I fell in love with a country where a mosquito bite can kill you; the roads make Westheimer feel like the Autobahn; and the answer to, “What is your favorite food?” just might be “iguana.”
Eleven of us made the three-hour flight from Houston that might as well have landed us on the other side of the world. Eight fourth-year medical students from the Medical School and two of my best friends, whom I roped into the trip at the last minute, traveled to Roatan, Honduras, to volunteer at Clinica Esperanza. We came full of innocent compassion, and we left with a greater understanding of humanity and a deep respect for the beautiful people and culture of the island.
“Bienvenidos a Roatan, Honduras,” our captain announced over the intercom as our plane landed on the island. I strained to see some of the unknown country through the blurred airplane window. The runway was paralleled by the deep blue ocean on one side and a lush, green mountain on the other. Tiny, brightly painted shacks speckled the hill above the airport. “I wonder if all of the houses look like that?” asked one of my friends, a tinge of apprehension in her voice.
The humid island heat greeted us as we disembarked and climbed down the steep, rickety stairs to cross the tarmac to the small island airport. We had no idea that this was the last time we would be clean and cool for a week. In the airport, we were not sure if our sweat was due to the lack of air-conditioning or the minor anxiety caused by sending undeclared boxes of medical supplies, including a few hundred syringes, through the X-ray machine in customs. The staff from Clinica Esperanza welcomed us on the other side of the X-ray. We loaded our bags in the back of the clinic’s white Mitsubishi trucks − and the real adventure began.
Roatan runs on what we affectionately deemed “island time.” After a few days, we, too, began to adhere to island time. Our days settled into a slow, hot routine. In the morning, we would wake up and slather on the bug repellant. Yes, slather, because the only repellant strong enough to keep the malaria-spreading Anopheles mosquitoes away comes in the form of a cream. Incredibly, the cream seems to sit directly on top of your skin and invites anything but mosquitoes to stick to it. Dirt, leaves, clothes, rocks, etc., began to form a thick layer throughout the day.
After we were thoroughly greased, we piled into the car to make the trek to the clinic. With the exception of the main, paved thoroughfare, the roads (I use the term “road” loosely) were one-lane dirt potholes. On our first trip to the clinic, we found it quite humorous to see speed bumps made out of large ropes across the roads. Driving over a speed bump was usually the smoothest part of the trip.
On the drive to the clinic through the thick rainforest hedging the main road, we passed local residents cycling five gallon jugs of water to their homes; wild chickens pecking for their morning breakfast; children in pressed and sometimes not-so-pressed uniforms walking to school; small, colorful island houses and stores with locals loitering on the porches; and dump trucks full of men hitching a ride to work.
After a short drive up a steep rocky hill, the partially completed clinic appeared on the right. The porch was already filled with patients idly swatting away the mosquitoes and waiting to see the doctors. Their children played on the newly installed playground.
Everything was clean and well organized inside the clinic. The four exam rooms had the basic necessities, including exam tables and otoscopes, and the supply closet was stocked with medical supplies. Unfortunately, the clinic depends on donations, so some very simple supplies, such as infant vitamins and Advil, were missing.
Clinica Esperanza provides arguably the best medical care on the island. It has a top-notch water filtration system and a closed septic system. The major hospital on the island does not have running water, and local residents have to endure “open” sewage.
Once our entire group arrived, we held a brief morning meeting and divvied up assignments. One medical student worked with each of the four doctors; one student triaged; and the rest worked in the pharmacy or supply closet. Not having any medical expertise, I happily spent my morning in the supply closet organizing and taking inventory of the donated supplies..
To advertise with us, please be sure to download our ad rate sheet PDF.
The latest issue is available here in PDF format. (NOTE: 25meg file)
Please send us your news & photos for CLASS NOTES.
The UT-Houston Medicine Magazine is produced by the Office of Communications for alumni, faculty, and friends of The University of Texas Medical School at Houston. To advertise with us, please download the advertising information PDF.