Peru: The rainforest is like falling in love & I can’t leave!

Dr. Linnea Smith left her family medical practice in Prairie du Sac to
take her doctoring deep in the Amazon rainforest in Peru, in a spot so
remote that patients arrive in dugout canoes. She blames this radical
move on her house plants. Before attending medical school at
UW-Madison, she ran the Sunshine Store, an exotic plant shop in Cross
Plains. So in 1990, after three years as a doctor, she ventured on
vacation to the Peruvian rainforest to see where her plants came from.
After a week in the Yanamono rainforest, she did not want to leave. “I
tell people it’s like falling in love,” Smith mused. “You can point to
a lot of reasons to be in Peru. There’s need there but there’s need in
this country, too. But like falling in love, when you dig beneath the
reasons, there’s the chemistry. Peru had — and still has — that
chemistry for me.” So Smith, a Milwaukee-area native, took a leave of
absence from her practice to open a clinic in a room at an eco-tourism

She spoke no Spanish, practicing medicine with light from a
kerosene lantern and the few supplies she brought: a stethoscope, a
small microscope, a bottle of prenatal vitamins and a few doses of
antibiotics. “I’ve always been a little eccentric and I guess I live a
little on the edge,” Smith said. “And practicing medicine in the
Amazon rainforest without electricity or running water is about as
edgy as you can get.” Eighteen years later, she’s still there — now
with a clinic built by several Rotary Clubs, a tiny two-room house
with a latrine out back and a practice that serves around 2,500 people
a year. Most patients are indigenous, although when needed she treats
guests at the nearby Explorama Lodge, which in turn provides her food,
land for her house and river transportation. “Now I’ve been there long
enough that I know my patients and I get to see the children of people
who were children when I was first there,” Smith said during an
interview at her Black Earth home, decorated with watercolors she’s
painted of her jungle environs in Peru. “I’ve been a part of the
community for a long time, so it’s very much home and all my patients
are my children.” La Doctora Being the only clinic in the area, Smith
treats maladies far outside her medical training. She has pulled
teeth, learned tubal ligations and some ophthalmology and routinely
treats snakebites, parasites, a multitude of infectious diseases along
with emergency care. Take the 10-year-old boy who was brought to her
after he had been attacked by a large Caiman, a type of crocodile.
“He’s walking home from soccer one afternoon as it got dark and he
trips over what he thinks is a log, whereupon the log reaches up and
grabs him,” Smith said. “It takes a bite out of his thigh. … The kid
falls down and he bites him again.”

Posted via email from Deane’s posterous

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