Written by Jose Calderon ’22
Even if I had the option of a warm shower, I wouldn’t do it. Cold showers are best given the climate here in the Dominican Republic. It’s a lovely home where we’re staying, and the best part is the host family and how welcome they make us feel. This past Sunday we attended Zoe’s (my host families’ granddaughter) fourth birthday party. It was a Beauty and the Beast theme and it was lovely. It reminded me of all the Spanish birthday parties that I’ve been to and I was glad I got to sing along as they wished her a happy birthday.
My main experience with the local people has been through medical home visits, which we perform mainly for the elderly and those who physically cannot make it to the community clinic. I’ve met with Clara, an 87-year-old patient who suffers from malnutrition. Yet despite her fragile body and apparent weakness, she does everything on her own. She cooks, cleans, and takes care of all household responsibilities with a smile on her face.
I’ve also met Miguela, an 85-year-old patient with what appeared to be woody edema on her legs. She has suffered occasional depressive episodes, and her struggle to walk around the house has led to many falls. Despite it all, she received us with a bright smile as soon as we walked in the house. There was this positive aura about her that made me feel an instant connection with her. Maybe she reminded me of my own grandma, who despite her own personal medical issues is a constant source of positive energy for the entire family.
I also reflect on another patient with diagnosed sensorimotor polyneuropathy and sickle cell disease. Discussing the illness and social history with the patient made me reflect on how difficult it is to live with debilitating conditions in a resource-limited setting. She was abruptly laid off because of her progressive neurological symptoms, forcing her to take a much lower-paying job at a local lottery ticket booth. Widowed and with two children at home, she had very few options.
Street conditions don’t make it easy for her walks. A cane will only help her to a certain extent as she is forced to stagger across rocky and uneven roads. The medical system of ordering supplies is backlogged and often times goes unfulfilled. I suspect her symptoms will become more severe and she will relapse back to a depressive state, though I truly hope not.
Outside the clinic the island is absolutely beautiful. La Plaza Colonial in Santo Domingo has such a rich history. I also had an opportunity to take a five-hour bus drive to Cabarete and Sosua just north of the country where I had my share of seafood, coconut, and other Caribbean delicacies that made the trip worthwhile.
I’m also happy to state that I am back to my original shade of brown.
Jose Calderon ’22 recently spent six weeks in the Dominican Republic through the UVM Larner College of Medicine Global Health Program. This post originally appeared on the Global Health Diaries blog.