Saturday, March 8, 2014

Red Ribbons

Our lives are filled with defining moments. Moments that make us who we are and who we believe we are going to become. These moments remind us of where we have been, and where we have yet to go. On Thursday, March 6th, I was looking one of these moments square in the face.

Valentina’s hair was streaked with strands of dusty white and gray and she sat with her hands folded in her lap. The wrinkles on her face seemed to say so much – the crinkles by her eyes matched the smile lines on her cheeks and helped to create the perfect portrayal of a humble Guatemalan woman. I knew how much work had been put in to make the detailed, colorful shirt that draped over her frail arms. When she looked up at me, I felt as if she was peering into my soul. The corners of her mouth turned up. I sat down next to her in the waiting area and felt like a giant. 84 years old, Valentina stood about four and a half feet tall and every bit of her told a story that I knew I could never understand but desired so much to know.

She welcomed my strange presence and broken Spanish with grace. She explained to me the pain she feels every day in her knees, her struggle to walk, and her longing to feel renewed. I didn’t think that I would be able to understand that much of her Spanish, but somehow I felt every word that she was saying. After we talked for a while about cookies and achy knees, she bent down to touch her calf. I noticed a red ribbon laced into her skinny long braid. I complimented her on the bright red color. She covered her mouth with her tiny hands and laughed contagiously. I couldn’t help but join her. I told her that I needed two ribbons since I had two braids. You would have thought I was a comedian. She threw her head back and squinted her deep brown eyes, then laughed quietly but fully.

Later that day I got to thinking about her red ribbon and the way it meticulously twisted into her braid. I knew that I would remember Valentina forever. I knew that everyone on the trip would remember how the Guatemalan community has affected our lives, and how we in turn have affected the peoples’ lives as well. But what I think our team hasn’t realized is how much each Xavier student and leader on the trip has affected each other. No one has asked questions when help is needed, no one has complained about the busy days, and no one has left another student without a shoulder to lean on. I can tell you that every single person on this team has been a red ribbon in my life – someone who stands out and perfectly compliments my own journey just in the way that the bright red ribbon complimented Valentina’s gray hair.

Maybe it is Valentina’s crinkled smile and adorable laugh that has become the definitive moment in my life, or perhaps, more likely, it is the all the red ribbons – all the people – here who have defined who I am and all that I have left to become. I can tell you that I am writing to you having had conquered inception. I am living in a dream, and I never want to wake up.

Kristen Elias
March 7, 2014

Friday, March 7, 2014

Feel the Pulse of Life

As I stepped out of our hotel this morning, I captured a mental image of the surrounding streets and buildings before we departed for our final adventures to Antigua. My eyes became fixed on a quote painted on the side of a building and is one that I will forever associate as a foundational reminder of how I hope to carry out our last 24 hours, and apply what I have learned from my experiences in Guatemala, to my life at Xavier.

It read, “Relish the special moments that may cross your path.

Not only did I realize the value of living in the present, but truly appreciating and taking in the mental image of the unforgettable people and events that walk in and out of my life each day.

I never expected to learn and take away as much as I have from the people within this community, our team, educators, and I have truly seen myself grow in such a positive way. What we are doing will not alter the entire healthcare system in Guatemala, however I have seen the value of helping the elderly, children, and families to lead more sustainable lives.

This morning we got a glimpse of how medical mission trips, such as Xavier’s, have greatly impacted this community. After a wonderful soccer game and presentation by the grade school down the hillside, we walked back to the clinic, where Jorge, an advocate for the clinic, explained their future ambitions. Once approved, twenty scholarships for their nursing program will be given, dental and pharmacy classes, English and laboratory training, and specialized training in pediatrics will be instilled. It’s great to see the community creating change before our eyes and the future aspirations these people have for the wellbeing of their Patanatic.

I feel so incredibly grateful for this intangible life experience, and the past week has gone much faster than I hoped and anticipated. I never expected to learn as much as I have, but our time at the clinic has been well spent, and I have truly been touched by every patient who walked through our doors.

