Guatemala | November 20-27, 2021
Dr. Barbara Morris, a family medicine physician/geriatrician from Colorado who served with us in Guatemala writes phenomenal daily accounts of her time volunteering. Below are excerpts from some of her experiences.
The Mayor Makes a Visit
The drive didn’t seem so long today as we headed back to yesterday’s site. Once again, we were greeted by 100 eager (though very hot) faces, waiting patiently for us to begin. Set up was easy and off we went to community health, triage, providers, and pharmacy.
Immediately, Stephanie (our fabulous EMT) asked for help: a 21-day-old with a temp of 102 and not looking well at all. After rapid assessment, we knew the baby was likely septic and needed immediate hospital care.
Bomberos were called and baby and family were moved to a safe shady site. Realizing after yesterday’s experience that it could be hours, we decided on an antibiotic shot to try to halt the infection.
Minutes, then hours passed, the baby started to feed, and looked a tad better, and ultimately, the family decided to take the baby home, no hospital. This decision was made despite encouragement from all to go to the hospital. We hope to hear that she is ok.
In a moment of need, we asked the crowd of patients if anyone had an extra diaper for the sick infant; at first no response; then a shy woman raised her hand and offered her one extra diaper. Generosity knows no limits, nor is it hampered by scant resources.
You don’t need to know details of the 141 patients, the hundreds of toothbrushes, the eyeglasses, and all the pills counted. Suffice to say that the team worked together, despite the heat and the pressure to see all the patients, and managed to still be laughing at the end of the day.
The middle of the day brought a surprise visit from the Mayor of the town! With microphone in hand in Spanish too fast for me to follow, she thanked us (I think), told the patients how lucky they were, and then led the group in a somewhat lengthy prayer containing many words of praise. Then suddenly, the microphone was in my hand…. Uh oh…. What now ? A Jewish blessing? Nope, took a deep breath, and gave my thanks of appreciation and gratitude in Spanish. In retrospect, I am not sure what I said, but apparently, some, if not all, was understood by the crowd. Afterwards, our host inquired, “Where did you learn to speak Spanish so well?”
Tomorrow we have the unexpected gift of a “cultural” day. Our host Antonio will take us on a tour of the local area and he promised we will speak Spanish all day!
Hoping that if you find the Mayor in your midst, you will have just the right words on the tip of your tongue!
How Do You Define Success?
Up with the roosters and out the door with breakfast bags in hand, we headed south out of Antigua in search of our first clinic assignment. The scenery is spectacular climbing out of Antigua, with expansive views of volcanoes spewing white and black smoke and lush green hills all around. On arrival at our rural site, we were greeted warmly by the local organizers, and found almost 100 eager faces awaiting the start of business.
This no-nonsense team got straight to work, setting up workstations, unpacking meds, organizing triage, and setting up community health activities. All of a sudden it seemed we were in high gear, with providers seeing patients with the assistance of their able interpreters, the pharmacy team counted pills as fast as they could be given out and the eyeglass and toothbrush station going full steam ahead. I am told that Ruth et al did multiple well-received renditions of Happy Birthday!
Inside the provider rooms, I helped get our new pediatric provider set up and organized, but soon he was doing well on his own, so time for me to get to work as well. Using my hard-won Spanish skills (and the assistance of able interpreters) I saw adults and kids alike. What did we see? Back pain, leg pain, knee arthritis, high blood pressure, out of control diabetes, urinary infections, anxiety, obesity, and upper respiratory infections. Sound familiar? I did my best to provide assessment, education, and care recommendations to each patient, but I had to wonder if in fact, the most powerful of our interventions might be the soap, and toothbrushes, deworming pills, vitamins and eyeglasses. Hard to ignore those smiles of gratitude and appreciation on each patient’s face.
Mid-morning, the triage EMT asked for assistance, a 78-year-old woman with severe headache, chest pain, very high blood pressure and a history of stroke. What did I think, the EMT queried? No choice, needs a higher level of care. No car. Hospital 45 minutes away. She waited and waited. The bomberos eventually arrived in an ambulance, highly professional and kind. Off she went, and I had to hope that at least she would get good treatment for frightening ailments and prevent another stroke. We can wish the best for her.
Too tired for much after dinner, a short walk took us into the center of town where the flower festival was winding down. How reassuring to see family and friends enjoying food, music, and artisan crafts in the large square. Though it’s earlier than Tuesday (my usual day to discuss trash), I mention it now as I gained yet another new perspective on the subject: overflowing trash bins might just be a sign of the end of a long weekend festival, filled with life and enthusiasm….who knew?
It’s always about the people, not the number of patients, not the procedures performed, not the medications prescribed, not the number of toothbrushes handed out, and not the number of eyeglasses donated. It’s about the local people, yearning for better lives and hardworking, down-to-earth people from the United States, willing to be of service, not only to donate their time and expertise but to learn from others. New heroes joined us today for the rest of the week: a multigenerational group hailing from all over the US. During the evening introductions I was reminded of how fast our original group coalesced, and in a magical few days became a high performing team. All are heroes in their own right, but some stand out in the enormity of their generosity, their professionalism, and their open hearts:
Lynn: a retired family practice physician, serving on his second IMR team, but who has served on many international service programs, including 8 to a small village in Honduras, where he and his group of intrepid volunteers were able to achieve significant changes in health status. Tonight, he told the team, “You may not be able to fix everything, but we can all give hope.”
Morgan: A family practice hospitalist who specializes in Global Health and high-risk obstetrics. She travels the US and the world, serving vulnerable populations and providing care and compassion wherever she is needed. During COVID she served in the hardest and highest risk settings in Texas and Alaska and will soon be headed back to Alaska before she goes to Bangladesh for 6 months. She is unable to say no, and her love of her patients and her work shines on her face.
Erwin: Like his father before him, Erwin, our local host and organizer, manages multiple medical teams, doing all the logistical, site and transportation arrangements. He apparently can be in more than one place at the same time (that’s quite a trick, that even I haven’t managed to master) and always ready to help when needed. With his gracious smile, he apparently says yes, even before he has a plan for execution of any request.
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