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'You Have to Get Hardened'

OOHS AND AAHS: Ip's experiences left her 'moved, shocked.'

Miranda Ip joined 11 other Stanford students on the trip to Papua New Guinea last summer. Her most enduring memory of the experience: “being sweaty,” she says with a laugh. Ip studied human biology and is applying to medical schools this fall. Meanwhile, the Boston native is working for Americorps in Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park, pairing high school students with community service organizations. Here are excerpts from her PNG journal.

Monday, June 25, 8:24 a.m.
Last night was unbearably humid and hot. I woke up at one point to hear fruit bats—a huge flapping sound, punctuated every once in a while by a thud—the sound of them hitting the wall because their sonar is kind of dumb. At night, the rats come scurrying out, too. Valerie says they are small and brown and cute, but I’d rather not see them.

[later in the day]
The first patient I saw was a 3-month-old baby, severely dehydrated, feverish, covered in infected sores—fungal infections with secondary infections. The mother tried to hand me the baby, who was too weak to even cry, and I turned to Kelly, completely bewildered. The hours of preparation yesterday—the drug lists and disease and symptom chart we so carefully hammered into our brains—completely failed me. After listening to the baby’s heart and lungs, I turned to Kelly, who instantly diagnosed it—ordered Biaxin for the staph infection, oral rehydration and, I think, some mebendazole for his belly full of worms.

Tuesday, June 26
God, it’s only 4:08 a.m. now. The roosters will start crowing soon, and everyone will be awake. Okay, there’s a mosquito in my net right now. I’m going to kill it and get back to this soon. . . .
It’s heartbreaking to see a malaria case you know you can’t treat. It’s a struggle to see those kids with distended bellies—you could give them worm medicine, but they go swimming in the river the next day only to get worms once again. You have to get hardened to it, I guess—that’s what happens to a lot of doctors anyway—but it’s been three days of clinic already, and I can’t stop being annoyed, moved, shocked by the visibly obvious need for health care.

We got cold drinks! We came back around 6 p.m. today from clinic, and inside there was a package sent by the missionaries that included more ramen and other food—potatoes, oil, onions, more Twistees and a cooler of ice cold soda. So exciting. I had a Schweppes passion fruit-flavored one. This is ridiculously good. The food situation, surprisingly, isn’t all that bad. We manage to flavor almost everything with the chicken-flavored msg packets from the ramen and also this garlic-chili hot sauce that in a million years I’d never touch back home.

Friday, June 29, 7:58 a.m.
After the little [farewell] celebration, we went back to the guesthouse, and some of the villagers followed us, hanging around on the porch, watching us do some last-minute packing and arranging. That’s something they like to do a lot: stand outside on the porch and stare at us through the mosquito screens, watch us cook dinner or brush our teeth, like some exotic exhibit at the zoo. Very interesting to be on display.

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