“I always swore I would never do mission work,” Dr. Cindy Hamm states, “because I don’t like to be uncomfortable! I hadn’t even lived without air conditioning since I was 23.”
And yet, for a week in October, Dr. Hamm and her husband, Bill, joined 16 others in the sweltering heat of St. Mary’s Parish, the most poverty-stricken district on the island of Jamaica, to help the poor and the sick.
“It was awesome,” she says of being able to help patients in one urban and two rural clinics, where individuals were so poor they were buying Tylenol pills one at a time instead of by the bottle.
“Our group brought seven suitcases of medicine and supplies donated by pharmacies and physicians from our area and it was wonderful to be able to give this free medicine to people who normally simply did not have anything.”
Once word spread that “the American doctors are here,” large groups of patients showed up, some waiting for hours outside the clinic in the sun.
For Dr. Hamm, the illnesses she saw were surprising, not because they were exotic but because they were so familiar. Most cases were not that different from what she has seen practicing family medicine in Minford with Southern Ohio Medical Center.
“Hypertension, diabetes, allergies, arthritis, tooth pain from poor dental care,” she says. “Some people, who had seen the blindness and loss of limbs that can result from these common conditions, showed up to be screened and proactive about their health.”
The Hamms went on the trip with Lucasville Center Street United Methodist Church Pastor Phil Howard and his wife, Wanda, and others from Kentucky, California, Missouri and Maryland. Dr. Hamm also brought along third-year medical student Mark Cheney and a local nurse.
“The goal was both medical mission and work mission,” she explains. “Several in the group worked at an orphanage where two buildings had burned, cleaning up debris and helping with repairs.”
She praised the work of student Cheney and the others on the team, who brought help, hope and touched countless lives during that week, though the conditions were sometimes challenging.
“I was in this box-like office just big enough for me to sit across from the patient, with a sheet pulled behind me to hide the exam table I was sharing with another physician at the clinic, and a plywood door held with a nail led out of this tiny room,” Dr. Hamm says.
During their trip members of the group visited an “infirmary,” a barrack-like nursing home lined with beds for the elderly and disabled.
“We gave all of the infirmary patients some candy, just some ordinary bulk candy we had brought,” she recalls, “and you know that expression you see in a baby’s face when he or she tastes something sweet for the first time? I saw that in their faces. It was very, very moving.”
Also during the trip, Dr. Hamm’s group visited Dunns River Falls in nearby Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and she was proud to be “the only person over age 29 who climbed all the way to the top” of the natural rock formation above the swirling waters in the national park “even if I did fall twice and lost my glasses there.”
Dr. Hamm and her group extended a tremendous thank you to the local pharmacies and physicians for their kind donations of medical supplies for the people who were served.
“I think everyone should have to go on a mission like this,” she concludes. “Especially teens and young people, so they can see how others live who have nothing, and understand how rewarding it can be to reach out and help others.”
Anyone who may be interested in the mission work or donating medical supplies for future trips can call Dr. Hamm at her Minford Family Practice office, 820-2141.