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I love monotonous jobs: filling out paperwork, sending emails—you name it, I’ll do it. The work I do at Luchadores del Norte in turn is monotonous. All day we measure patients, taking height and weight and pulse and handing folders to doctors. It’s repetitive, but it’s enjoyable. The conversations I have with the nurses, doctors, and fellow volunteers are enough to break up the monotony and save me from the occasional bout of boredom.

Today, however, the director of the clinic reassigned me to the front desk to help clean out folders. You see, while Ecuador’s Ministry of Public Health uses an online appointment program, all patient files are hand-written and hard-copied in folders (27,000 to be exact). My job today was to sort through as many folders as I could and remove those whose patients haven’t come to the clinic since 2010. If the files were too old, I typed up the name and folder number into an excel spreadsheet and put the folder aside for the staff to destroy later. If the files were valid but the folder outdated, I transcribed the information on onto a new one and transfer the files over. Only if the file and folder are new, I do nothing.

I did this for 1000 folders—one twenty-seventh of the files at the clinic, give or take a few. All the while maintaining the order of the still-valid files. I said I like monotonous work, but this was mind-numbing. If the staff at the front desk hadn’t been playing bachata music the whole time, I would have gone stir-crazy.

I never expected my work at Luchadores to be glamorous, because I know my service helps expedite the process rather than innovate. So I didn’t mind purging folders. But as the morning segued into the afternoon, I began hoping more and more that the files were old. This is mostly because it takes fewer seconds to type the name into the spreadsheet than transcribe the information on a new folder. I also started to get more and more frustrated with the old folders containing recent files, because the process to transfer them took significantly longer.

Then I realized something. I don’t remember when it hit me, exactly. Maybe it was when I flipped through one patient’s folder and saw my measurements from the week before. Maybe it was when I saw a patient I recognized stopped in to pick up her blood pressure medication. Or maybe it was just listening to bachata. I realized the reasoning behind why those patients haven’t come back. So many things could have happened, but three possibilities stood out to me: relocation, death, or lack of medical care. I was indirectly, subconsciously hoping they had moved, were dead, or weren’t going to the doctor.

Now I’m not saying I’d ever hope someone dies or doesn’t visit the doctor. Rather, I didn’t understand the reasoning why these patients had no recent medical history. Sitting at a desk filled with stacks of papers, it’s easy to view patients as a folder and nothing more. The monotony of sorting folders made me diminish the importance of the story, the individual behind each file. And that mentality is something I have to overcome.

I shouldn’t have sorted those folders without thinking of its implications, because it leaves the service incomplete. Every time you hand a folder to the doctor, you’re passing on someone’s history of sickness, laughter, sadness, and joy. And that history, that humanity is integral to the DukeEngage experience.

*Taken from my personal journal written on 7/12*