Yesterday was our last day, and I had a moment that struck home during pharmacy. Although there is less contact and educational assessment opportunities with patients/doctors, I found this station as a prime opportunity to connect with each patient, as we were the last person they left the clinic after distributing and explaining their medicines. I had met a woman early that morning in triage, who I immediately connected with. She was mid 70’s, and after performing an eye exam it was evident that she could barely see the second to largest row on the chart. The reality was that her vision was severely impaired, but it would not be long before her perspective was transformed.

That afternoon we crossed paths again as I handed her the medications. She put her hand on my shoulder, pulled out her new shades, and told me to try them on. The tables had turned; now I could no longer see the second line on the eye chart or anything that lay before me. In that moment, we connected on a sub human level. Although my vision may not be impaired, maybe we all suffer from blindness in some aspect of our lives. Maybe, it takes a simple act of kindness, a genuine conversation, a pair of glasses, or a life changing experience to open our eyes and feel the pulse of life.

I look forward to soaking up our remaining hours in Antigua. I can only hope that each one of us relishes how special these people and final moments are within this beautiful country. I hope to forever remember the people that I crossed paths with over the past seven days. Their gentle acts of kindness, humbleness, and sense of humility are forever imprinted in my mind.

My time in Guatemala has served as another stepping stone that has ignited my passions for helping others and immersing myself in different cultures. I’m beyond grateful for this opportunity and a huge thank you goes out to everyone who supported our endeavors. I look forward to sharing my experiences with you when I return!

Much Love,

Brittany Morguelan
March 7, 2014

Hard to Believe

As this is written a commercial about Home Depot just finished playing. Oh Guatemala!

It's hard to believe that today was the last day in the clinic. I have so many more questions about the Guatemalan health system and how the people of Patanatic and Panajachel get access to health care. I know that four days out of a week cannot possibly fix the problems these people face everyday, but I just hope that we were able to perhaps bring hope and joy as well as a little medicine to this community.

Yesterday, we went to an elementary school in San Pedro. We packed up everything and made a make shift clinic in an empty classroom. To get to San Pedro, we had to take a tiburonera (boat) across Lake Atitlán. That was an exciting ride. I think I have found another way for me to conquer insomnia, riding in a tiburonera for 30 minutes and I'm out! Anyway, we got to the school and as usual dream teamed our way through set up. The thing that amazed me about being at the school was the conditions in which we found the school. The empty classroom was incredibly dusty and every window sill had bird excrement on it. If you tried to open the window you risked a chance at having dry bird excrement thrown at you. Children learn in these classrooms, remember that part. Touching the tables also meant leaving with a film of dust on your hands that never really seemed to come off. The bathrooms were as clean as the janitor could make them and they had a nice orange smell after he mopped but it didn't change the fact that their plumbing system (this is everywhere) does not allow you to flush toilet paper. There were old rusty nail filled boards everywhere. And YET, when these kids had the opportunity to just be in the same place as us, they were grateful. As they were in the 6th grade they had their own special way of showing it, but they were grateful. I will never forget Yesenia, my "full of attitude, fake crying because I'm fake scared, I am the coolest chick in this school" friend that needed a little help understanding the rules of the clinic. Sometimes, calling someone out by their short name gets a lot of respect, so Yese, I hope one day we cross paths again and we can talk! The last thing I will not forget about the school was their incredibly caring, loving, concerned and gracious principal. Even before we began to see the children, he was thanking us for our work. He nearly cried when we finished because he was so grateful. I think I can count on one hand how many times a principal, teacher, or professor cared that much about their students in the U.S.

Today was the last day in the clinic before we go to Antigua and today was happy and sad all at the same time. There some pretty sick patients seen today from the looks of the scripts in the pharmacy (my station this morning) and triage (my station this afternoon). We didn't have too many patients today but some of my favorite things was getting to do the deworming. The other Stephanie sent back about 4 or 5 kids from the elementary back to me today at a time so that I could explain how the medication should be taken. Somehow today all the school kids were boys but I think they had fun. This pill they take is disgusting but these guys chewed them up as fast as they could so they could win the race and have some water. I like this because this way they would be thinking less about the taste and more about the game. Well, it worked like a charm! I got new friends all over the place because of the game.

