It was yet another mind-numbing Friday at work for St. Scholastica's Chris Hines. He wasn't the one, however, in need of medical care.
"The dentist called me over and said today I was going to pull my first molar," Hines said. "Then she handed me the syringe filled with anesthetics and told me to inject it right into this guy's gums."
Hines was working at a mobile health care clinic in Quito, Ecuador, as part of a semester abroad.
"I just stuck the needle in about the thickness of an orange peel, and I squirted all the anesthetics into his gums," Hines said. "Then the dentist handed me something like a pliers and pointed to a dead molar."
Hines is one of 16 students studying social movements in Ecuador's capital city this semester, including two classes and 20 internship hours per week.
"I had to yank it pretty hard and eventually the tooth broke off, leaving the roots in his gums," Hines said. "It made an awful sound when the tooth broke but the patient said he didn't feel anything."
Amazingly, Hines had only completed half the procedure.
"Once the dentist found the roots, she handed me the pliers again and told me to pull them out," Hines said. "It was a little difficult because they were covered in blood and kind of hard to see but eventually I got them out."
Hines' internship in Quito is 3,368 miles from his home in Duluth, and he said the culture shock was very real.
"For me, at least, it comes from the pollution and the poverty," Hines said, "because over 70 percent of the population lives below the United Nations poverty line."
That reality has been hard to cope with for Hines, who said he can now identify most of the struggling neighborhoods in the Quito area.
"Our services range from $1 to $10, and one day in a neighborhood called Buena Ventura there was nobody there requesting our help," Hines said. "I asked the doctor why and he told me that the people there just didn't have enough money this week."
Hines said that the doctor's response really opened his eyes to everyday life in Ecuador.
"Some of the patients we see need a weekly checkup to restock their medications, but that week they couldn't afford the couple bucks it takes to stay healthy," Hines said. "My mind was blown but it didn't seem to bother the doctors at all."
The scene bothered Hines though, as do many of the things he's seen since arriving in Ecuador.
"One day we saw a Colombian man who fell off a ladder, broke his back, and now is paralyzed from the waist down," Hines said. "He has bed sores from not leaving his bed and is in a lot of pain. He takes two painkillers a day that are only supposed to be taken once a day but even the double dose isn't enough."
Hines said it was hard to treat him because there wasn't much anyone could do.
"When we were working on him he just burst out crying into his pillow a couple of times and begged the doctor for a higher dose of medicine," Hines said. "It was really hard to watch but at the same time we had to do our jobs."
Although Hines' job does have some general parameters, he said some days it can take unexpected turns.
"One day I was just about to leave when this guy walked in with a scarf around half of his face," Hines said. "When he took it off there was a baseball-sized cyst on his cheek with a marble-sized opening right in the middle of it. It was really gross and looked pretty infected."
The situation was not what Hines expected that day, but he said it provided him with a great opportunity to learn.
"I got to clean it up myself and assist with the biopsy," Hines said. "At one point I started to get sweaty like I was going to pass out, but I powered through it and kept on working. It was so much fun, as weird as that sounds."
Hines said there were several fun days working with the patients, sad as their stories may be.
"One day we went to a school and spent about three and a half hours weighing and measuring about 100 kids between the ages of 6 and 13," Hines said. "The school is in the far south of Quito in a super poor neighborhood, but the kids were still having a grand old time. They were playfully beating each other up, picking on one another, playing on the swings, and rolling down the big, grass hill on the school's property."
Once the kids found out Hines was an American, he became quite popular.
"They all said that they wanted me to take them back to the U.S. and proceeded to argue over who would get to go first," Hines said. "I pretty much kept my mouth shut the whole time except when they asked me questions about school, where I was from, and my work experience. Overall, it was a good day on the job and the kids seemed to like me."
While Hines is in Ecuador primarily for the experience of his internship, the semester abroad also allows him a chance to experience South American culture.
"Our neighborhood is called Mira Flores, which loosely means 'flower view,' and it is situated on the western, central hills of Quito," Hines said. "My host mom is Zaida, and she is awesome. Her goal is to make me feel like I am living back at home with my real mom and dad, and it's working."
Just like a real mom would, Zaida makes sure to provide Hines with plenty of food.
"In the mornings we typically eat bread, fruit, and eggs," Hines said. "Also, the soups are very popular here, and every one that I have tried has been phenomenal."
Hines said he was surprised how well the South American cuisine has been agreeing with his stomach during his trip.
"I bought some street food, and it was by far the best food I have eaten since getting here," Hines said. "It was a kabob with half of a giant sausage, some kind of mystery meat, another type of sausage, a fried plantain, and a mini potato all covered with a ranch sauce and another spicy sauce that was out of this world. I wish I knew how to make it because words can't even explain how good that spicy sauce was."
In addition to Ecuador's traditional food, Hines got the chance to try some of the more adventurous cuisine available to South American residents.
"We went on a walk in the Yasuni National Park and stopped to look at a few different plants," Hines said. "One had a symbiotic relationship with these little things called lemon ants because they taste like lemons. I thought the whole thing was fascinating and the ants weren't half bad."
