Picture a deeply sun-bronzed woman in a wide-brimmed, straw hat. She is wearing a traditional, quilted vest decorated with red, green, and black woven designs which cover many more layers of wool and alpaca garments beneath. This woman speaks some Spanish, but she will tell you much more fluently in her own language that she is from the native Quechua people who live in the Andes throughout South America.
At the Casa Hogar del Campesino, or Peasant’s Home hospital where we are working, almost all of the patients are Quechua who hail from Cusco and its surrounding rural areas. These patients sometimes travel for many hours on crowded mini-buses to receive the free care provided by the Catholic nun-physicians, nurses, and staff at the hospital. Many of them are impoverished, and the generous medical care, food, and love provided by the nuns are much needed and appreciated.
Life in the rural village is often without modern sanitation, and many of the Quechua suffer from parasitic diseases such as leishmania festering in their feet and legs to amoebas and other unwelcome gastrointestinal guests. Under the seasoned eyes of the nuns, these tropical diseases are quickly diagnosed and appropriately treated.Daily farming and grueling physical activity have prevented many modern problems such as heart disease and diabetes, but are unable to stop others, such as the scourge of mental illness. Every day, patients break down from describing their internal pain through various physical complaints. These diseases are particularly hard to treat, though for the worst cases specialist care is available for consultation on a few days set aside by the nuns.
Despite the significant challenges posed to the staff, they are backed by a large church-based humanitarian arm which is able to provide basic medicines and just enough personnel to meet the needs of the endless supply of patients. Their love and patience are a daily inspiration as they greet each patient with the eyes, mouth, and hands of Señor, no matter how busy the line outside.
Nelson Chiu is a fourth year medical student.