We wanted to share a few of the highlights from our medical mission.
We arrived late Saturday, January 6th and early on Sunday morning, we met with the International Medical Relief (IMR) Organization team to review logistics and organize supplies. We were soon put to work providing service to those who serve us, the local hotel staff. Considering the lack of access and resources for healthcare available in Guatemala, the hotel employees, their family and friends were encouraged to consult with our team free of charge. Over the course of two hours, we assessed approximately 20 patients ranging in age from 1 to 91 years old and suffering from chronic pain, heart conditions, depression, gastritis, and fungal infections. The services we provided included ear lavage to an unhappy child, blood glucose levels, developmental well-child assessments, education, and referrals. The clinic ended with a house call to a friend of the family running the hotel. Six team members including students Lauren and Sophia were led by passionate Dr. Dario and went to the aid of a 91 year-old woman who had been treated for a double hip fracture and was now experiencing symptoms of debilitating sciatica. Dr. Dario held her face close to his, reassured her, then provided much needed pain management. This experience truly demonstrated the importance of community and care of elders in the Guatemalan culture.
Our first day in the field began as our team of 65 embarked on two diesel-smelling bumpy busses to a medically underserved region where hundreds of patients and new friends lined the streets before we even arrived. Everyone showered us with love, hugs, and kisses. It was both overwhelming and extremely humbling to see an impoverished community embrace us with so much love. It is an experience none of us will ever forget and will forever impact our future practice.
After a heartwarming welcome and introduction from the community, volunteers, and the mayor of the town, our mobile medical clinic was set up into various stations: Triage, Community Health, Dentistry, Emergency, Family/General, OB/GYN, Pediatrics, Laboratory, Pharmacy, and Hydration. We got straight to work with our new friends/teammates at the IMR and worked diligently to treat over 400 patients in just 7 hours.
Most of the patients we spoke to had never seen healthcare providers before, challenging us to establish trust, while tackling language and cultural barriers. Thus, breaking through with each patient was increasingly special and rewarding. A broad spectrum of issues presented including: cancer, gastritis, diabetes, hypertension, scabies, and wound infections.
It was a humbling, moving, and incredibly educational day. We came to find that honest conversations, education, and advocacy can often be more powerful than using resources as a band-aid to a larger problem. We are grateful to have empowered even a few to achieve better health outcomes.
On Tuesday we traveled back to the same site San Jose, Guatemala. Hundreds of patients again lined up awaiting our arrival. Our students again were assigned to a physician or triage station as the long day began.
USD MEPN students (Taylor, Kelsey, Diane, Coco, and Lauren) were assigned to work with the OB/GYN team at the clinic staffed by two amazing OB/GYN providers volunteering on this medical trip. Women ranging between the ages of 12 to 90 were seen in the OB/GYN clinic. The nursing students worked right alongside the doctors and completed assessments, scribed provider notes, and used doppler ultrasound to hear fetal heart tones. Together the OB/GYN team was able to provide examinations and order lab work to help treat these women in need. Some patients were urgently referred out to other areas of Guatemala for further diagnostic testing due to indications of breast cancer and palpable abdominal/pelvic masses.
All 500 patients received thorough education and pharmacological treatment for their conditions, plus education on preventive self-care. Given the opportunity to aid this Guatemalan population of under the direction of the bilingual providers was utterly eye opening.
As healthcare providers we will inevitably face barriers of language, health literacy, access, culture, and compliance when caring and planning for our patients. In San Jose, some of those barriers were broken down. The ultimate satisfaction comes from feeling, hearing, and seeing that during their visit these patients felt cared for and understood, often for the first time in their life. A quote by Maya Angelou comes to mind, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” It is experiences like these that we will never forget regardless of barriers.
Wednesday was our day to explore the numerous shops or take an unforgettable excursion hiking a nearby erupting volcano. Guatemala has 5 active volcanoes, and we hiked along the side of Pacaya which was last active in 2014. Close to the top, we took a group photo and roasted marshmallows on sticks over a small hot spot in the side of the volcano.
Getting close to this massive and powerful force of nature was humbling. Those that stayed in Antiqua walked along the narrow cobblestone streets lined with weathered doors and windows, many of which open to lush courtyards, restaurants or shops. Entering these establishments can transport a traveler to a world of authentic cuisine or local goods, all influenced by the Mayan culture of millennia past.