Sunday, February 27, 2011

Michigan Eye and Dental Brigade

We spent all last week interpreting for a medical brigade from Michigan that came to La Esperanza, so we thought we’d give you all some of the highlights. The brigade is part of a partnership between the Lions Club here and in Michigan. Every year eye doctors and dentists come to La Esperanza around this time of year to offer free services. We headed over to the Lions Club building on Sunday afternoon, thinking we were having a meeting to get to know everyone. To our surprise, the brigade was already getting started so we jumped right into interpreting.

People waiting in line

We started out helping with acuity tests (reading the eye chart at distance and close up) which was pretty boring, but quickly moved to where we were really needed, assisting the ophthalmologists as they asked patients questions and provided diagnoses and treatments. There was actually very little interpreting that needed to be done. The doctors only ask a few questions (Having any problems? Which is better, 1 or 2? etc), and most of the visit is looking at their eyes, which just requires you to tell them to keep their head straight and look into the distance, which for some reason was really tricky for most people. The doctors have also been coming for quite some time, a few for 20 years, so they spoke a little Spanish too. The dentists had everything covered so no interpreter was necessary. Our friends Zach and Karl from nearby sites came in for the week to help out, and having the extra company made it more fun.

Distance acuity test

Up close acuity test

Eye pressure check

Eye exam

Zach interpreting for Dr. Bob

Karl interpreting

As usual the patients who come to the brigade, rich and poor, figure out exactly what they need to complain of to the doctors in order to get new glasses or eye drops. The doctors really only half mind the lying. After awhile they were almost automatically giving everyone reading glasses, sunglasses and moisturizing drops. The funniest was one little kid, really intent on getting some glasses. The doctor began asking which lenses were better, moving the prescription up and up as the kid said each successive lens was better. Then the doctor started to go back down in prescription, and the little kid continued saying it was better and better until it the doctor got to zero prescription, which the kid still insisted was better than the last. That little guy didn’t get any glasses.

Nolan helping Iliona, our favorite little girl, get new glasses

The best part was meeting people. The brigade brought not only doctors and dentists but a bunch of others to help out with acuity tests, x-rays, and glasses fittings, most of whom were not eye doctors or hygienists or anything in the field of medicine. Several were teachers, another worked at the Michigan Forest Association, and many were retired. It was nice to chat with them, having Michigan in common, and sharing some of our insights into Honduran culture. We met people from the Lions Club in La Esperanza (Club de Leones) who, as you might expect, are the wealthy movers and shakers in the community that we now have connections with. We also ran into a bunch of people we already knew from around town and made friends with some new people, a couple who owns a hotel, a woman who works at the grocery store and a guy from the radio station.

Bill and Johnny

Toby was a balloon artist and made this little girl a house

Nolan had a couple opportunities to work with the dentists, so I’ll let him tell you about that….

Like Nicki mentioned, the dentists had things pretty much covered, they had one high school Spanish teacher with them who did most of their interpreting. Since there is less talking with the dentists than the eye doctors, she was able to go back and forth between the dentist and the hygienist. There were, however, a couple times when she was somewhere else, so I went and interpreted for the hygienist. The first and most interesting time, I helped explain to a young boy that she had to give him a shot to numb his mouth, and then that she was going to pull two baby teeth, and three rotted roots. The kid seemed to take it pretty well, didn’t want his dad in the room, and only started to cry when the dentist came and gave him a shot in the roof of his mouth. All the doctors brought little toys and things to give to the kids after they saw them, so he got several things, and seemed happy enough when it was over. The only real problem is that with a diet of coke and churros (chips) the kid will probably be back next year to have more rotting teeth pulled.

The hygienist doing a cleaning

Dentist doing an extraction

The best day of the brigade for me, however, was the last day. The dental team spilt up into two groups to go to two different schools to teach the kids about brushing their teeth and also to administer fluoride treatments. I had been asked earlier in the week if I could help with the second group, so on Thursday I left early to go with them. The school we went to was not that far out of town, but it was still far enough that all 6 grades (37 students total) were in one class. A nearby school ended up coming down so we gave the presentation twice to 77 kids total (the other dental group presented to 200 students). The presentation consisted of the dental hygienist explaining how to brush your teeth (for 2 min, in circles, etc) in English, and me translating what she said into Spanish. We then explained about the fluoride treatment and how we would administer it. In the first class, one of the 1st graders burst into tears when were explaining it. Once we figured out why he was crying, he thought we wanted to pull out all his teeth and give him a shot (how he came to that conclusion we have no idea), we were able to calm him down, but he never did let us give him the treatment. Another cute interaction was when we asked for questions, and if they understood what we were saying. One boy raised his hand and said he didn’t understand. It also took us awhile, but eventually he said he didn’t understand the dental team, and the teacher explained that that was because they were speaking English, and that I was there to translate what they said for the students.

After the presentation, we started the fluoride application. Basically, what we did was put on latex gloves, squirt a little fluoride cream onto our hand, and brush the fluoride onto the kid’s teeth. Other than the one kid, it was pretty easy to get them excited about it. We told them that it tasted like gum, but that they shouldn’t swallow it, and they couldn’t eat anything for at least 30 minutes afterward. At the end, we left each class with toothbrushes and toothpaste, enough fluoride for two more treatments, and a couple boxes of school supplies, all of which (toothbrushes, pencils, protractors, everything) the kids will keep at school, use during class, and leave there at the end of the day. This is so they don’t bring it home and lose it. It’s the safest thing to do here where people don’t brush their teeth because they can’t afford toothpaste.

Nolan applying fluoride treatment

Hygienist applying fluoride treatment

Maybe it wasn't such a good idea handing out those latex gloves...

Thursday was our last day, and we said farewell to the doctors and brigade members at a despedida (going away party) at our favorite local restaurant/dance club/sports bar, El Fogon. In typical Honduran style everyone arrived about an hour late, people gave speeches in English and Spanish that were oddly translated and repetitive, and everyone received at least one diploma (we got two, haha!). We were also gifted some Michigan wine and chocolates for our interpreting services. We had a full dinner with an open bar followed by cake and dancing to songs of the 80’s, 90’s and today. I suppose they chose U.S. pop songs because the brigade was from the U.S., but it felt tacky and lacking in Latin flavor.

The brigade comes every year and should come again before we leave, so we'll have a chance to see our new friends again next year.

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