The first few weeks were a mix of exhaustion and stress as I battled to harness a reasonable medical repertoire in Spanish; spending bursts of time flying through 15-30 physicals in 2-3 hours at schools and orphanages; squeezing into short trufis (taxis), hunched over for an hour to avoid slamming my head on the roof with every little bump; stopping by the lab during lunch to get my blood drawn a few times a week as my calcium and thyroid levels were fluctuating rather abnormally. It was all a bit overwhelming. But then as my place began to solidify and I knew what my day held, it all became rather familiar and comforting. The fright of having to take a trufi into Quiacollo to grab something dissipated. The working through a physical with a 5-year-old boy in Spanish became easier and I needn’t fear that I would miss something from misunderstanding or inability to hear over the yells of his peers in the background. Life there had become regular and routine.
From the beginning I had known that this was meant to be an experience that would change me. My only hope was that I would help some people along the path of my perspective altering journey. But I knew when I arrived that if I wanted to get anything out of this experience; it was my responsibility to search it out. I had several encounters that made me appreciate my life as it was, cancer and all, but by the end of my time in Cochabamba I realized that it was not one adorable orphan that I spent a day with, or a dying man and his family gathered in a tiny hospital room that made an impact, but all the collective encounters and experiences I had had. The surprise on a man’s face as I walked along the street, the tallest and whitest person around for miles. The smiles and soft-spoken words of the Quechua mothers as I told them that their son merely had a viral URI and to not worry. All the people that I only interacted with for a few minutes, but seemed so appreciative of my time and efforts. I realized that I didn’t want to be some novelty to them; I just wanted to be there in the background, helping them get through colds, rashes, mundane everyday burdens. I wanted to be just another staple in their life that they could come to for the simplest things.
I would have been proud to have helped someone through much bigger issues, to be a hero. But I was happy to have filled my role as a supporting player, always there in the shadows ready to lend a hand through any difficulties, big or small. Just someone to listen to their troubles and stresses, clean up their scrapes and send them back into the day with a smile. Because when it comes down to it, those are the type of people that have really changed my life for the better.
Jessica is a volunteer who served for five weeks at our hospital in Bolivia. Pleaes pray with us for Jessica during this time and for complete healing from her thyroid cancer.
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