I am sending a hello from heaven. With the way I feel right now and the view from where I am currently, that must be where I am. Guatemala is filled with the most beautiful sights and the most beautiful people.
I am so excited that I put off blogging until today because today was hands-down the most incredible experience I have had thus far. This morning our team rolled out of bed before the sun was even up (5:30 am) to make our last-minute trip to San Marcos. The village was hit by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake just a few short weeks ago. Although the four hour car trip to San Marcos from Patanatic was long, with multiple restroom breaks, a lot of speed bumps, some nausea, and a little confusion, I am positive there is not one member of our team who would not be willing to do it all over again for the experience we had in San Marcos.
No one could predict what we would see today. A few other medical teams had been to visit this community since the earthquake, but we had no idea what condition the city would be in after the destruction. As we drove around looking for our destination we found a city in recovery. While most of the buildings were still intact, evidence of destruction and the beginnings of restoration were apparent.
We knew we had our work cut out for us the moment we pulled up. Swarms of people had been waiting for an hour for our medical team to arrive. The “clinic” where we worked was actually a makeshift tin structure which had been housing 16 families who had lost their homes in the earthquake.
As we stepped out of the vans, there was some uncertainty as to where to even begin. How could we best serve these people who were clearly in such need when we only had a few short hours and limited supplies? How could we work in the conditions set before us? But our uncertainty was quickly replaced with focus and determination when we were welcomed by an older woman. She spoke for the group as a whole when she expressed the needs of her people and the gratitude that they felt towards us for coming to help.
We set to work. Lauri and Richard set up their examination rooms within the tin structure, using beds as examination tables. Triage was set up outside of the door and our pharmacy, held in suitcases, was set on a blanket in the street (and almost got run over, says Malia!). I was assigned to triage, testing blood glucose levels of the patients.
I set to work immediately and was completely immersed in my work. It was the same with all the other team members. Our work was hectic. After three hours, I realized I had forgotten to use the restroom (which I had desperately been needing to do since getting off the bus), had not eaten anything, and was still wearing a black jacket in the scorching sun. I worked with Tess and Ian in the midst of swarms of curious children, wandering dogs, crying babies, and long line of people. The area was cramped, the wind blew dirt over everything, and the sun was beating down on us. But I have never felt more satisfied with my work. Working with Ian and Tess was wonderful. After just a few minutes of adjustments, we had a great system going. We barely talked to each other, but just knew how to help each other. Tess was great with getting blood pressures despite the noise and Ian kept the line moving efficiently.
But all of the credit cannot be given solely to the three of us. We had an incredible little helper working with us. As we worked, a little girl stood by watching. As I am proud of the few Spanish phrases that I know, I asked her, “Como se llama?” (What is your name?) From that point on she became my assistant. She took out all my materials as a patient sat down, took away the garbage, and kept the papers from blowing away. She is just one example of the generosity and kindness we have seen in the Guatemalan people. I only hope that somehow our work has helped this girl who is clearly so full of intelligence and possibility.
Though I am far from being ready to work in the medical world, I am amazed by how much I have learned in just these few short days. Working in triage today allowed me to see this progress. The first day I had to take vitals, I was just collecting numbers. Today, I knew what I was looking at. I know what is abnormal and I know what to expect from the patients. It is a great feeling to know that I am steps closer to my achieving my goals. But it is an even better feeling to know that I was using my learning process to help others.
Because of the efficiency of our triage dream team, we had the wonderful opportunity of playing with the kids of San Marcos. I am constantly amazed by the children I have seen here. Three adorable girls got Tess, Ian, and I involved in a game that consisted of holding hands in a circle, hopping on one foot, and “eating” each other. The children are so patient and kind. We had kids ranging from toddlers to probably 10 or so all playing together harmoniously. Every child was welcome to play. No one became frustrated with the toddler who held up the flow of the circle, or the one who just kept wandering into the center. It was just simple unadulterated happiness, filled with lots and lots of laughter.
As I write this long post, I am riding in a van full of sleeping people back to Panajachel. The only way to describe how I feel is complete contentment. I am absolutely exhausted, a little sunburnt, and covered from head to toe in dirt, but I could not feel more satisfied. I am surrounded by breath-taking views of the clouds covering the mountains, finally relaxing after a day of doing what I love with 20 great friends. What more could I possibly ask for?
I must admit that there is some sadness in my about the impending conclusion of this amazing experience. Someone said this in reflection and it is my consolation about leaving Guatemala. The thing that I have love the most about this trip has been working in the clinic. While this may be the end of my trip, it is only the beginning of my medical journey. I love what I am doing here, and lucky for me, I will hopefully be able to do it for the rest of my life. My work has just begun! So it looks like I have many years of heaven awaiting me.
I send my love to my family. Love you guys! I can’t wait to share all of my stories with you.
Shoutout to the Center family from their wonderful daughter Adrian!