A Change of Plans: COVID-19

default article imageWhen I first entered my last college semester of my undergraduate career, I looked forward to the classes I would take, the people I would meet, and the experiences I would encounter that I truly would hold dearly to my heart forever, specifically my spring break service trip to Guatemala. This all changed when COVID-19 hit.

This outbreak was certainly not expected, and although I may have resented Monmouth at the time for stripping me of my service to Guatemala, I reflect now on it and believe it was ultimately necessary.

“I was eager to use what I learned in class and apply it to my travel experience and bring good intentions to Guatemala,” Tiffany Tereshkina, a fellow classmate of mine, had told me. “Seeing how fast COVID-19 unraveled in our tri-state area, I was happy with the University’s decision and believe cancelling our travel was the right thing to do. Instead of being in a foreign county, far away from our families my classmates and I are home with our families riding out the storm”.

The corona virus, which causes a range of mild to severe fevers and respiratory symptoms, changed everything. A life changing opportunity that I was not only looking forward to for months, but had prepared for 7 weeks, taken in a blink of an eye, along with the remainder of my senior year, commencement, and memories I wanted to treasure forever.

In Guatemala Public Health (HE 376), Dr. Hirschler prepared us with various class discussions, articles, and documentaries to enhance our experience on the trip, and even a self-defense class that would help us to facilitate a variety of lessons we would deliver in Guatemala. During my preparation, I had learned of the harsh reality Guatemalan’s face in such a poor country that is plagued by violence. We were expected to help communities on a more intimate scale by delivering water filtration systems to make up for their lack of clean water, construct bunk beds for large families who piled into a single bed at night, teach lessons to domestic violence victims who were sheltered away from their families and abusers, along with a cemetery clean up to help beautify and show our respects to the dead and the community, contributing to the country’s economy by purchasing items at local markets, and hiking the Pacaya volcano at sunrise (that for many of us would be our first time on a volcano).

Instead, my spring break and the weeks to follow have been spent sheltering at my family home far from Monmouth and my friends. My new reality consists of four online classes within the ‘comfort’ of my home, unemployment, and a whole lot of boredom mixed with stress as I continue to pray for my friends and family to stay safe and healthy.

“Having a disabled brother who contracted COVID-19 was terrifying,” Melanie Wright, my fellow Guatemala Public Health classmate told me, “The fact we did not know he had the virus as it was only February when he was hospitalized, was even scarier”. Her brother had been intubated for a week, and struggling to maintain his life. She told me, “His rapid progression was like nothing you’d ever seen before, alarming my mother who has been a nurse for over 30 years

in the critical care unit. Luckily my brother recovered, but I understand why our trip had to be canceled now. The virus is serious and deadly, and all precautions to fight it need to be taken”.

This virus has tremendously affected the United States health care system, not to mention economy, with limited ventilators, personal protective equipment, and hospital beds. The news used to be difficult to watch as the number of cases and deaths continued to sky rocket across the country, but now, after weeks sheltering in place, the daily reports has had a numbing effect. The hardest part is, we do not know when this will end and when cases will finally begin to fall so things can go back to normal.

Although I was not able to tour a Guatemalan hospital first hand, the information I have processed the first half of this semester was enough for me to understand that the Guatemalan health care system is extremely limited in comparison to the United States. Imagine the effect this virus has on a developing country like Guatemala who has had a lack resources, equipment, and medicine before the pandemic even started.

It hurts me tremendously to know the people of Guatemala are also affected by this pandemic. When asking Dr. Hirschler how he felt on the subject, he explained how areas in Guatemala that rely on tourism and income sales from markets will be greatly affected. “For example”, Hirschler stated, “A young woman I have helped to stay in school messaged me that her family didn't have money for food because the marketplace has dried up in Chichicastenango”.

According to John Hopkin’s University & Medicine, there are a total of 87 cases reported in Guatemala as of April 8, 2020. With the failure of testing in the United States, it can only be assumed their country is even further behind and has many more undiagnosed cases. The virus will also take a toll on the United States economy, so I can only imagine what will happen to Guatemala’s. In Hirschler’s words, “Their already very limited healthcare system will not get the same kind of support that is possible in the United States, and even we, the wealthiest country, are struggling”.

Although I was not able to make a contribution to this country in March, my class plans on rescheduling our trip. COVID-19 may have altered our plans, but my classmates and I are determined to still help and make a difference. After this pandemic, they may need it more than ever before.