As the departure date for the Union College Global Health Nursing trip grew closer, Olivia Jacobs began to consider backing out. The level five nursing major felt overwhelmed as she prepared for her finals and her graduation in less than two months. Although she was excited to travel to Peru and provide medical care, she was worried that the busyness of the trip would leave her no time to rest before exams.
“It was true I didn’t get to rest over break,” said Jacobs. “But the trip had such a different energy and it was so encouraging. I came back feeling better, happier, calmer.”
The Peru trip was the culmination of the Global Health Nursing class. In this elective, level four and five nursing students learned how to provide sustainable healthcare in low-income regions around the world. Over spring break, 19 students from the class went to Iquitos, Peru, where they partnered with the People of Peru Project to host clinics throughout the city and in the jungle. During the six clinics, they were able to serve more than 1,000 patients.
The group of students, professors and volunteer nurses left Lincoln early Thursday, March 10 and arrived in Iquitos on Friday. During that first night, Jacobs and her roommates were abruptly woken up by the director of the mission where they were staying. “He came bursting in and told us to get our stuff up off the floor because it was raining and the room was going to flood,” said Jacob. “As we were pushing the last suitcase up on the bed, the water started pouring in. There wasn’t anything we could do, so we went back to bed.”
When morning arrived, Jacobs and her friends got up to prepare for church. “There were six inches of standing water in the room,” she said. “We had been in the country for less than 24 hours, and now we were trying to put on church clothes in six inches of water.” Fortunately, the mission had extra rubber boots for the students to wear, and by the time they returned from church that afternoon, the water had gone down.
On Sunday, the clinics began. The students took turns examining patients, providing care and working in the pharmacy. Although People of Peru Project had translators available, several students also spoke Spanish fluently, which helped the group see more patients at once. A local dentist also came to the clinics to provide free dental care. As patients began to arrive, Jacobs and her classmates had the opportunity to put their nursing training to good use. “We got to apply all these skills we’d been practicing,” she said.
“One of my first patients on the first day had breast cancer,” said Jacobs. She called her professor over to confirm. They were able to give the woman pain relievers, but had to tell her that they had nothing more that would help. Jacobs said, “Knowing there was nothing we could do was sad. That feeling of frustration sat with me for a while.”
“On our second day of clinics, we had six patients with diabetes come in,” said Jacobs. “My classmate Carlie Hanson’s mother, Marcella Hanson came with us, and she’s a nurse practitioner that specializes in diabetes treatment and education. She helped us talk about how to control diabetes and how to properly manage diet, exercise and hydration. It was a ton of education, and patients were saying, ‘Oh, that makes sense. That’s not really what I’ve been doing.’ We felt that we were able to help a lot of people that day, which was nice coming after the day before.”
Many of the patients were suffering from the same common ailments. “If it wasn’t dehydration, it was parasites,” said Jacobs. “You’d have a patient come in saying, ‘I have back pain, I’m not urinating, I have low blood pressure, I’m tired,’ and you’d say, ‘Ok, you sound dehydrated.’ So you’d figure out how to educate them on how much they should be drinking each day, and then your next patient would come in with the exact same complaints.” The students rotated through positions at the clinic so that they wouldn’t become burned out and begin missing important symptoms.
The work Jacobs did at the clinic reminded her why she chose nursing as her career. “It put my reason for being in the nursing program back into perspective,”she said. “School matters, yes, but ultimately caring for others is why I’m here. At some point, you can lose your drive and just want to get through so you can get out into the real world, but this trip reminded me that caring for others is what I want to be doing.”
The group held clinics in Iquitos everyday on Sunday through Wednesday. Thursday morning, they boarded a boat and headed down the Amazon to a village where they would hold a clinic the next day. On the way, they stopped at a wildlife rehabilitation center to see some of the snakes, sloths, birds and monkeys that call the rainforest home.
When they arrived at the village, they set up camp and spent the night on the ground of the local school. The next day, the class held a clinic there before returning to Iquitos.
After one final day of clinics held at the local Seventh-day Adventist Church, the class returned to Lincoln on Monday, March 21. They had spent 11 days working closely together to serve twice as many patients as they expected.
Jacobs said, “One of my favorite parts of this trip was my classmates and the bonding we got to experience. This trip brought us closer together. I saw my classmates in a different light: holding kids, translating for us and caring for each other. Just knowing that my classmates would have my back and that I would have theirs builds a bond and I’m immensely thankful for that. It’s going to make it hard to graduate.”
“The relationship building I experienced over the trip helped me see God,” Jacobs continued. “I saw Him in people: in patients, in the people I talked to, in the conversations I overheard. I’ve been telling the nursing students in the lower levels to go, because you learn a lot and it’s just so good for you.”
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