This has been a trip in which my final goals have been validated by the infrastructure here in Guatemala. I want to change health care so that people are not getting left behind because they cannot purchase insurance, or medicine. This is wrong in my eyes. I have felt such a strong tie to this community and frankly, I am not exactly sure how I'm going to be able to leave. I have begun friendships here that will be hard to leave behind. I know this will not be my last time in Guatemala. I just have to figure out how and when I'm coming back because at this point, I am strongly drawn to this place and can see myself here for the long term. Let's see where the wind takes me. . .

Stephanie Ibemere
March 7, 2014

Sole to Soul

Today was by far one of the most impactful days that I have had since arriving in Guatemala. The way the day started I did not think that I was going to be impacted the way that I was. I started my day in an area that we call triage. This area is responsible for screening all the patients and taking vitals before they can be seen by the doctors. As one can imagine, when more and more patients start to show up, it becomes more and more difficult for triage to get their job done quickly and accurately. It just so happened to be that when I was in triage it was one of the slowest times that we had experienced on the trip thus far. This was nice because of the information that I had to learn, and my inability to get the information quickly. I regrettably made some mistakes like measuring someone in pounds instead of kilograms but not too much else.

In the afternoon I was in a position called prayer, which gives the Xavier Team the opportunity to offer up a prayer for those who have just been seen by the doctors. It is a way for us to connect the awesome medical experiences with the spirituality that the people know. After all, it is a Interfaith Medical Mission Trip.

As this will most likely be my only blog post, I have to mention that I have had an awesome experience being able to shadow some extremely awesome medical professionals. I want to thank them for putting up with my absentmindedness at times or their ability to explain medical terminology and experiences in really fantastic ways. So, thank you Dr. Richard, Dr. Lauri, Nurse Cathy and Nurse Bonnie, you have been some extremely awesome teachers and I appreciate the time you have spent with me. Now here we go...

Today was one of those days that just seemed to be extra long for some reason. We were not at clinic for any longer than any other day, but none the less, I was worn out. We have been a very effective and impactful team this past week but we have also worn ourselves out. Today was our last day in clinic, but that did not take away from the fact that I really wanted to get out of the clinic as soon as humanly possible. I thought I would have my opportunity when there was a decision that allowed half the team to leave clinic early, however, I was not in a position that could leave with the first group and was quite agitated to find out that I was going to have to stay at clinic for what ended up being an extra 45 minutes. As Dr. Richard finished with the last patient and we walked outside I began to talk with the four other students that had the unfortunate luck of being stuck at clinic. When we started to walk down the hill, we talked about the awesome time that we have had this week and the vast amount of medical knowledge that we have gained. While waiting for our transportation back to the hotel, we had opportunities to take some pictures, and it was during that moment that I truly saw the meaning and purpose of what we are doing in Guatemala. After all of our individual pictures and our pairs we asked a young girl if she would be willing to take a picture of the entire group. It was not until after she took the photo that we realized that her shoes were completely tattered, and tattered is an understatement. Someone had taken this young girls shoes and cut the front of them off so that her feet could grow out of the shoes and she could still use them. All ten members of the Xavier Team started looking at their shoes and deciding whether or not they would be able to give their shoes to this young girl in hopes that she could use them for a much better cause. It turns out that one of the team members feet were small enough and she did choose to give up her shoes to this young girl. In that moment our lives and her lives clashed and it was by far the most powerful moment that I have had on this trip. There was something about being outside the clinic waiting to return to our hotel and a team member giving up their shoes for the betterment of this girls life that made all of the team that stayed behind feeling extremely fortunate.

In a matter of 5 minutes I went from being annoyed that I had to stay behind to elated that we could do something (besides medical attention) to help a person in Guatemala. This experience is one that only the team members that stayed behind experienced and one that is truly difficult to put into words. It so happens to be my favorite moment of the trip so far and one that I will never forget. We have done some awesome work this week and I am sad that we have to leave but the medical supplies that we brought and the videos that we created will stay behind as Xavier Interfaith's place in Guatemala. The pictures that we have taken will become the basis of the memories that we will have for the rest of our lives.

