I remember hearing on the news that in China there was an outbreak of a new respiratory virus. Shortly thereafter, this virus propagated all over the world. I made video calls to my family members back in Guatemala to discuss the importance of isolation and the use of masks. They were really scared because the virus was killing hundreds of people around the world and had just reached my home country. I was training in Chicago, Illinois at one of the biggest hospitals in the city. Cook County serves a large population of immigrants and non-insurance patients. It was a time of great uncertainty for many. The virus continued to spread and one day I received a phone call from my chief resident, indicating that I would be reassigned to the first medical COVID-19 response team. I agreed without thinking because I wanted to help these patients. After the conversation, I told the news to my wife and she started crying because she was worried about my safety. I decided not to tell my parents because this was relatively new, and they would have been very scared for my safety.
Guatemala is a very diverse country; it is considered pluricultural, multiethnic, and multilingual. I grew up in Guatemala City and was raised in a very culturally aware family (my mother is a social scientist and my father is a public health specialist). In medical school, I took medical anthropology and learned of the importance of understanding local culture (the social behavior and norms in human societies) when treating patients. I did not know some of the concepts I learned in class would be so important in my personal life and career ahead. I took this class before and while doing a three-month community medicine rotation in one of Guatemala’s municipalities, San Juan Sacatepéquez. In this community, that is a 45-minute drive away from Guatemala City, we cared predominantly for patients of Mayan descent. In class, we learned about the Kakchiquel ethnic group, their culture and plural health system. We explored topics related to cultural change, cultural relativism, ethnomedicine, culture shock and ethnocentrism.