Today my alarm was set for 5:45 am. We were scheduled to bus out at 6:30, so I quickly grabbed breakfast (bread, eggs, OJ) and dressed, basically heading straight out the door.
Today is our first clinic day! We’re at the Villanueva (?) district today, in the north of Lima. That’s why we had to get up so early; it’s an hour and a half drive from Miraflores. Our early rising was for nothing, though. One of the doctors was late and we were delayed maybe half an hour. Some people didn’t even try to get up so early. They have the project (building a staircase) today. They didn’t have to leave until 8.
Our drive up north was indeed long and it smelled faintly of sewage. The neighborhood we ended up in had no such smell. The roads are sandy and hot. Unlike the bus, a breeze runs through the town, as does a skin-and-bones stray cat.
Our first task is to set up the clinic. We are to work in a small wooden building with a tin roof. 5 stations fit inside - 3 doctors, a dentist, and an obstetrician in a tarped-off zone. Outside are the pharmacy, triage, education, and tooth brushing stations. As we’re setting up, someone with Medlife announces over a speaker that we are a free clinic here until 12:30.
We had some serious struggles setting up the education tent. It had 14 unconnected poles and 9 corner pieces. Nobody from Medlife knew how to do it. We eventually figured it out, much to the interns’ amusement. When that was done, I began my first rotation of the day with Dr. 3.
My doctor was named Carlos. He has finished med school but has yet to start his residency. There were two other students with me - Nisha and Monica, from the University of Illinois. As it turned out, the doctor didn’t need any help. We were just there to learn and observe.
Our first patient was young - maybe one - with a mild illness. Her mother brought her in. Carlos prescribed a pain reliever and an expectorant.
The medical stations were slow today. Examinations were so quick that most of our time was spent waiting. Carlos talked to us about the patients. We only had one more during my 2-hour shift, a man with what sounded like hemorrhoids.
My second shift was in the education tent. There a motherly lady lectured waiting patients on nutrition, cancer screening, and sexual health. When a doctor, dentist, or obstetrician was free, I would let Shirley know and she would give me a patient. In between I would make friends with adults and children. Mostly children. They’re more on my level Spanish-wise. I met a brother and sister who taught me the word “chupete” (lollipop) because the little girl had a cavity. Their names were Anderson and Tiffany, ages 6 and 3.
Another family was a mom, 3 boys, and an infant girl. They were there for their mom’s treatment. The three boys really wanted to hangout with us. Their names were (oldest to youngest) Eric, Esteban, and Angel. They brought me the word for “wasp” (abispa) and Esteban teased and tickled the other two. Angel kept trying to go visit his mom in the obstetric station. We kept dragging him out of the tarps. His brother called him “El Chiquitin”. Don’t know what that means.
Their mom spent a long time at the dentist. She needed a tooth extraction and for some reason the anesthetic wasn’t working. It stopped up the dental station. She couldn’t hold her baby so she gave the infant to Camila. The girls cooed over the baby. She had big cheeks. The dental station was last to close by probably an hour. She took 4 patients after the tooth extraction, while all the other stations were closed.
A few kids showed up right after school got out, but we were closing down so we didn’t admit them. That didn’t make much sense to me. I would rather work more hours than underserve the community, within reason at least.
We ate lunch on the bus back. Well, I ate earlier, but the education lady didn’t really need me. Today it was a stir-fry chicken sandwich, a mandarin, and a granadilla. A granadilla is an interesting Peruvian fruit. It’s yellow on the outside. To eat it, you punch a thumb through the skin and suck out the seeds. It was very tasty. Ricardo says it settles the stomach. Maybe I’ll get one for the plane back. Our snacks were saltines, salty snack mix, cereal bars, peach juice, and a bottle of water.
Our bus ride back took about an hour and a half. I tried to nap but a Peruvian road is not conducive to such activities. There isn’t so much a “right of way” concept. The flow of traffic is based mostly on getting in other people’s way and trusting that they will stop. They usually do. Then they honk. It’s a pretty jerky, loud ride, especially with the music they played the whole way.
We got back at 4. I journaled for a minute and took a shower.
Our meeting today was about education. We learned about the reasons people are undereducated or can’t go to school. Afterward we did an icebreaker.
Dinner was penne pasta with meat sauce, fried cheese won-tons, salad, and rice pudding. The rice pudding was especially delicious.
After dinner we walked towards Kennedy Park. Then we went home and I slept.
With 45 Nobel Laureates on its Faculty Roster, it’s not surprising that research is an integral part of the Caltech undergraduate experience. One of the programs that promotes such research is the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). There is no minimum knowledge or experience required to participate in a Caltech SURF. In fact, students can participate in a SURF as soon as the summer after their freshman year. It is not difficult to get a SURF. All you need to do is find a mentor who is working in an area of research that interests you and willing to mentor you through a research project. The mentor can work in a Caltech lab, at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), or at another participating institution. Once you find a mentor, you work together to write a project proposal that you later send to the SURF office for review and approval. About 98% of the SURF proposals get approved. This fellowship is a great way to explore various fields of research and obtain real, hands-on experience where you get to apply the theoretical knowledge you’ve learned in class. Not only do you get to work and learn alongside your mentor, but you also get compensated for your time. The length of the SURF is ten weeks, and it starts at the beginning of the summer. However, it is not uncommon for many students at Caltech to continue their research project throughout the academic school year.
Like many students at Caltech, I suffer from a slight boba addiction, where side effects may include over caffeination, minor sugar highs, and of course, a large toll on one’s wallet. This addiction is not helped by the fact that there are at least three boba shops within walking distance of campus. So, after an entire term’s worth of boba runs, I came back from winter break with a new year’s epiphany: it was time to get a job. Rather than try to curb my addiction, I decided to find a way to subsidize it.
Research at Caltech looks different for every student, and can often vary term by term. As a chemistry major, my course requirements are on the lighter side for a Caltech major, and many chemistry majors take advantage of the lighter course load to join research groups. This can be whenever the student wants, but many people join labs during their freshman or sophomore years. Some may work in one lab only, and some may switch between labs during the course of their undergraduate studies, depending on if their interests change.
SURF, short for Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, is a quintessential experience for any Caltech student. It is a widely accessible research fellowship for Caltech students that funds your proposed research for one summer term. While many of my classmates did their first SURF the summer after their freshman year, I sent in my first application to the program as a sophomore. As a CS major, I was trying to chase meaningful work that intersected computation with the field of neuroscience. I ended up doing a SURF at the Stanford School of Medicine that first year, studying hand gestures in children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Since then, I’ve been working in the research space of applying computational analyses to ASD.