Sam Merritt
March 7, 2014


I probably don’t have much time to write, but I want to share the great opportunity I had today in the clinic! A little girl with Cerebral Palsy came in, as she does each year when the Xavier team visits. She is hypotonic and nonverbal, and the sweetest little girl. Many of us piled into the room as Dr. Lauri examined her and found that she was in good health. I have worked with adults with CP back home, but haven’t had the chance to see how abnormal muscle tone affects a child’s development. Lauri was talking to the mother about some services and therapy that Luisa is able to have, which was also really neat to hear. The mother mentioned that Luisa has a walker at home, and I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to go to the home and look at the walker. It wasn’t a medical walker as I imagined, but a baby walker that you sit a child in. The mother had adapted it so that Luisa could fit into it. We had Luisa walk towards her mother and saw that she only used her right foot to move. She went in circles at first then adapted what she was doing so she could move sideways to her mother. I measured Luisa for a walker height so that we can hopefully bring one back next year that will fit her. We also walked into the house to see where she sleeps and eats. We found that she would be able to use a walker anywhere in the house and that a high chair would be useful for her to sit in to eat. It was almost as if I was doing a real home visit and evaluation as an occupational therapist! When we were finished we thanked her family and walked down the hill back to the clinic. We were greeted by the smiles of many Guatemalans headed up the hill with a baby on their back. We stopped to admire the beautiful scenery down to the lake and Rabbi pointed out banana plants and other things we saw.

Just last night my roommate asked me if and how I have seen things related to occupational therapy in the clinic. I almost forgot about the fact that Luisa comes into the clinic each year when we are here, but I am so glad that she did!

Rachel Snodgrass
March 7, 2014

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Human Encounter

Today in clinic was an immersion into the marrow of life. As we did our medical debriefing at the end of the day over dinner, what was clear to me was in this one, single day in clinic the Xavier students and the medical team all had profoundly meaningful encounters with the people in Patanatic today. The encounters were not all the same, but each uniquely significant and will no doubt be carried with each of us as we wrap up this trip. I am sure the students will write about some of these human encounters in their blogs. I'm sure they will share these rich experiences with their friends and families in more depth when they return home. I will briefly write about a few here.

The day was diverse. The clinic day ended with Stephanie Renny, Rabbi Abie's assistant, literally giving the shoes she was wearing to a girl in clinic who had cut the toes out of her own shoes since her feet were too long for her sneakers. What a practical, selfless gesture of accompanying that little girl in her poverty and trying to alleviate the simple poverty of having grown out of shoes.

Dr Richard and his students saw a 16-year-old girl who came in because her hair was falling out after having been raped 5 months ago. She has not reported the rape, sought medical or psychological care. It has consumed her and she is getting no help. Richard's interpreter, Michel, a 22-year-old wise, kind person who we have known for four years was able to tell the girl about free psychological therapy for rape victims at the hospital in Solola about 20 minutes away. We can all only hope and pray she seeks out this help to try to overcome the damage that was inflicted upon her.

There were many other stories from the clinic day today that break open the raw beauty of human encounter, but the one closest to me was getting to see Luisa again. She is the now three-year-old that we diagnosed with cerebral palsy two years ago. She was just one-year-old when we first met her. She had an aspiration pneumonia at the time, was surviving only on breast milk, and was tongue thrusting and blocking all other foods. She is microcephalic, having a very small head circumference. Seeing her at one I was not sure we would see her the next year, thinking she would weaken from malnutrition and succumb to an aspiration pneumonia. Well, some how she made it through to her second birthday. She had two clinic visits and was seen by other visiting medical teams that year for respiratory infections. But last year just after her second birthday I was glad to see her still alive. She was not gaining much weight and still was not taking much nutrition other than breast milk. She could say one word, "mama." That was enough.

As this year's trip was drawing to a close we had not seen her yet. Today she came to clinic. She had not been seen in clinic or sought care outside of Patanatic for the entire last year. She had been healthy. The family had been able to get her to weekly physical/occupational therapy in Panajachel about 20 minutes away. She was doing very well. She now eats all different textures of solid foods, and is still nursing. She is growing again on her growth curves. The family bought her an infant walker and she is able to manipulate her legs enough to scoot around their home, which thankfully has a tiled floor (many families have homes with dirt floors). She still just says "mama," but her mom thinks she is trying to say "papa" now. She is still very happy and brings great joy to her family. After her clinic visit I asked her mom if our occupational therapy student could accompany them to her home to measure the walker and get a better assessment of what addition aids we may be able to provide to her. Talk about education outside of the classroom. I am sure Rachel will remember this experience her entire life. She eats all meals in her mother's lap so we left some money here with our interpreters to purchase a high chair for her. Now that we have the walker measurements we can bring down a bigger one for her next year. Two years ago I was not sure she would survive this long. Now I am looking forward to seeing her next year.

