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Medicine in Jamaica by Mikkel Kunwald

Games with other volunteers

So, how to start writing an article for Projects Abroad, and what to write about… I guess I’ll start by telling about myself. My name is Mikkel Kunwald, I am 26 years old and have for the most of the last four months, been a medical volunteer at the Mandeville Regional Hospital. I have studied medicine for three years in Denmark, where I am from, before I decided to take a year off from my studies to go traveling (again).

I have previously, traveled through most of Europe including Iceland and Greenland, Northern Africa, some of the Middle Eastern countries, as well as riding the Trans-Serbian railroad through Russia, Mongolia and China, visiting Singapore and spending 6 months in Australia. This year’s travels were to include South Africa, Jamaica, Cuba and the USA and bring me just within reach of my 40 country marker.

I started my travels in South Africa where I worked as a surf instructor, teaching street kids how to surf as a part of a Projects Abroad placement. This project aimed to keep the kids off the street (at least a couple of hours a day), and teach them some basic non-gang/crime skills and basic conduct, and naturally by providing wetsuits and surfboards giving the kids the opportunity to enjoy the ocean in a way that they will never be able to by themselves.

After three months of surfing and various adventures, I took a “swift” 48 hours journey, which included a night in the plane and one in JFK airport in New York, to Jamaica. Not knowing that I will be spending most of my weekends travelling to all parts of the island, I had given myself a week in Kingston before I started my work in Mandeville. A week spent mostly in bed with the worst case of jetlag I have ever experienced, but I got to see most of the must see tourist attractions like the Bob Marley Museum, Lime Cay and coffee plantations in the Blue Mountains. I had arranged my Projects Abroad airport pickup to come get me from my hotel instead of the airport, and no problem, the driver drove me to what was to be my home for the next four months.

My house is located 15-20 minutes drive outside Mandeville, and is a very cozy little countryside house. Here I live with my mommy, Miss Avis Rattray, and two sisters Shereka (19), and Tameka (21). Like most of the houses here in Jamaica it is without a water heater, but you get use to the cold shower and not after long you start to appreciate the cooling effect instead. That been said, after 4 months I still can’t help to let out a girlish scream when the water hits me! Life at the house is good, and though I spend most of the nights out in Mandeville, I have been given a broad insight into traditional Jamaican cooking by my mommy. I’m proud to say that I got a first class education in the recognition of dumplings, sweet potatoes among other foods (admittedly I can only think of two things at the moment, so I might not have been the best of students).

My working experience here in Jamaica has been nothing less than amazing. Though conditions between Mandeville Regional Hospital (MRH) and the university hospital I’m use to from back home are immense, I can’t help to feel that the doctors are extremely well educated and well aware of the technological limitations they are working under, but find ways to cope and work around it.

During my four months I’ve been doing a rotation of one month on each of the major departments in MRH; pediatrics, general surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, and internal medicine. At MRH, I have been working alongside the interns and the duties I have been assigned to have been those of an intern. As I don’t have the authorization to write anything in the dockets I have been doing everything else.

On the pediatrics ward I spent the start of the month finding my role in this new working environment. I found that as a volunteer especially a medical volunteer you have to really want to help out to be allowed, and if you are not quick to take on the assignment given someone else will do it and you might find that a new one is not waiting around the corner, if you on the other hand do the job quick and well you will find that more responsibilities will be given to you.

Twice a week we go through the notes of each patient on the ward with a consultant (the highest ranking doctor assigned to the ward). These consultant rounds are the main way of educating the interns and that apparently meant me as well. On the pediatrics ward the rounds were nice and a good opportunity to talk about the different issues and cases on the ward.

Visit to Rasta village

On the surgical wards the rounds didn’t have the feel-good vibes of the pediatrics ward. Here the questions struck like lightening from clear blue skies and made me feel stressed. To my own comfort I could tell from the sweaty faces of the interns that I was not the only one feeling like that. But unlike on the pediatric ward I would get upset with myself when I did not have an answer to the questions and would more often than not go study for it after work. Besides the intensity of the rounds I really enjoyed my month on the surgical wards, especially working in the operating theatre. During my month on the surgical ward I assisted surgeons in about ten surgeries and had a learning experience unlike any pre or post seeding during my work at MRH.

After my month in general surgery I shifted to obstetrics and gynecology. I liked working up at the delivery ward, had it not been for the constant crying and screaming. And I felt that after I seen a few deliveries the fascination of it sort of disappeared. As one of the residents on the surgical ward foretold work on the medical ward will be looking into hours long hypotheses about what could be wrong with the patients, but we will find that it’s never any of them. And now I must admit there is a sort of depressing truth to that. Though I find the work on a medical ward interesting it’s longsome, and the same patients will be there for weeks on end. And as my duties have been reduced to retaking follow up blood-works and replacing IV accesses I secretly feel happy that my placement on this ward is overlapping with the FIFA Soccer World Cup, which I spend lots of time talking about with both patients and staff.

As previously mentioned I have spent most of my weekends traveling with bigger or smaller groups of volunteers to almost all parishes and seen a lot of the island. I have gotten under the skin of Jamaica, and by means of my work and the way we travel seen sides of this beautiful island that passes over the head of any tourist.

I’ve made various mistakes here, could write another two pages about that, but all in all I think that when I look back on my time here I can’t help but feel happy. I’ve met lots of good people, both local and from all over the world, who all contributed in their own way to make my stay here as good as it has been. I would like to finish off by giving a big-up to the fantastic volunteer group who helped me through some financial issues, the Projects Abroad staff here in Jamaica, and my new Jamaican mommy and family. I feel blessed that I have met you all.

Mikkel, over and out.

Mikkel Kunwald

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