Recent nursing graduate Alyssa Thrasher will undoubtedly spend the holidays looking at her family and her living conditions with a greater sense of appreciation after spending several weeks during the fall on two separate trips helping villagers in some of the poorest regions of Central America.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she said of her early-November trip to set up temporary medical clinics in El Triunfo and Los Tiestos, two remote villages in Guatemala she thought were the most poverty stricken places on earth.
“The people lived in huts and they had nothing more than the clothes on their backs,” she said. “It was just so emotionally exhausting.”
After graduating last June, Thrasher decided she wanted some meaningful international experience. Through a family friend, she made contact with a doctor at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit who conducts an annual surgical mission to a village in Honduras. As a student, she had some operating room experience during a placement at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Hospital and managed to sign on with the group. She went on that eight-day trip with a 20-member team in mid-September, working 14-hour days in the village hospital assisting with such routine surgeries as hernia repairs, appendectomies, and gall bladder removals.
“It was exhausting, but it was a lot of fun,” the Holy Names High School graduate said. “The people were truly appreciative. They were beautiful. It was very rewarding, but also very humbling.”
Not long after arriving back home from that trip, she signed on with a Woodslee-based group called Guatemala Hope to help victims of severe flooding there. The 16-member team set up a clinic in an old school and treated more than 2,500 patients suffering from such flooding-related ailments as parasites, infections and respiratory problems.
Accommodations during that trip consisted of tents that were pitched in the yard of a local teacher. Temperatures most days were well over 38C and simple things like a daily shower were unavailable. On both trips, medical equipment and working conditions were nowhere near the standards she was accustomed to as a nursing student, but forced her to be resourceful in unfamiliar circumstances, which proved to be invaluable experience.
“You have to work with what you have in those kinds of environments,” she said. “I don’t think you really start learning until you’re outside your comfort zone. There are going to be lots of situations in the real world that you’re not prepared for and you have to just learn to deal with it. You make the best of tough situations and do the best you can for your patients.”
Thrasher hopes that experience will serve her well. She’s considering pursuing a master’s degree, but has also applied to several medical schools.
“As a nursing student, you want every learning experience you can get,” she said.