, and tomorrow we fly back to Atlanta. I think I can speak for everyone in our group when I say that we were humbled and honored to have been a part of this trip to Puerto Rico. We met incredibly gracious and intelligent people, we learned about the island’s vibrant culture and history, and we aimed to care for, in however small a way, some of its most vulnerable citizens. Thank you to our brilliant and fearless leaders, Gladys Jusino and Weihua Zhang, and their family members that accompanied us.

Wepa, a Puerto Rican word that implies joy and good cheer, was brought up a lot during this trip. Gracias, Puerto Rico, for welcoming us with open arms. We will be back! ¡Wepa!

Un Llamado Superior: Day 4 in PR

Today we spent the morning at the Colegio de Profesionales de la Enfermera, an organization for nurses in PR similar to the American Nursing Association, learning about nursing and the state of health care in Puerto Rico. In order to practice as an RN, nurses here must have a college degree in nursing as well as membership in this professional association. The director of the Colegio, Juan Carlos, told us that a recent Puerto Rican law decreased the number of sick and vacation days for all workers, and increased their probation time before becoming permanent employees. Juan Carlos also told us that in recent decades, Puerto Rico has seen a “brain drain” of its workforce to the continental U.S., including the departure of nurses. The Colegio is hard at work advocating for better pay and working conditions for its members.

Posing with Florence Nightingale at Colegio de Profesionales de la Enfermera. Credit: David Zhao

Juan Carlos ended his talk with a quote in Spanish from Florence Nightingale that referred to nursing as “un llamado superior,” a higher calling.

After another yummy Mofongo meal for lunch, we traveled to a local hospital where a very special organization – PITIRRE – is headquartered.

Mmmmofongo. Credit: David Zhao

 

I’ll let one of our team members, Tara Noorani, take it from here:

“My admiration for nurses was born from an exposure to street medicine. Their ability to address the entirety of the person was something displayed during each client interaction.

Wednesday (March 8th) began at PITIRRE de Iniciativa Comunitaria, an addiction treatment program offering healthcare, education and prevention services to homeless and HIV-positive clients. The pitirre is a bird found in Puerto Rico weighing nearly 1.5 ounces and personifying somewhat of a powerful underdog. El pitirre serves as a symbol of hope and resilience in the face of adversity. The staff at PITIRRE emphasized the bond between ourselves and our fellow human – the tie between providers and clients. They encouraged us to understand our intersection as brothers and sisters and the power in our collaboration with one another.

With this lesson in mind, we began our night by making sandwiches with members of Operacion Compasion de Iniciativa Comunitaria, a mobile clinic project rooted in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. We assembled hygiene kits, brewed gallons of coffee, and collected juice boxes, medications and wound care supplies into their mobile clinic truck. From 10pm to 3am, we combed the streets, in search of possible clients.

Led by two of the most humble leaders of Operacion Compasion, we treated a total of 38 clients and performed wound care on 6 of these people. We offered blood pressure screenings, glucose checks, coffee, juice and sandwiches. We witnessed the isolation a person endures in the street and how the label “homeless” overlooks their humanity. Inevitably this manifests into a marginalized community drowning in stereotypes and misconceptions.

When I reflect on this experience, I’m reminded of the importance of being present with those who suffer. The nature of homelessness obscures the client’s voice and visibility. By meeting these people where they are, we are choosing to resist the poverty and injustice of their circumstances. As student nurses, we have an obligation to uphold the individuality and autonomy of each client and oppose the forces impeding their access to care.

As Emory students, it is a privilege to serve the people of Puerto Rico, a pleasure to have been enriched by their culture and an honor to advocate for their health care needs.”

La Feria de Salud – PR Day 2

Today began the real reason we came to beautiful Puerto Rico: to be in service to the community. We started the morning with a yummy breakfast of eggs and sausage that the wonderful staff at the local Salvation Army (where we’re staying) made for us. We then got to work on our health fair (or, in Spanish, La Feria de Salud).

Local residents from public housing came to the Salvation Army chapel where we had several tables set up: blood pressure checks, glucose checks, self-breast exam information, and smoking cessation. We split up into teams of two or three and about 30 people came. We (along with our Puerto Rican-native professor and our nurse practitioner professor) counseled people on lowering blood pressure and managing diabetes. Some realized they needed to go back to the doctor to adjust their medications, and others got advice on lifestyle modifications. We felt strongly that we made a difference in these people’s lives, and they expressed their gratitude. It was a lovely morning of health education and outreach!

Checking blood sugar

Teaching a breast self-exam

During lunchtime, we were lucky enough to have a talk with Dr. Dana Thomas, a career epidemiology field officer with the CDC. She spoke with us about how Zika has affected Puerto Rico, and we were shocked to hear that an estimated 400,000 people have been infected with the virus. One important takeaway was that 75% of people infected with Zika are asymptomatic, so it can spread among people without their knowledge.

Universal Sim Man

In the afternoon, we visited National University College, a private university system on the island that has a robust nursing program. We received a warm welcome complete with gift bags and hats, and were able to see how nursing students here learn — turns out, it’s quite similar to us! They have simulation rooms and clinicals. We even recognized some of the sim mannequins as the same ones we have at Emory.

 

We then had a discussion with some of the nursing students about life as a student and nurse in PR. They were extremely knowledgeable and friendly. We learned that it’s more difficult here than in the continental U.S. to get a job as a new nurse. In fact, many of the students were hoping to come to the states to work once they graduated. We also realized that nursing is a universal language — we were all in the profession for the same reasons — to be an advocate for our patients and to promote and heal. Some of their students were fresh out of high school and some were older and had families, just like our programs. No matter our backgrounds, we all could commiserate about how tough nursing school is. 🙂

Swapping nursing student stories

Big thank you to the amazing staff and students at National University College in Caguas, Puerto Rico!

Welcome to the Jungle – PR Day 1

What a day! The 11 Emory students in our group, plus two wonderful Emory professors, arrived in Puerto Rico yesterday evening and ate a traditional meal of mofongo, which is a mix of fried green plantains and, in our case, shrimp. We also sampled some conch meat — you know, the creature inside the shell you hold up to your ear and listen to the ocean with. What a treat!

Delicius mofongo

 

If you like (alcohol-free) Pina Coladas…

 

Today was our one “free day” of the week, and we packed in as many Puerto Rican activities as possible. We started in the Yunque National Forest, southeast of San Juan. We hiked through the jungle and splashed around in waterfalls. We drank homemade lemonade and got amazing views of the country from atop a fire lookout tower.

El Yunque National Park

 

We ended the day with a swim in the ocean, some snorkeling, and fried fish and ceviche. We practiced our Espanol and are resting up in our Salvation Army dorms for tomorrow’s activities — let the service learning begin!