Maximus – It’s a scorching Sunday morning in April 2023. As we exit the bus, we notice a big line of locals forming. People exclaim with joy, “The doctors have arrived!” “The doctors have arrived!” They’re crowded along the side of the old, abandoned home that will be our office for the next seven or eight hours, in the rapidly fading shade. Some rush back home to alert their families and neighbors of our arrival. We set up a triage station outdoors and began the intake procedure. We are in Saint Ann, Jamaica’s largest parish and one of the island’s oldest settlements. Our mission has started.
Everyone in line has one thing in common: they are in severe need of medical attention. Jamaica suffers from frightening poverty despite its magnificent mountains, sandy beaches, and lush jungles. Approximately 80% of Jamaicans do not have health insurance. Public hospitals are overcrowded, underfunded, and understaffed. The Jamaica Medical Mission provides medical treatment and supplies to residents in the country’s poorest areas twice a year, in April and October. In reality, if we do not supply medicine and vitamins, kids will most likely not receive them at all.
When we arrived, representatives of the Catholic Church greeted us and blessed us for the five difficult days of work ahead. Dr. Randy Pellew, a nurse practitioner and clinical manager of the New York Independent Practitioner’s Program (NY IPP), and I have completed this mission 15 times before. He was born in the Caribbean, like myself, and we are both delighted to give back to the community. Tricia Robinson and Mavis Bailey are NY IPP clinical managers and nurse practitioners who accompanied us and worked on our assignment. This is my first encounter. I’ve brought a suitcase full of blood pressure monitors, glucometers, pulse oximeters, bandages, and reading glasses, much like my colleagues. We all have between three and six.
People waiting in line are desperate. They have diabetes, hypertension, untreated wounds, and a variety of tropical ailments. For many of them, this is their only opportunity to receive treatment. We can only provide general treatment; patients must also see ophthalmologists, OB-GYNs, dentists, and many other specialists. For the following five days, we will go from parish to parish, often visiting two or three per day. We don’t stop until we’ve seen everyone in the queue.
You may be wondering if taking part in this mission is worth the money, PTO, and time away from my family. And I will enthusiastically respond, “YES!” I can honestly say that this has been one of the most rewarding and humbling experiences of my life. While I thought I was come to aid the villagers, I was transformed. A breath of relief and appreciation, knowing that I’ll be back in October. And I hope the residents will be able to sleep better at night now that “the doctors are here.” We will always be here in our hearts.