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Nicaragua Service Learning Trip - Summer 2018

by Jessy Liebelt

Landing at the airport was the moment we realized how much we would learn and grow from our trip to Nicaragua.  Although the experience was mainly focused on providing medical care, this trip had much more to offer.  Not only were we able to experience culture and tourism, but also mild acts of demonstration towards the government.  As nursing students, we think about all the things we can do to help people right where we are, and this experience gave us all the chance to expand our horizons.

Mike Turner, co-founder of Life Link International, housed us on this trip.  He and his wife Deborah started Life Link International in 2002.  This is a school where children who normally wouldn’t be able to afford to go to school get the opportunity to attend. Our three medical clinics were held at this location.

On our first day in Nicaragua, Mike took us on a “vision walk” through the city that surrounds the school, which is one of the poorest in the area.  Most of us will never forget this walk.  We were able to greet and talk with many of the families in the area.  The homes were very different depending on the jobs the family had.  The wealthier families had homes with sturdy walls and nice floors, and the poorest would have homes with dirt floors and only walls that were made of tin roofing.  As we walked down the roads, we saw children running and playing, as well as some working too.  Many of these children had big smiles when they saw us and even came up to us to give hugs.

On the following three days, we worked in the medical clinics we had set up at Life Link.  I had a great opportunity to use many of my nursing skills I have learned this far while at Columbia College of Nursing.  Each of us nursing students worked along side a nurse practitioner student.  This was a very meaningful experience to hear questions that a more experienced nurse would ask a patient.  It was especially hard to ask questions when they had to be as simple as possible for the translator.  With each patient we saw, we knew we wouldn’t be able to treat them as well as we would have liked to due to our lack of resources.  This was the most challenging aspect of our work, since we wanted to give each patient the best care possible.  During our visits, each patient received parasite treatment if they hadn’t been recently treated.  We then gathered a list of symptoms and concerns.  We would give medications, physical therapy, glasses, ear lavages, wound care, and oral rehydration to patients as needed.

My personal most memorable moment of the clinic was with a mother who was six months pregnant.  She was at the clinic seeking care for her two daughters, but we also were able to treat her too.  After inquiring about patient’s symptoms, we learned that the mother had only been eating one small meal a day through all six months of her pregnancy.  Her husband had recently lost his job around the time she learned she was pregnant, and he was working odd jobs as much as he could.  He was even going door to door to ask if there was work to be done.  The mother had been more concerned about feeding her two daughters than feeding herself.  Thankfully, Life Link was able to help the family with meals as the mother continued through her pregnancy.

On the start of our last day at Life Link, we were able to make two home visits.  During the first visit, I was able to talk with an elderly woman who had uncontrolled diabetes.  She was unable to see a physician often, and had been taking too much insulin while not eating enough.  We were able to test her blood sugar and give her  a glucose supplement to increase the reading.  The nurse practitioners then changed her dosing so that her blood sugars would be better regulated.  During my second visit, I was able to work with an elderly man who had recently had a stroke, and  was the most interesting patient we saw.  He had been bed ridden, had a tracheostomy tube, and a catheter.  The family of this man took care of him daily, feeding him through his tube and cleaning him up.  He had three very bad ulcers, two on his hips and one on his sacrum.  Another nursing student and myself were able to remove, inspect, and clean these wounds.  We also got the chance to help the family by giving them tools and tips to take better care of his wounds.

Our final day, we got to experience Nicaragua.  We started the day by going to the beach.  It was so relaxing to be able to be by the ocean and buy trinkets from the those selling items on the beach.  We ate lunch ocean side at a restaurant that served us fresh fish.  We then ended our night with a beautiful banquet dinner where we got the chance to thank Deborah and Mike, our Life Link hosts for the week.

After our day near the ocean,  we experienced a moment of mild demonstration while on our way back to our hotel.   In the downtown area, people had taken the brick from roads and used them up to use to make a wall and block the roadways.  This made it very inconvenient to pass through, but I never felt unsafe during this time.  It was an interesting experience to see this peaceful protest.

In this moment, I reflected back on my life and what I take for granted.  The medical care I have access to when there are people living with much less, who greatly appreciated the little we could give.  The happiness the people have.  Although the families here don’t have many material items, they have what they need to survive and what makes them happy.  Family was such a heartwarming thing in Nicaragua, and it is an experience I will not forget.