Monday, February 15, 2010


Where to begin? Today's clinic in the impoverished village of Melara was FTC Canada's biggest and most successful ever. Our team saw 1,164 patients including 115 dental cases that included fillings, extractions, root canals and treating infections. But the numbers can't begin to describe the day and all that went on - so let's back up and start from the beginning.

The dental team left the hotel at 6:30 am to allow enough time to set up the equivalent of a sophisticated five-chair office in a cramped classroom at Melara. The rest of us followed at 7:30 hoping for a great turnout and a great day. We needn't have worried. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a line-up of 250 people waiting to register. So Registration is where this story begins.

While the team is setting up the Medical and Dental stations, the Pharmacy and Distribution (shoes, clothes food and toys), locals from miles around converge on the Registration desk. This is not unlike the Registration desk at your local hospital or doctor's office - except that in Melara, it's a simple table in an open-air courtyard complete with roaming dogs and chickens.

From Registration, the villagers make their way to another line-up, either at the Dental station or the Medical area. A history is taken, a physical exam is conducted followed by diagnosis and treatment. Then the patient joins another line-up at the Pharmacy where their prescriptions are filled and instructions on proper use provided. If there's time enough between these stop, people can gather food, supplies and toys at Distribution, which includes access to several hundred pairs of Crocs!

Managing over 1,000 patients in one day through several departments can be described as organized chaos - but it's really, really well organized chaos. The system and processes are constantly streamlined to optimize efficiencies. In reality, it's a well-oiled machine that owes its success to the people who run it.

The Pharmacy is a good example. Here, the work begins early and ends late. Countless bins of drugs are carted in from the truck and strategically positioned around the perimeter of the room. Everything is measured and bagged with detailed instructions in Spanish. When patients present their prescriptions, teams of "pickers and packers" move from bin to bin selecting the appropriate medications and information. When the prescriptions are filled, the patient receives one package with everything in it, followed by quick but thorough instructions from the Pharmacy staff. Behind the scenes, team members continue counting pills and bagging medications throughout the day. It's fast-paced and doesn't end until the very last patient checks out of the Pharmacy, medications in hand.

A few final observations. Most of the El Salvadorans we saw today feed there families on less than $4 a day and have never seen a doctor. Their lives are hard and filled with uncertainty. Yet, all we saw was warmth, patience, pride, dignity and a spirit that serves as an example to us all. They are a beautiful people who, in these toughest of circumstances, simply smile. And I mean really smile.

The smiles helped 30 volunteers make it through an exhausting but rewarding day. And they also helped us rediscover something that's easy to lose in the hustle and bustle of our lives in Canada - perspective. These people are warm, strong, family-focused and, yes, happy. We should all be so lucky.

And we do it all again tomorrow...

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