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Desiree Davis: A personal journey providing healthcare services in Nicaragua

By: Allison Fluker

Desiree Davis was sitting in the window seat of the 28th row on the plane headed for Managua, Nicaragua, that would take off Jan. 2. Her pink neck pillow hugged her neck as she quietly waited for the plane to take off.

Davis is from San Antonio, Texas. She is senior at the St. David’s School of Nursing at Texas State University.

At first glance, she looked calm.

When the plane lifted off from Austin, Texas, she let out a small scream as the air pressure popped her ears.

A team of 24 students from the Texas State University College of Health Professions was on its way to collaborate with the International Service Learning organization in Nicaragua to set up free medical clinics in small villages outside of Masaya.

When Davis found out about the trip last year, she didn’t hesitate to apply.

“We’re so used to being in America, it’s forcing us to have to embrace a new culture we’re not used to,” said Davis after spending a day seeing patients in La Borgoña. “It is important to connect with people who are not like me.”

Davis’ determination to get outside her comfort zone caught the attention of her friends and colleagues.

“She’ll take the opportunity that’s most challenging,” said Madeline Longtin, a senior in the nursing program. “Even if she’s scared, she likes to push her boundaries to see where her limits are.”

Davis does not speak Spanish, but was called on to communicate with patients in their native language. Her nervousness was evident, but she overcame that obstacle and looked people in the eye and nodded her head in understanding.

A Life-Long Dream

Healthcare has always been important to Davis.

During her senior year of high school, she participated in a certified nursing internship at local hospitals and in nursing homes. Her dream job is to be a pediatrician.

“I love working at the bedside with patients,” Davis said. “I love to be there for people and to take care of them.”

Davis has a strong will for taking care of people. When she graduates college, she wants to work at Brackenridge, a level-one trauma center, in Austin, Texas. She ultimately wants to work in an intensive care unit.

“Level one is when you get the most critical patients, like from air support,” Davis explained.

Davis’ love and compassion for patient care have not gone unnoticed from her peers.

“She has so much joy,” said Longtin. “She cares so much, beyond words.”

Davis’ joyful attitude and pleasant demeanor makes her patients feel comfortable and at ease.

“She’ll help you out before she takes care of herself,” said Rebecca Duffy, a senior in the nursing program.

How the Clinics Worked

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Davis and her colleague completing a census form during home visits in La Borgoña. Photo by Allison Fluker.

On Jan. 4, the health professions team was split into three groups and named themselves: Group Peanut, Group Butter and Group Jelly. Each group followed a community leader into the villages to visit residents in their homes and take a medical census. They used this opportunity to invite community members to the clinics, which were held in local churches.

Davis’ group – Jelly – went to La Borgoña, a community near Masaya that received three free clinic days.

“There was a reason why we were there,” said Davis. “We were there to show them love.”

 

The local residents attended the clinics to receive care for illnesses ranging from diabetes to allergies.

During the operation of the clinic, the health professions students split into groups of two and, with a translator next to them, conducted focused assessments on the patients who had lined up outside the church to be seen.

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Davis completing a focused assessment form. Photo by Allison Fluker.

Davis exuded confidence expected from a seasoned professional. A curious fire raged in her eyes when she consulted with patients.

“You start to see the same illnesses and know the right questions,” said Davis. “It gives you a lot of confidence.”

By the third day of the medical clinics, the previously nervous students grew confident and eager. Their confidence was built, in part, by consulting with the Nicaraguan physicians who pushed the students to utilize the knowledge and skills they learned in nursing school.

“You’re able to sit down with the doctor, tell them what is going on with the patient and you’re able to give your own assessment,” said Davis.

 

Some students began to assess patients without one of their colleagues by the third day of clinics.

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Davis filling a prescription after completing a consultation with a patient. Photo by Allison Fluker.

“I was by myself the rest of the day,” said Davis. “I began to ask questions like ‘Has anything changed in the last 6 months?’ A lot of education went into finding out what happened to some patients.”

One patient stood out to Davis. The woman they were performing an assessment on who already knew what was going on with her health.

“We had a 47-year-old woman that was diabetic who was diagnosed 13 years ago,” explained Davis. “When we took her blood sugar, it was 448. In that moment, she automatically knew it was high when we showed her. She started to tell us how stressed she was. Her son had just gone to jail. While my partner, Mady, was taking her blood pressure, we started hugging her and holding her. You could tell she was just so stressed out. We asked Harold, our translator and ISL assistant team leader, to take her to the hospital with one of the buses.”

 

Giving Back

After the three days of clinics ended, the health professions team returned to the village, Chocoyera, to give back to their community. Everyone in the team went to the store earlier in the week and bought things for the children to play with.

“There were tons of kids,” said Davis. “Everyone was so comfortable with each other. Some of us started blowing up balloons inside (the church) and others set up the health fair outside when we arrived.”

Some students played with children from the community while other health profession students set up a couple of tables outside the front of the church. These students would continue to take blood pressures for local residents and give smaller focused assessments.

“I played with a little girl named Carmen,” said Davis. “She was teaching me little words (in Spanish) the whole time. I asked her what she wanted to be when she gets older and she said ‘doctor.’ I had brought a doctor play set with me and I decided to give her the doctor set. The smile on her face was so breathtaking.”

Davis special moment with the little girl, Carmen, is a small reflection of the experiences many of the other students had that day.

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Davis playing with a bowling set and a young girl during the community give back day in the village of Chocoyera. Photo by Allison Fluker.

The study abroad to Nicaragua was brief. The health professions team flew out of Austin, Texas, on Jan. 2 only to return on Jan 13. In that time, the students traveled to small villages outside Masaya, a nursing home and to a children’s home. Throughout their time abroad, they performed hundreds of focused assessments and impacted many lives.

“We’re walking into a place where people didn’t choose that lifestyle,” said Davis. “It’s important to count your blessings because you don’t know what that person is going through.”

Davis went on the trip not knowing what was going to happen but she returned home with a bigger understanding of the world, healthcare and the knowledge that she made an impact in so many people’s lives.

“It is impressive to see the locals have so much joy in them even though their situation might not be the best,” said Davis.