11:30AM Sunday February 28, 2016
Gradually dipping below the clouds, the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas suddenly appears sprawling out as far as the eye can see. The big picture is clear, just enough to get your orientation, however the individual details of the picture remain fuzzy, just out of reach. Demographics, learned from collecting secondary data prior to departure. A young population, mostly Latinos, living in poverty with high rates of uninsured and even higher rates of diabetes. This is my bird’s eye view of the population and health of the Rio Grande Valley upon arrival.
9:00AM Monday February 29, 2016
Arriving on the college campus where I will be working early Monday morning, eager with anticipation. As Mr. Eduardo Olivarez, Chief Administrative Officer for the Hidalgo County Health Department, discusses the public health challenges in the Rio Grande Valley, I realize the once-fuzzy details about the population and health of the area are coming closer than ever, the edges more defined. The border, so close, influences the health of this place. Humans, animals, insects, water and air flow freely every which way, not impeded by a fence. This unique characteristic of the region brings distinctive challenges. Multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis, leprosy, a bubble of migrants moving north and living in squalid conditions, food-borne illness outbreaks originating with unlicensed street vendors and widespread illegal dumping. Mr. Olivarez has left an indelible mark on my understanding of the Rio Grande Valley’s population and health.
9:32AM Tuesday March 1, 2016
Palms sweaty, clipboards, surveys and consent forms in-hand, I give Peggy, my fellow survey recruiter, a quick nod and quickly approach my first college student sitting at a picnic table to take the survey. Success! I feel I have crossed a line of understanding. The people of South Texas and the realities of their health situations are no longer vague statistics on the CDC website. They are literally staring me in the face, reflected in this young man’s story, unveiled in his survey, question by question.
1:27PM Thursday March 3, 2016
As I enter the last question from the survey I am working on into the spreadsheet, I stare at the screen. The people and health of the Rio Grande Valley unavoidably move into glaring focus. This spreadsheet holds the narrative of the population’s perception of their own health. My involvement with this project has moved the Hidalgo County Health Department one step closer to improving the health and quality of life for all residents.
And still one more day to go…