KSB Mission Trip – Day 5 – by Tim Appenheimer, M.D.

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I was skeptical.

How much real lasting benefit happens when a group of well-meaning medical personnel descend upon a remote village for a few hours, see a large number of patients, and then leave? No detailed medical histories are obtained, no regular follow-up is planned. Many of the patients that I saw were older adults feeling the results of a lifetime of rugged physical work in an unforgiving terrain. Sore backs. Arthritic knees. There was little we could truly do in a day. Then there was Pablo, a very thin man in his late fifties. He had been losing weight for several months. His strength was leaving him, but he still had a smile that made wish you could get to know him. He was trying to eat more, but it was not helping. With the first glance at Pablo, I sensed that he was in the last months of his life. But from what cause? Cancer, probably. Undiagnosed diabetes? Not likely. I did the most complete exam I could in our crowded tent-clinic and found nothing but twig-thin extremities. How to make Pablo’s life better? I ordered a blood sugar test and recommended that he see a doctor two hours (and a costly bus ride) away in Cusco. I doubt he has the money…

But there have also been some real victories. You will learn about some of them in other posts. Our Peruvian hosts have reminded us that we are serving a population with very limited access to care. We cannot truly help everyone we see, but there have been a few patients whom we have helped a lot. And I have seen a few smiles that have obliterated the language barrier and softened my skepticism. This is a good thing to be doing.

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