Dr. Alexis Rodriguez had just earned his medical degree from the University of Illinois when he headed to the Guatemalan highlands last fall for three months’ work as a volunteer physician at Hospitalito Atitlán, a small, nonprofit hospital serving an impoverished community in Sololá.
Having not even completed a residency, Rodriguez suddenly found himself staffing an emergency room by himself, reading manuals to learn how to shoot his own x-rays, and performing crash C-sections without an anesthesiologist. “The hospital was in a converted house, with a fireplace in the operating room,” says Rodriguez, who just recently began a residency in emergency medicine at Hartford (Conn.) Hospital. “At night insects would fly into the O.R. and crawl around the lights.”
The Sololá area was hit hard by Guatemala’s civil war. Patients seen at Hospitalito Atitlán—currently in a temporary facility, as the original was destroyed by a hurricane and mudslide—are treated for such conditions as machete wounds, diabetes, malnutrition, complex obstetrical issues, and chronic pulmonary diseases caused by open cooking fires in homes.
“Probably the most gratifying part of the trip was the fact that we had good outcomes in high-risk labors under some very adverse conditions,” says Rodriguez, who designed his own undergraduate major in ethics and social responsibility while at Vanderbilt. “Seeing happy, smiling parents with their babies made it worth the risk.”
© 2014 Vanderbilt University | Photography: Courtesy of Dr. Alexis Rodriguez
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