Today was our first full working day at Clinica San Antonio de la Cal, which began at 9am and ended at 1pm. I was assigned to work with a nurse who is responsible for giving vaccines to children, and I primarily observed her for the day. At one point, she asked if I wanted to give an injection, without even knowing if I was trained to do so! I decided not to do it, considering I don't know how to and I don't want to be exposed to blood-borne diseases. I watched her as she gave polio vaccines (in the form of drops), vitamin supplements (also drops), and the occasional injected vaccine given to newborn babies (hepatitis). She keeps record of the patients coming in by filling out a grid of information, from name of mother, name of child, date of birth, to date of each vaccine. Lisa worked with another nurse, who takes blood pressure, weight, and height of patients. Most of the nurses are young, some of them still in nursing school, doing their internship in the clinic. The doctors are older men, keeping with the stereotype that exists in America that nurses are women and doctors are men.
Afterwards, we headed back to our homestay families for lunch, a large midday meal known as comida. It starts with a soup, with a variety of foods following, such as guacamole and meat. We had little time to relax because after comida we had to make our way to spanish class, which is across town at Amigos del Sol Language Institute. I have been placed in the intermediate class with Wilhelmenia, Ben, Sindhu, and Margarita. We spend the first half with one teacher, and the second half with another, with a ten minute coffee break in-between. It's a pleasant atmosphere and is very conversation-based, as we are expected to speak Spanish full time and only be spoken to in Spanish. Most of it is what I learned in high school, but have unfortunately forgotten because of failure to continue practicing Spanish. It shouldn't be hard to fall back into, though, because I'm surrounded by it 24/7. Class ends around 8:10, and we are taken back to our neighborhood around 8:30, arriving back at our homestays by 9pm. It's been a long, exhilarating day.
I think it became obvious today that life here is extremely different than in America. Everything seems more relaxed and less organized, in good and bad ways. For example, the bus system is slightly frustrating because there aren't always dedicated bus stops- we have to spot our bus before it zooms past us, wave it down, jump on it, and look out for our stop so we can tell the bus driver to drop us off. The fumes from the vehicles are heavy and very polluting- it seems most of the cars are old and don't have any pollution control. People take taxis collectively, which are specifically called colectivos, which would probably NEVER happen in the U.S.
What I was mostly surprised by is the relaxed environment in the clinic. The nurse offered me, an untrained foreign intern, to give a stranger an injected vaccine. She had total trust in me, without asking if I was even capable of giving injections. No one wears gloves of any kind, records are kept by handwriting them or by typing on a typewriter, and 18 year old nurses-in-training are doing the same tasks as the fully trained nurses. The nurses are working at desks in the same common room as the waiting room, where they weigh and measure patients, take their blood pressure, and give vaccines, all in front of the other patients who are waiting. The vast differences between an American clinic and this one is incredible, although I can't forget that this is also a FREE clinic, that doesn't have a great deal of money. I'm sure every day will bring new surprises and continue to amaze me.