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Friday, May 20, 2016: Crossroads

This last week has been a crossroads: we came together, some of us EMT's, some of us pharmacy technicians, most of us just unexperienced premedical students, to share a new experience. A little less than a week ago, 21 University of Houston students, vaguely familiar with one another, came together to explore, learn, and serve. We had just taken our last finals and were wiped out from a long, stressful pre-med semester. We woke up at 5AM on Saturday, swallowed our exhaustion alongside some coffee, and came to Guatemala. We spentSaturday learning, doing all we could to do to be ready for the patients. On Sunday night, we were eager but anxious. We didn't know what to expect. What would we see? What would we do? How would we, barely old enough to live on our own, travel to another country (some of us for the first time), and not only assist with medical assessments, but also counsel patients on how to take care of themselves? Would anybody even take us seriously? Would anyone understand our broken, Tex-Mex Spanish?

Taking vitals, shadowing Dr. Rana, shadowing the dentist, and taking patients to the consult rooms has taught us different lessons. Providing dental assistance under the dentist's supervision and watching tooth extractions may have convinced some of us to switch career goals from medicine to dentistry. Being the first person encountered by the patient at the vitals station may have convinced some of us to take an interest in nursing. For me and several others, these experiences have reminded us of our passion for improving lives, for easing a little pain, for bringing a smile to a stranger's face. During the all-night study sessions spent memorizing every enzyme, intermediate, and product of the citric acid cycle, it is easy to forget why we put ourselves through this grind. Experiencing the little moments of warm satisfaction that comes from improving another's life re-motivates us to press on.

This last day of clinic, our last day at the crossroads, was a showcase of what we had accomplished over the week. We no longer clumsily tangled our sphygmomanometers with our stethoscopes, and we no longer winced when collecting blood for glucose measurement. Instead, we smiled at the patients and spoke with them confidently in our slightly-less-broken Spanish. We laughed together and sung to the patients as they recorded our antics. We were operated as a family; if one of us looked dehydrated or hungry, another one of us ran to the break room and brought some water and a snack. While shadowing, we listened earnestly as Dr. Rana taught us to take patient histories, make diagnoses, and prescribe medication; more importantly, we learned that medicine requires not only scientific expertise, but also artistic skill, an emotional intelligence that allows one person to connect with another.

Whichever road each one of us takes, we will always remember the time we came together to explore Guatemala, learn medicine, and serve the people of Masagua. It was truly a humbling and rewarding experience to experience the essence of medical service over the past week, and both the mayor of Masagua and Humanity First presented all the volunteers and doctors with certificates for their service. David, Executive Director of HF Guatemala and the tío of our trip family, brought us cake to celebrate a successful week of clinic. Tomorrow, we will leave for Lago Atitlán at 5:45AM. We will have a full day of exploring the villages and markets around the lake, desperately taking care of some last-minute souvenir shopping and taking some time to relax. As blissful at is right now, with the soothing sound of the summer rain harmonizing with crickets' chirping, it is almost midnight and I should probably rest.

It's been a wonderful week. I might top it all off by sleeping on the hammock.

- Anjay Batra, Humanity First student volunteer

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Humanity First is registered in 43 countries across 6 continents, and has been working on human development projects and responding to disasters since 1994. These have included the earthquakes in Turkey, Pakistan, Japan and Iran, floods in Africa and Latin America, hurricanes (Katrina and Rita) , tornado's (Kansas) and wild fires (California) in the USA, Indonesia and Bangladesh, and conflicts in Eastern Europe.

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