THOUGH restricted in movement by the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuba-based Jamaican medical student Oraine Darren Lynch is biding his time, as he prepares for a final-round push towards a mission that will decide his future.
On the verge of completing six years of a seven-year programme that would see him acquiring his bachelor’s degree in medicine and surgery, Lynch is already looking forward to working at the Spanish Town Hospital in the St Catherine parish capital, a place he has been using to familiarise himself with medical procedures over the last two summers, so that when he returns to Jamaica, the integration for him as a medical doctor would be easy.
With Cuba, like almost every country of the world also hit by the effects of coronavirus, foreign students living, for some of them in a strange land, may come under pressure in their bid to survive, what with the suspension of classes, among other things. But not Lynch! He is comfortable with what is happening in the Spanish-speaking land and, from his lips, is well taken care of.
“The Cubans try their best to make sure that we, as students, are well looked after and I want to express my gratitude to the Government and people for all that they have done,” Lynch stated. “Last Monday the school organised with one of the external shops and brought supplies to us. They did it last month as well. They gave us food, sanitary supplies, bath soap, washing soaps, shampoo, toothpaste… you name it. The Cuban Government and the school have been working to ensure that we have a lovely experience over here, and make sure we have food. There is no day that we go without food.
“You have members of the population as well who always invite us to have something to eat. They, in the communities, see us on a daily basis, because with my experience working in the hospital, they know me, they would say, for example, ‘Hey medico’ you want some coffee, something that they drink on a regular basis. They always check to see how we are doing, especially when we are conducting family medicine rotation, the patients will come here and ask the main doctors and us students if we want anything. They would take things like sweet milk in a bar or candy form, and they don’t charge us. They are very friendly and they try to keep close to us as much as possible,” Lynch suggested.
There were media reports recently that Jamaican students in Cuba were left to fend for themselves and were not being looked after by authorities, but Lynch dismissed that claim. “I had no such experience, and I know of no student on scholarship who had that experience.
“After the article came out, most persons who saw it said the student was over-exaggerating. I am assuming that the person quoted in the article was a self-financed student. Most self-financed students live off-campus, and the ones that we contacted in our WhatsApp group they related no problems, and their landlords actually came to ensure that they had food, and those who didn’t have food, the landlords went out and got for them.”
As far as his studies go, he has digested a mixture of deep classroom knowledge, and real-life lessons learned from the average Cuban in the street that he feels has prepared him well for life’s challenges.
The Cuban people, he said, go as far as teach him about how to overcome obstacles that he faces, and do so quickly.
“I really like the system here, especially since I started hospital clinical rotations. The teachers have been excellent to us foreigners, and even if sometimes they go a bit too fast, they slow things down for us and make sure that we understand what we need to learn. It’s the same thing in the street… the people are always there for us, and understanding the ‘in the street’ local dialect is always a plus. It seems that each province has its own variation of the local dialect,” said the man who is now fluent in Spanish.
So far, Lynch has studied at Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) in the Cuban capital of Havana, where most of the scholarship students usually start, a place he did pre-med work for the first two years; then to University of Matanzas, 90 kilometres east of Havana for third year, and later to his present location of the Medical University of Las Tunas, in the east central region where he will be finishing up.
His most recent task of doing more ‘practicals’ has been quite rewarding for the Jamaican, who is from a poor economic background.
“When I was am on duty outside of school time, I have to be in hospital and evaluate patients at night and do everything that the normal doctor, resident and specialist will do. My seniors will teach you to do it and you will have to do it as well. I was doing gynaecology in Las Tunas one day and they had assigned me to a patient in labour. I was there with her through the entire process of her giving birth, from when she came in with contractions and I was there timing her contractions, advising her and showing her everything. When she was ready to give birth I was in the delivery room with her, and there was a joyful experience to see life actually coming into the world for the first time in my life.
“Last year in the summer when I went to Jamaica over the summer and was doing the gynaecological rotation at Spanish Town Hospital, I made sure a saw the system. It was a midwife at the time who was delivering and she had her other nurses around her. It was lovely and taught me a few techniques. Those Spanish Town nurses taught me things I never knew before.”
With that experience, you would think that upon finishing his first degree and realising his lifelong dream of becoming a doctor, obstetrics and gynaecology would be the natural choice as he eyes specialisation. He is still not sure though, as nephrology is also an area of interest, one of which Jamaica is lacking specialists in.
“Everything is coming together, with what I learned here and what I have researched,” said the St Andrew-born graduate of Dunrobin Primary School and Kingston College, the latter institution which he gained 10 CXC subjects, positive CAPE units one and two returns in mathematics, biology, chemistry, communication studies, and Caribbean studies. He was Interact Club president, member of Key Club, Science Club, Student’s Council, Chess Club, and the KC Old Boys’ Association while he was in sixth form.
Although he has not come in direct contact with any of the 1,841 Cubans who had contracted coronavirus up to Friday, he works closely with medical personnel who have had to deal with those so affected, in clinics and hospitals. He, admittedly, follows the social distancing protocol and wears a mask everywhere he goes, as the Cuban authorities provide he and his student colleagues with lots of the now trendy items.
“The programme here to contain the coronavirus has been impressive. I have been doing work mostly on and off at clinics in the communities, but the authorities are on the streets every day looking for people who have symptoms and if they have those symptoms then they go to the hospital right away and get looked after.”
One of the projects that Lynch is hoping will be implemented in Jamaica is for health officials to implement a system whereby families in communities are properly covered by doctors and nurses who are visited regularly if they, for whatever reason, cannot make it to the clinics. The doctor/nurse to patient ratio too, he said, was quite low.
Among the measures that Cuban medical officials preach to the citizens are the importance of exercise, and the need to consume limited salt, things he feels need to be more emphasised in Jamaica, what with the vast number of people who are hypertensive.
“At Spanish Town Hospital, I realised that a lot of people had hypertension, especially males, and because it wasn’t controlled, by the time they came into the hospital they had renal issues, heart disease, or strokes. A lot of the diseases that we face in Jamaica are boosted by the fact that Jamaicans don’t exercise enough, and consume too much salt. We could do with more education on those matters in Jamaica, like the Cubans do here for the population,” he insisted.
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