Rock climbing, reading in the park, touring beautiful churches, bargaining at the market for a great hammock, and trying a variety of foods (regardless of whether I knew the names of everything I tried) are all things I’ve had the pleasure of doing while in Quito. I’ve learned that it is very difficult to get a taxi and that you must be able to run across the street. I’ve learned that “pinchos, tostadas, and hornado” are some of my favorite new foods, including the spice, “aji,” that comes with every meal. I’ve also learned that you can never be hungry or bored in Ecuador! Most importantly though, I’ve learned a lot about the people of Ecuador and their health.

The majority of the people work very hard to support their families, and therefore, are often exhausted, dehydrated, and malnourished. They are out in the sunlight very often, and many develop pterygium, which scars the eyes and can cause blindness. The people cannot afford the eye surgery they need, and barely have enough to buy glasses to help them see. Many people who come to the clinics are diagnosed with arthritis, GERD, hypertension, diabetes, and urinary tract infections. The most common complaints are of pain and head aches. While working very hard to sell fruits, vegetables, meats, and other goods is important to the people, I quickly learned that the people also value their health.

We set up the clinic today in a large empty room of an old community center building. The doctor exam rooms were enclosed with hanging sheets, and the pharmacy area was in an old kitchen area. The stations for client registration, history, and triage (where I worked) were all located on one side of the room with respective tables. About 70-80 people came today, but one older woman reminded me of the reason I want to be a health professional. I was working the Triage station, where we take vital signs and do a few lab exams. The woman was sent to us to have her blood glucose tested for possible diabetes. She appeared very worried about the results of the test, and I tried to comfort her by sitting next to her and asking her about her day. She was a very sweet, soft spoken woman. After the results appeared, I explained the ranges for low, normal, and high blood sugar (in the best of my Spanish abilities), and finally told her that she was in the normal range. She jumped out of the chair and gave me a big hug. She seemed to be laughing in my ear, but when I pulled away, I saw that she was smiling and had tears running down her cheeks. She thanked me for explaining the results and for being at the clinic in her community.

I know that I did not complete a difficult procedure or have a lot of good news to share with the woman, but I remembered that the most basic and vital care you can give to a person (or patient) is the act of recognizing their emotions and enhancing self worth.  I will never fully know how the woman spends her days or what makes her smile, but I know that she was grateful for being acknowledged and being helped.