It is these profound human encounters that this trip brings to us as a medical team, and to these Xavier students that makes me keep coming on this trip. Somehow in the last three years I have become the primary care physician for a little girl with profound disabilities in Guatemala even though I live in Cincinnati. Her mom sees me as her doctor, and it is a role I cherish. I am honored to accompany her, to walk through this broken world with her.

There is a Hebrew concept called tikkun olam. I am sure any other member of the medical team could speak more eloquently on this topic as they are all actually Jewish and I am Catholic, but it means "to repair the world," humanities' shared responsibility to repair this broken world. It is through these human encounters that we begin to repair the world, tikkun olam.

Lauri Pramuk, MD
March 6, 2014

Mi Familia Lejos de Casa

How could I write a blog about everything happening on our trip and not go on and on for pages and pages? It honestly is an experience you just have to be a part of to understand the life and culture. The life and culture of Guatemala is very different than ours, yet so similar that it often reminds me of my home. The families in Guatemala are so kind and loving that they would wait hours and hours just to see Lauri or Richard. We have had the privilege to see many school children and their teachers. Today we travelled to San Pedro which is across Lake Atitlan to do physicals and checkups on some of the children and teachers in the school. One topic I wanted to mention about the teachers is how some of the teachers know so much about their students; it is unreal and not like many teachers in the United States. Teachers here know their students and histories. They know if they are constipated or if they like milk. I could not say the same about my teachers at times.

Besides the teachers, all members of each family care immensely toward one another. The community of Patanatic is much like a family. As Richard said it best today, “We truly are blessed to feel their pulse in life.”

So I am going to write the remainder of my blog a little differently than my team mates. We all have had such an eye-opening, mind-opening, and heart-opening experience that we are encountering in Guatemala, but I wanted to write about my team because this wouldn’t be such a great experience without them. Words cannot express how well our group dynamic is and how we each want to achieve our common goal: to provide the best medical care we can for the developing country of Guatemala.

Overall I couldn’t thank Rabbi Abie, Stephanie, and Lauri for selecting me for this trip. My friends and family for their love, support, and monetary donation to make this trip possible.

I want to thank my group mates for all their hard work and dedication to improving the lives of the Guatemalans through education and prevention. We all bring our own skills to the table and provide unique qualities to inspire all of us to continue on the path to finding the best career choice. So without further ado, I would like to tell everyone reading our blogs a little about my trip mates, that I call family.

Rabbi Abie - The “wordy” tree root to our group. Literally without him there would be no trip. Everything is always a big deal to him because he wants us to see the value in all things.

Dr. Lauri - She has this indescribable magical way with children. She has such a kind and pure heart and she is the most giving Pediatrician I know. She also has a great sense of style that makes all of us girls on the trip jealous of her clothes.

Dr. Richard - A fabulous medical educator who cares so much about his patients and makes sure they understand and can repeat everything he told them. Richard has this welcoming personality that all of us became instant friends when we first met 5 days ago. I feel like I have known him forever.

Nurse Cathy - Always so willing to bring up the mood or fill the downtime with one of her crazy stories. Cathy cares immensely for all patients and I totally love how OCD she is about everything!

Nurse Bonnie - Totally love all of her Spanglish words! Such a fun and wise nurse who is super energized and melts at the sight of a baby or child,

Stephanie Renny - Ties all the ends up that nobody else can. She is the glue that keeps our group together and on track. She literally can handle anything thrown at her and perform efficiently. She is also so cute and spunky, and all of us adore her!

Tyler - Tyler is so quiet - he just takes everything in and is always trying to problem solve to make any horrible situation better. Also it’s so refreshing to watch him play and color with the PEDS patients.

Sam - Sam is the diva of our trip and he totally knows it. He’s always there to put a smile on everyone’s face. Sam makes this trip so much fun and enjoyable.

