I came to Cusco, Peru not really knowing what to expect. I spoke some Spanish, but I knew very few words concerning health care or physical therapy. Besides that, I knew very little about where I would be working or living. Within my first two weeks, the public health center where I worked went on strike, and the only areas of the center that were open were the emergency and delivery rooms. After realizing that I had almost no interest in working in obstetrics or trauma, I found a physical therapy clinic that was the perfect fit!
In the mornings, I worked in the outpatient physical therapy downstairs where I assisted a physical therapist and two clinical students with mostly assisting patients in completing their exercise programs, walking with patients, and applying heat packs. In the afternoons, I worked upstairs with the twenty-five kids that live in the clinic. All of the kids in the clinic lived there to receive therapy. The majority of the kids had cerebral palsy, but some had rather rare conditions, such as tuberculosis of the spine or tetra-amelia, which is being born without any limbs. One of the little boys I grew very close to was named Angel, pictured above. He was born with very short arms and absolutely no legs. He is very mischievous and loves to play, so often times when I tried to get him to walk in physical therapy he just starts rolling away, and I have to run after him.
Sometimes it could be a little difficult trying to look after so many kids at once when I am working in the hospitalization area. However, when I put Angel to bed, and he tells me “Michelle, te quiero mucho”, which means “Michelle, I love you a lot”, I felt like these kids do so much more for me than I do for them. A lot of these kids have very difficult lives. They are stuck in wheelchairs all day and have trouble communicating their wants and needs. Some of them do not have any parents and many of the ones that have parents rarely ever see them. They have so many reasons not to be happy, yet they find joy in the smallest things. Recently, one of the older girls with cerebral palsy got a walker for her birthday. She was so excited to get a walker that she kept begging for me to take her outside to practice walking with it! Working at the clinic has made me realize how much we take things for granted and how much I especially have taken things for granted in my life.
Outside of my co-op, I made a lot of Peruvian friends and quickly found out that dancing is a serious way of life here! Most of the people that I have met in Peru dance salsa. It is extremely popular and people dance for family birthday parties, Christmas, work events, and pretty much anything else you could think of! There are also a lot of tourist attractions in and around Cusco because it used to be the capitol of the Incan Empire. On weekends, I often went to different archeological sites in the sacred valley, which is about an hour from Cusco. Some of my friends there study tourism, so they gave me tours of the different sites in order to practice giving tours in English.
From living and working in Peru, I learned a lot about neurological physical therapy, how to find joy in the little things, and Peruvian culture. I have walked through Machu Picchu, helped kids with cerebral palsy learn to walk, and made lots of Peruvian friends who have become some of the best friends I have ever had. I am very grateful for the experience I have had to work in physical therapy in Cusco, and I hope to come back here in a few years!
Michelle Wangrow, Physical Therapy