Dr. Dale Heisinger recently sent us some reflections on his experience in eight of our PeaceHealth Missions. Dale is both a great pediatrician and a kid magnet - it helps to look a bit like Santa Claus, no doubt. Here's what he has to say:
I must admit that I was at first somewhat apprehensive about going to a 3rd world country, but those fears were laid to rest very soon after meeting Kathy and Sister Eleanor. Their organizational skills and the thoroughness of their preparation laid to rest any fears that I harbored. The change in leadership from Sister Eleanor to Sister Susan, and now to Darren Streff did not in any way deter from the integrity of the Mission.
Each trip generated wonderful memories of encounters that forever left their mark on me. The cultural differences between El Salvador and the United States are stark, but the contacts with the people showed me how closely as human beings we are all connected. Salvadorans are a warm, compassionate people who were so appreciative of our being there; many shared gifts that were modest, but given with such sincerity that they remain some of my most treasured possessions.
I saw many disorders that were rare in the US and many that were medically challenging. For instance, parasitic disease is rampant in the children since the water is untreated, and exposure to cooking smoke generates prevalent reactive airway disease. I frequently saw GI illness due to poor sanitation and many skin conditions (mostly infection) because of lack of hygiene. And there were those cases of rare diseases that were quite challenging; i.e., congenital hypothyroidism (cretin), undiagnosed encephalocoele, retrolental fibroplasia, SLE, arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, and the list goes on.
All of us who participated came away from the mission better global citizens, perhaps more compassionate about the international human condition, and appreciative of the strength and courage of people who endure in conditions that most of us have not seen nor experienced. In addition we developed an appreciation for cultural diversity and learned to practice medicine with limited resources and lack of support diagnostic services (imagine, no access to MRI, etc.!) For many, it was a spiritual experience. I feel strongly that all of us who practice medicine from every discipline should participate in international medicine….all will be better human beings for doing so.
And for those skeptics who feel that we really can't do much with such compromised infrastructure, and lack of services I would counter with a statement from Sister Margaret Jane Kling whom I met in El Salvador: I had told her that I wasn't sure that I did very much to improve the health of the people, to which she replied: "it isn't what you do, it's who you are."