Andrew - Many thanks go out to Andrew for constantly following us around and taking all of our pictures and videos of us with the children and families. Also Andrew is never afraid to put his camera down and assist any of us with any task, whether that be pharmacy or plotting growth curves.

Stephanie I. - This trip would be so much rougher without our Spanish translator! Stephanie has definitely been a trooper with all the translations and is undoubtedly the most giving person on this trip. Muchas gracias mi amiga!

Rachel S. - Rachel is so passionate about all the little things in life. She loves getting involved in a great cause. She is great at looking at things from a new or positive perspective.

Kristen - Loves every Geez that walks through the clinic doors. It’s so cute to watch Kristen interact with all the families because she is so friendly,

Becka - Becka is so curious about everything and you can see the passion she has to always be learning something new. She could be so busy but if she finds a friend in pain, she would be right there to help them.

Brittany - Britt’s laugher is the most contagious laughter I have ever heard. You could spot her anywhere with her laughter. She has such a positive outlook on life and she always tries to look at the big picture.

Morgan - I am honestly so surprised that Morg doesn’t have a Guatemalan child in her suitcase to take back with us to the U.S. - Morgan hates to see a child in distress or pain and would do anything to comfort them.

Kelsey - Her southern mannerisms makes everyone feel welcomed. Kelsey absolutely loves all the families and makes sure everybody is involved and has what they need.

Rachel G - My Roomie for the week! Rach is so crazy and incredibly hard working. She wants to help everyone and is always willing to go with the flow.

Kathy - Kathy is everybody’s mom for the week. She always make sure that we have used our hand sanitizer and we have our waters. Also I love seeing her talk about optometry. She has this refreshing passion about life and eyes that it just make everyone so giddy and delighted.

Like I said before these people are absolutely wonderful and are quickly becoming my family away from home.

Love to all!

Emmalee Phelps
March 6, 2014

P.S. Eric Would you please make a baby with Stephanie? She is absolutely so adorable when she’s holding all the babies down here! :-)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Tackling the Extremes

The Guatemala Medical Mission Trip of 2014; I am a major part of it, yet I did not expect to be. My plan for the sophomore academic year was to work for Xavier’s Learning Assistance Department, work in the Emergency Department at Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital, and excel in organic chemistry and physics. It was a wonderful change of my plan though when Rabbi Abi accredited me with a spot in the group of pre-professional health students who make this trip happen. But with all due respect, much of my teammates and my own success was due to the support of family, friends, and the Xavier community. I do want you to truly see my gratitude because these past 5 months have dramatically impacted my every day decisions and personality. Although this trip has gone on for 5 months, these past 5 days have been the best for obvious reasons.

As of today, I have worked in every station of the clinic, which constitutes: triage, dental hygiene, glasses fitting, pharmacy, adult medical care, and pediatric medical care. However, I do not think “worked” is the right verb in this situation. The phrase “brought 1st-world healthcare to a poverty stricken 3rd-world village” is more fitting. The truth behind this humbling phrase is supported by our patients. It may just be me, but I feel as though 70% of our patients consisted of children under the age of 10 and adults over the age of 55. For the +55 year-olds back in the US, just know that you all are very different from the adults here. But this patients cliental really surprised me. I expected the abundance of pediatric patients, but I did not expect the abundance of geriatric patients. The great part about this wonderful surprise is the gratitude! If you know anything about me, you most likely know my love for kids. Future pediatrician is a set of words that is not uncommon to me. Yet my favorite moments thus far came from a 67, 70, and 84 year old. These men and women are at the top of my most beautiful chart and they honestly have brought tears to my eyes. The supply of gracias’s and mucho gusto’s is endless! Their simplicity humbles me and fills my soul with pride and joy. Jose, the 84 year-old, WAS basically blind at 18 inches away from the letter chart. I put a pair of glasses on him that helped him see just a fraction better and he was all smiles. So ecstatic that he could barely answer my follow up questions. When all was said and done, our glasses corrected his vision to 20/50 at 10 feet away. It basically means that he could differentiate letters the size of bingo chips from 10 feet away. But just think about how he could not see letters the size of golf balls from 18 inches. Besides being a sweetheart and the cutest little old man, he was bewildered and kind. Upon walking out with his new fancy glasses, he said, “God bless you all because you have given me the precious gift of sight.” The five basic human senses are taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight. I do not know where else I would rather be than giving Jose his sight.

