University of Wisconsin–Madison

Lessons for Future Doctors

This week my study abroad group traveled to Putre, the capital of the Parinacota province in the northern Chile, to learn about traditional medicine from the Aymara people. Putre, or puxitri in the native language of Aymara, means the murmuring of water, and I can attest that I have heard murmuring water everywhere in this beautiful mountainous city. The bus ride to Putre was only about three hours including stops (about 150 km), but we also went from sea level to 3,500 meters above sea level. We made four stops on the way up to acclimatize:

Second stop at the beginning of the desert mountains
Second stop at the beginning of the desert mountains
Enjoying the weird-looking cacti
Enjoying the weird-looking cacti
Third stop – sitting on the edge of the world
Third stop – sitting on the edge of the world
Road trippin’ with our classic Turísmo bus
Road trippin’ with our classic Turísmo bus

Once we got to Putre, we met the Yatiri, or traditional doctor, who works here for the Aymara people (and others who want to use traditional medicine as well). Right away, we took part in a Pawa ceremony, performed by the Yatiri and another Aymara woman. This ceremony was performed as an offering to the spirits that exist in the Cosmovisión Aymara (aka how the Aymara see the universe) in order to thank them and to ask them to keep us healthy and safe during our stay here. For the Aymara, the coca leaf is a central part of all religious and medical ceremonies, and the Pawa was no different. We lined up in a semi circle around the Yatiri, as he put coca leaves down on a blanket on the ground as an offering. The four cardinal directions are very important in the Aymaran cosmovisión, as well as the Pachamama, or Mother Earth (Madre Tierra in Spanish). Once everything was set up, the Yatiri and the other woman made the offering to Pachamama by pouring wine onto the ground near the four corners of the blanket, representing the four cardinal directions. Then we got to try doing the offering as well.

After that, we had some free time to explore the city:

Sitting in the valley watching the sunset and the clouds after a long hike (that was actually only about 5 minutes downhill, but 3,500 meters above sea level makes everything harder).
Sitting in the valley watching the sunset and the clouds after a long hike (that was actually only about 5 minutes downhill, but 3,500 meters above sea level makes everything harder).
Poor Julia after she saw a dead dog, freaked out, tripped over a rusty can and dropped her coca tea all in under 60 seconds. Coca tea is a natural remedy used in the mountains to treat headaches and stomachaches caused by high altitudes.
Poor Julia after she saw a dead dog, freaked out, tripped over a rusty can and dropped her coca tea all in under 60 seconds. Coca tea is a natural remedy used in the mountains to treat headaches and stomachaches caused by high altitudes.
Walking through the valleys
Walking through the valleys
Watching the sunset through the clouds
Watching the sunset through the clouds

Over the next few days, we had lectures from many different people working in the Aymaran healthcare system here, and all was very interesting. Finally, at the end of the day Tuesday, we had the chance to ask two of the Parteras, or traditional midwives, questions about all we had learned. They were the sweetest old ladies, but you could also tell that they definitely knew what they were doing. (Earlier that day, they even demonstrated for us the traditional/Aymaran way to help a pregnant mother give birth with one of our classmates.) My favorite part was when our advisor asked them what advice they had for any of us students who would eventually become doctors. Their advice for us was to always be calm and to always smile. They told us not to rush through patients, but to talk to them, be sweet, and get to know them. Finally, they told us to give little kisses (“besitos”) to every patient to show them that we care about them as people, not just as patients to make money off of. Then it was time to say goodbye and thank you, and we were back off into the world seemingly unchanged. I don’t think, though, that I’ll ever forget their heartfelt advice I learned sitting on the handmade blankets of alpaca wool draped over their couch in the welcome room of their small house/clinic. Even more than the mountains and valleys and all the natural beauty of Chile, my favorite part so far has been these experiences meeting the people of Chile.

 

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