In addition to the adventurous food selection, Hines said Ecuador has provided him a wide array of traditional adventures, of which he has taken full advantage.
"We did a mountain bike trip from this cathedral to a hot springs in an indigenous village called Oyacachi," Hines said. "I figured I could handle the 33 kilometers but the twist was that it was at 3,850 meters [12,705 feet] above sea level. It took four or five hours to complete, and I stopped to rest, drink water, and refuel with snacks about four times."
Hines said the conditions of the trails made the trip even more difficult.
"The roads we rode on were a mix of cobblestone and dirt so it was super bumpy and rattled my entire body," Hines said. "Later I found out 10 people didn't even complete the trek. The excursion was amazing and incredibly physically challenging, and I felt very accomplished because I was the only North American to finish the whole thing."
Some of Hines' adventures required less physical conditioning but involved a litte more courage.
"During a trip to Baños we stopped because there was this neat activity called puenting," Hines said. "The bridge was about 50 meters tall and they strapped us into a harness attached to a rope, then we jumped off the bridge. There was about a 30-meter freefall before the rope becomes taut and you start to swing. It's a lot like bungee jumping but instead of bouncing up and down, you swing back and forth."
Hines' puenting experience was a success, but he said there was one drawback.
"It was crazy fun," Hines said, "but I will never do it again because the harness hurt me so bad once I started swinging."
In between his adventures, Hines found plenty of time to explore the amazing scenery in Ecuador and the surrounding area.
"We went to the Galapagos Islands, and the landscape was like a desert with short bushes and cacti," Hines said. "That is pretty much how most of the islands we visited looked, so it was amazing to see such an abundant variety of animals in that desolate landscape."
A wonderful chance for Hines to see that wildlife came on a five-day cruise through the Galapagos Islands.
"As I was sitting on the deck of the boat I saw a huge white tip reef shark, about six or eight feet long, just cruising the surface next to the boat," Hines said. "I got a little uneasy because I had been swimming in that same spot the night before, but the guide assured me that kind of shark is next to harmless."
Later in the trip, though, Hines got an up close and personal look at sharks and other wildlife.
"On our first snorkeling adventure there were tons of fish and we got to swim with the sea lions," Hines said. "It was incredible because the sea lions just danced around trying to impress us by blowing bubbles. We also swam with stingrays and sharks, but it was a little terrifying when, all of sudden, there was a four-foot shark right in front of my face."
Hines said he was disappointed he did not see a hammerhead shark while snorkeling, but that his dissatisfaction didn’t last long.
"There were three humpback whales about 200 yards ahead of us," Hines said. "We got to see one of them jump completely out of the water, and before they dived back down, we saw their huge tails come out of the water. That totally made up for not seeing the hammerhead sharks."
Whatever he saw, the Galapagos Islands left quite an impression on Hines.
"It was definitely the most fascinating place I have ever been in my life," Hines said. "I didn't want to leave but that happens just about everywhere I go in Ecuador."
Hines wanted to visit a traditional market in Ecuador to try his hand at bartering, which led him to the city of Otavalo.
"There are tons of streets lined with vendors along with the plazas and squares that are completely full of tents and stands with all kinds of goods," Hines said. "We got the chance to wander around for a couple hours and barter prices with various vendors."
Hines said the whole experience was a little overwhelming, but he saw why it was included in nearly every travel guide to Ecuador.
"The number of vendors and the competition between them to get our business was crazy," Hines said. "It was kind of ridiculous because there were so many foreigners spending tons of cash, and some didn't even barter because the goods were so cheap to start with. That explains why the market has grown so big over the last 10 years."
While the Otavalo market may be growing, many neighborhoods in Ecuador remain quite small, and Hines said that size can sometimes be beneficial to a community's members.
"We went to Olmedo and most of the residents were walking around with no shoes or shirts," Hines said. "Instantly I was thinking how awesome this place was because it was hot, and it was completely socially acceptable to wear nothing but shorts everywhere you went."
More than that, Hines said he felt very welcome from the moment he got to the village.
"We were running around playing barefoot soccer on the firm sand of the low tide with a couple children, and before we knew it we had a full-blown fútbol match going with 20 or 30 people," Hines said. "It was incredible to be integrated into the community within an hour of being there."
Integrating into the Ecuador culture never worried Hines, but worries of reintegrating into his life in Duluth persist.
"Culture shock upon arrival only lasts for about a week," Hines said. "It's coming back to the States that is the hard part. You feel like everything is going to be the same with family and friends when you come back, but in reality they will have changed and I will have changed since I left the country."
Not only did Hines say those changes were for the better, but he said the things he's learned will help him down the road.
"I think that my Spanish gives me an edge on job and medical school applications, and my health care experience that I received from my time abroad looks real good on a resume," Hines said. "The life experiences I have had have really prepared me for adult life no matter where I decide to live. The study abroad programs have made me super adaptable to any type of living situation and I have more respect for different cultures and their practices."