In mid-December 2019, Guías de México member Estrella Gutierrez (age 24) traveled from her home in Veracruz, Mexico, to complete her medical internship at a hospital in the Houston area, Texas, United States. She had known the year-long internship would be challenging, but she had not expected the global COVID-19 pandemic to hit just a few months later. Estrella decided to stay at the hospital throughout the entirety of 2020 as a student-doctor volunteer, and her story embodies the resilience and tenacity of the Girl Guide and Girl Scout spirit.
Estrella’s hospital began receiving their first COVID admissions in mid-March 2020. She said, “No one ever realized it would last a year...that we’d be living the same day over and over again, for a year.”
On most days, Estrella woke up at 4 am to be at the COVID unit by 5 am. She then donned two or three layers of personal protective equipment (PPE). Twelve, fourteen, or sixteen hours later, she finished her day. Sometimes, she slept in the COVID unit overnight.
Estrella took care of patients in the intensive care unit (ICU), where patients “either made it or they died.” She shared, “It was challenging mentally, physically, emotionally...in every way. No one knew what to do. There was no precedent.” Estrella added, “It takes a toll on your body and mind. You cannot control the situation at all.”
Estrella explained how quickly patients’ conditions could change in only three days: A patient could be breathing on their own, and the next day, they might be on oxygen support. The third day, they would be intubated.
Tired, exhausted, and with a weakened immune system, Estrella eventually contracted COVID herself. She believed that living through COVID made her a better student-doctor and helped her to understand patients’ experiences. Even though colleagues encouraged her to work in another unit, Estrella decided to go back to the COVID unit once again after she recovered.
For Estrella, leading as a student-doctor during the pandemic was an opportunity to work on both medical and non-medical skills, such as teamwork. Estrella said of her colleagues, “Everyone was falling apart. We had to pick each other up. Victories were really important to share.”
Despite the deep fatigue and stress of the hospital, Estrella said it was even harder to finish her shift and see members of the public not taking precautions. She said, “We would still have the marks of the masks on our faces, and could tell people didn’t take COVID seriously. We asked, ‘Why are we doing this?’”
Estrella observed that with regard to COVID, “it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from.” She recalled that a completely healthy, 32-year-old man with no comorbidities passed away from COVID, while a 94-year-old woman with a history of colon cancer successfully beat COVID.
Estrella urges that everyone continue to be educated and informed regarding both COVID and the available vaccines. She stated, “Don’t go into large crowds. Respect social distancing. Wear a mask. Wash your hands.”
Estrella joined Guías de México at age 6, when her mom opened a group in her city. She attended several national camps across Mexico and then began her international Girl Guiding journey when she went to a camp in Canada at age 13. Estrella represented Guías de México at events in Guatemala and Costa Rica, and was elected to the Executive Board of the Latinamerican Gathering, the Western Hemisphere Region’s learning conference for Spanish-speaking leaders and volunteers, at only age 19. Estrella commented, “I’ve been very lucky to be surrounded by amazing young women who trusted me.” More recently, at the Western Hemisphere Regional Conference 2019 in Grenada, Estrella took the lead as a facilitator of the Cultural Connections program and also served on the Procedural Team.
Estrella is completely convinced that being a Girl Guide made a difference during the pandemic. She said, “Everyone should know that Girl Guiding and Girl Scouting gives you a package of tools that you can use at any time. You work for the good of everyone and have the capacity of zooming out on the larger situation. It 100 percent made a difference to how I approached my experience. It was not just one week, not one month -- it was almost a year. I was lucky to serve and learn.”