Helping in Belize

By: Olivia Barnes, high school alumna High School Study Abroad, Health + Medicine

Covered in blood, I crouched down on the floor, a screaming patient in my arms. With one hand I searched aimlessly for a bandage to wrap around the wounded leg. Sweat poured down every inch of my body and I realized I wasn’t going to find anything – it was too dark and all the medical supplies had been used up. I wrapped my arms around the girl and told her everything was going to be okay but all she could do was scream.

Suddenly, the lights flickered on as my instructor yelled “STOP!” I glanced around the now dimly lit room at my fellow classmates who, like me, were coated with fake blood and soaked with sweat. I offered my hand to my friend and pulled her off the ground as she apologized for being such an uncooperative patient. Everyone began to clean up the mess we had made during the chaotic medical simulation and while most people complained, I smiled to myself more satisfied than ever.

For the past three weeks I had been in Belize with a group of twelve high school students completing a first responder course in a wilderness setting sponsored by Broadreach. Each day we woke up in sweltering jungle heat and practiced medial scenarios, studied different protocols for treating patients, and prepared for our final exam.

At the end of our training, my group ran a medical clinic for one day in a local village. We split into groups and created stations. We ran the reception desk, checking people in and filing information. We worked at the “vitals station” taking patients’ blood pressure, pulse, respiration, height and weight. As “La Doctora” met with patients, we watched and then took the diagnosis and prescription to the pharmacy where we worked to fill prescriptions and explain to the patients when and how to take the medications. Our groups rotated among stations in the clinic so we each had the opportunity to try everything, including trying to take the vital signs of a screaming child.

When we completed our work in the clinic, we all lived with native families for three days. To me, this opportunity to live with a family was a bonus in my trip to Belize: I was able to live with a native family in their home. My friend and I lived in the home of a single mother and her young daughter. My friend spoke little Spanish so I had the difficult responsibility of translating the conversations between the family and my friend. The nine year old girl, Sheila, was very shy at first, but we soon became best friends as we danced to Shakira together. After one day, Sheila’s mother said to me “It’s a miracle.” As I stared at her confused, she explained to me that Sheila had been very upset since her father and brothers moved out many months ago and she refused to talk. Her mother told me Sheila had never been so happy since my friend and I arrived and spent time with her. As we left, I will never forget the way Sheila put her arms around me, crying, and saying “I will miss you.” In only three days I developed such a strong bond with these people and they will always feel like family.

After such an intimate experience, medically and with my family, I learned a great deal. Sitting there in the middle of chaos in Belize, trying to calm a shrieking girl on the one hand, and connecting so easily with Sheila on the other, reminded me of what I do best: I help people. Whether I become a doctor or not, I will always make public service a part of my life.