To every one following our mission: I am truly living every second and taking every one of them into heart during my time here. The extremes of this population bewilder me and I am going to let it keep happening for 2 more days. Thank you to all for helping Jose regain his sight at 84 years of age!

With much love,

Tyler J. Sauerbeck
March 5, 2014

PS: It is very tough having 60 degree weather every day (:

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

You Just Have to Experience It

Before leaving for Guatemala friends told me that they couldn't tell me much about the trip – that I just had to experience everything for myself. They were right. The first two days in the clinic were full of guessing and problem solving as we started learning the system, were struggling with Spanish, and felt overwhelmed with the joy of all we are learning. Although I felt confused and in the dark at first, it has been rewarding to gain confidence with filling prescriptions, working with Dr. Lauri and Richard during exams, and fitting people for eyeglasses (even with little to no Spanish). It is hard to write about all that has happened and how it has made me feel – especially because I haven’t had much time to journal or think with how busy we have been. I want to take advantage of every moment we have here.

The first day in the clinic I loved getting to hold a 3 month old baby and making him laugh while Dr. Richard treated his mother. Yesterday I got to learn about filling prescriptions with Nurse Cathy and Stephanie. I really enjoyed counting pills and filling the scripts. That afternoon I shadowed Dr. Lauri with Brittany. We got to hear a heart murmur and see a tympanic membrane that was scarred from multiple earn infections. Yesterday I was able to help a woman with leg deformities be fit for canes to help her walk. It was really awesome to see all that I am learning as an Occupational Therapy student come into good use, especially because earlier in the year I was questioning my decision to be an occupational therapy major. Much of my questioning has been due to my frustration that as a senior, I have hardly had much contact with patients and not a lot of hands on experience. I have been reminded of this frustration on the trip because a lot of the younger students who are studying nursing have a lot of knowledge and experience. However, I have also been reminded of how much I want to learn and how important it is to me to be a health care provider. It has given me new motivation for when we get back to Cincinnati, even if I am frustrated with not having much hands on experience. I also have this motivation because I can easily see how what we are doing in the clinic relates to occupational therapy. We are restoring bits of health to people, so that they may more meaningfully participate in the things that they need to, have to and want to do. What we are doing does not and cannot change the state of poverty or the entire health care system of Guatemala; however, I see the value in helping just a few lead more fulfilling and meaningful lives.

What happened this morning in eyeglasses was a perfect example of just that. We had a few older women come in that had very bad eyesight. The first woman couldn't read our chart standing just a foot away from it. Our team worked hard to get her a pair of glasses so that she could see almost every line on the chart from 5 feet away. I honestly didn't think it was possible. It was a very special and powerful moment for all of us in the room and I am so glad that I got to share it with Rabi Abbie and Kathy. Like my friends told me, you just have to experience it.

I am writing this blog from the clinic this afternoon. I have to say that the time has flown by. There is so much to take it. We have amazing doctors and nurses who want to provide the best care to patients while teaching us as much as they can. They give us insights that wouldn't be learned in the classroom, making the week an invaluable experience. The clinic has also allowed us to learn more about the people of Guatemala, just as living in the area for the week has. The street that our hotel is on is full of life and culture for us to learn from. I have loved walking up and down the street with other students, discussing what we see and learning about each other. This may be the part of the trip that I have treasured the most – personal relationship and connection with the team, the patients, and the people in the community – even if for just a second or a few minutes. I can’t wait to see where the journey will lead us in the next few days. I hope to take some more time to reflect on the meaning of all that has happened and how that relates to my faith and life in Cincinnati, as there is no way that this trip could become an isolated event.

Thank you to all of you that are reading and that have supported us along the way. I wish each and every one of you could be here to experience it yourself. Thank you also to the team for being a part of the journey – you all inspire me to learn more and be more.

Rachel Snodgrass
March 4, 2014

A Beautiful Way to Wake Up

It is amazing to think that a few short months ago, I received the phone call saying that I would be one of the twelve students that would be travelling to Guatemala over Spring Break. This was really exciting news as this is something that I have wanted to do and experience. 

