Enriching and Rewarding: Judy Zager, RN, Serves in Panama

Friday, June 28, 2013 3:07 PM

This spring, Judy Zager, RN at NorthShore, and Ken Fox, MD, Pediatrician at NorthShore, joined a team of Chicago-area healthcare volunteers in Panama. The team traveled to a remote area of Western Panama to provide much needed healthcare to those with limited access, including individuals from one of the country’s last remaining indigenous tribes, the Ngobe-Bugle. 

Judy Zager tells us about the impact she made and the lasting impact the experience made on her.

Why did you choose Panama for your first medical mission trip?
A friend of mine was instrumental in building the dental clinic at this particular site. He’d asked repeatedly for me to join him on a mission. Once I made the commitment, I was asked to recruit a pediatrician and Dr. Fox readily accepted the invitation.

What were your expectations before you left?
My only expectation was that we would be seeing many people who would travel very far distances for care.  When I spoke with another nurse who had been at the site on other missions, she explained what I should expect to see.  It was useful to talk to her beforehand. Her information was a helpful “heads up” for what to anticipate.

What was a “typical” day at the clinic like?
A typical day started at about 9:00 AM. Our arrival was announced on the radio. The patients we saw walked far for care and came early. They often had to wait hours for their number to be called.  With the assistance of Ngobe and Spanish interpreters, each person was triaged prior to being seen by the physician. Vitals were established and their complaints, along with symptoms, were documented. After that, they were evaluated by Dr. Fox and tested when appropriate for pregnancy or strep.  Medication that had been donated to this project was distributed when appropriate.

Was there a case that made an impact on you?
There was a mother and her sister who walked four miles with twins. The twins had an advanced case of impetigo, which is a highly contagious bacterial skin infection common among younger children. This particular case was so advanced that one twin had developed cellulites and the other required IV antibiotic treatment. The minister in charge of our program facilitated getting them admitted to the local hospital.

Why is mission work like this so important for you?
I stepped outside my comfort zone to travel to another country to provide care for others.  I did begin to second guess myself once I had made the commitment to go. Why was I giving up my vacation time and spending my own money to do this work? In the end, it was more rewarding than I ever could ever have imagined. 

What did you take away from your experience? Will you do this again?
The work environment was primitive.  The friend who recruited me helped build the dental clinic and it is a beautiful dental facility that’s very easy to work in.  We (me and Dr. Fox) were in a makeshift area. It was oppressive in the heat with minimal ventilation and just a couple ceiling fans.  There was also no running water.  I came home inspired to return but also inspired to help raise funds to make the medical clinic a better place to work and a better place to receive care. 

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