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Swimming's Manning Provides Health Care in Panama

Sophomore Elizabeth Manning

Sophomore Elizabeth Manning

June 24, 2014

Elizabeth Manning, a sophomore on the Boston College swimming and diving team, spent a week in Panama with the BC chapter of Global Brigades. Global Brigades is a student-led health and sustainable development organization that has chapters at universities all over the world. The BC chapter is new this year, and Manning, a psychology major and medical humanities minor, serves on the executive board as the chair of public relations.

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The BC chapter made its inaugural trip to Panama this year. We arrived on May 24 in Panama City and then traveled by bus for about five hours to a town near Zapallal, in the province of Darien. For six days, we assisted doctors, dentists and pharmacists running a free mobile medical clinic in a local school. The clinic served both Latinos and indigenous people from the local communities. We provided medication and healthcare information of the 150 adults and children who came every day. Some came for just a checkup and vitamins, but others had various and serious physical injuries or infections that needed attention and treatment. We worked side by side with the doctors, who enabled us to learn as they diagnosed the patients. The most common diagnosis was a parasitic infection called scabies, which mites burrow into the skin, causing an itchy rash. Unfortunately, the hot and damp climate in Panama is the perfect breeding environment for these mites.

The clinic was split into six different stations: registration, triage, consultation with the doctor, dental, pharmacy and "charla," the health education program we ran for both adults and children. We rotated every day so that all the "brigaders" had a chance to work at each station. For example, on the first day I worked in registration, where we were responsible for recording the patients' information and detailing their medical history as well as their chief complaints.

I had the opportunity to use my Spanish language skills when helping patients register and did my best to converse with them while they waited. Even so, conversation was difficult at times because many mothers would use the same "cedula" or identification number (like our Social Security numbers) for themselves and all their children. They also often struggled with the spelling of their names or exact ages and birthdays. Despite the difficulties, I loved being at registration because I was able to have short conversations with many different patients.

Manning in Panama

Everyone was so friendly to us and grateful for the opportunity to be seen at the clinic. The children were little balls of energy who loved to "choca la mano!" (Give high fives). One little boy named Miguel came to our "charla" station multiple times while his family members were at other stations in the clinic. He loved the hand washing song we taught them to the tune of "La Cucaracha." Just as we had hoped, he went around singing it all day. The goal of charla is to emphasize healthy habits, and the thought is that the silly little song may help Miguel and his family to remember to wash their hands. Unfortunately, many Panamanians in the area neglect tasks we complete automatically, like washing hands, brushing teeth and eating balanced meals. We made sure to remind the adults in charla of the importance of developing these daily habits.

On May 29, our last day there, we visited an indigenous community called Arimay where the Embera and Waunaan tribes live. The women of the Embera tribe took us into their homes and taught us about their culture. They explained how they try to balance their traditions with the unavoidable "Westernization" of their lives.

I loved every minute of my time in Panama. Although the supply of medications we gave to the patients will run out, I believe we made a lasting impact on their lives by taking the time to share our knowledge and resources with them. They definitely made a lasting impact on us.

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