When the opportunity arose to join a VOSH trip to Mexico this past January, I have to admit that I was a bit nervous. I hadn’t done any optometric volunteer work before and didn’t know many of the other people going on the trip. However, getting out of Minnesota in January was very tempting and I had heard great things about a coworker’s VOSH experience. I decided I was up for a little adventure and signed up.
The town we worked in, Teacapan, is located on the west coast of Mexico. We flew into Mazatlan and traveled south by bus to stay in a town called Escanupa for the first night. In addition to hosting a welcoming party, members of the local Lions Club invited us to stay at their homes while in Escunapa. We split into several groups for the night; our hosts, Pepe and Marycruz, were so kind and made us feel very welcome in their home.
The next day we took a bus further south to Teacapan. When we arrived we set up our work site at a school that was within walking distance from our hotel. One part of the main room was sectioned off for exams; to create lanes we blocked the windows with blankets and posted eye charts on each end of the room. Each of us four optometrists had a little table with the essentials: a retinoscope, skiascopy bars, ophthalmoscope, trial frame and trial lenses, and some dilation drops.
We began seeing patients on a Monday morning, following a welcome ceremony from the town. After my first few exams, I quickly learned that I needed to have a much different mindset than I would at home. Resources were limited since we only had access to what we could physically carry with us. Because of this, glasses prescriptions needed to be tailored to what we had available to give patients. Since we did not have access to an ophthalmologist, there was not much we could do to help patients with cataracts or glaucoma. There was also the language barrier issue, which thankfully we had interpreters to help us with.
Even though there were limitations to what could be done, you knew that your skills were helping improve the vision of people who had limited access to eye care. I remember being told that the population was not overly expressive with their emotions. Even so, we got many grateful smiles and thank you’s from patients. It was hard work, but very rewarding. We had our evenings and a few days after clinic ended for some rest and relaxation. In addition to the great group of people we had on our trip, we were able to spend time with a group called the Amigos de Teacapan. The organization, which is made up of retirees from the United States and Canada living in Teacapan, tries to help residents of the town with medical and educational needs. They really went above and beyond and made sure we had food (lots of food) and entertainment after work and on our days off. They also set up a great boat excursion, a whale watching trip, and a walking tour of the town.
My first VOSH trip was wonderful. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to share the experience with, and I loved meeting and working with the people of Teacapan. I’m hoping to go on another VOSH trip soon!
Submitted by Brook Bush