Over the next few months, we all met, fundraised, and bonded. I could not have asked for a better and more loving group as we all go on this wonderful journey together. During the months leading up to the trip, we heard from several different students that were once in our shoes and about their amazing time here in Guatemala. This only added to the excitement as we prepared for this adventure. 

When we arrive to the clinic on Sunday afternoon, it was not at all how I pictured it to be. After seeing pictures and hearing stories from the past, I created this picture in my mind of the clinic. The vans all dropped us off at the bottom of this steep mountainside where we would then walk up a little bit to reach the clinic. The view from the clinic was the first thing that caught my eye as it was absolutely breathtaking. You stood at the entrance of the clinic and to the left, in the distance, you could see the lake and one the right was beautiful mountain sides full of hard working Guatemalan families working on their terrace farms. It is amazing to think that in America, this piece of land with such a beautiful landscape would cost millions. 

After setting up the clinic, it was time for our first patients. On Sunday afternoon, I was in the glasses clinic, where I was able help individuals be fitted for a new pair of glasses. It was amazing to be in the glasses clinic as one woman I help started with 20/70 vision, barely able to see anything. After fitting her with glasses, we was then able to see 20/20 and her face lit up with a smile. It was really unique to have the experience with her and it is one that I will never forget. On Monday, at the clinic, I first started off in the prayer room. At first I was really nervous as my Spanish is minimal and I was supposed to read a prayer with the patients in Spanish. However, after some practice, I was able to improve my Spanish enough that it could be understood. It was amazing to be able to pray with the patients and to hear their own prayers afterward. Even though, I started off really nervous, it ended up to be a wonderful morning.

In the afternoon, I was in triage, which I was excited about since I was familiar with taking blood pressures and graphing children on growth curves. I really enjoyed my time in triage as we were slow and therefore able to really get to know each patient. I also had the opportunity to play soccer with some of the children in our free time, which we all enjoyed. There was one girl in particular, that never left my side and so we often sat and colored. Even though I could not communicate with her in full sentences, I was able to still get to know her and had a lot of fun with her.

As it was five o’clock, it was time to pack up the clinic for the day and this gave us some time before dinner to explore the town we have been living in for the past few days in the daytime. It was really interesting to walk around the street and see all of the Guatemala clothes, purses, book bags, etc. However, I quickly learned that you cannot wander around and just look at an item. As soon as you showed some interest, the owner would then grab everything that was similar for you to look at and would not stop until you bought something. Fortunately, I had Stephanie who has been a huge help in translating, I don’t think that I could survive this week without her.

Last night was a great night to relax a little bit and take in the true beauty that surrounded me. As today was the third day at the clinic, the days keep getting better and better. I started off the morning in prayer again, but was able to shadow and observe Dr. Lauri and she worked with the children. When we get back to Cincinnati, I will be starting my Pediatric rotation, so it was really exciting for me to learn all about the population and some little tricks that help when doing assessments on children. She is a wonderful doctor and really enjoys working with the children which really shows in her actions and her personality. In the afternoon, I was in the pharmacy, helping to count and dispense medications for the patients.

Overall, it has been a great learning experience and I cannot wait for tomorrow when we head across the lake to San Pedro for some more visits. I have quickly discovered that there is not a more beautiful way to wake up than to wake up in Guatemala knowing that you are going to meet and help some amazing people. I am so grateful for my experience so far and I don’t want to leave this wonderful place where everyone is some kind and wonderful.

Becka Hartman
March 4, 2014

The Art of Medicine

Where do I even begin? We arrived in the beautiful country of Guatemala a few days ago, but already my life has been changed. On our first day, we arrived in Guatemala City late so we spent the night in a hotel there. When we woke up in the morning, from our hotel room we could see a volcano billowing smoke. It was a wonderful surprise since we didn't even know it was there! That day we had a long car ride to our village. All of us were wide-eyed and excited to see Guatemala City and the country. We drove around mountain after mountain after mountain. The sights we saw were absolutely breathtaking. We arrived at our hotel which was in the middle of a marketplace. I was so surprised to see cars, motorcycles, tuk tuks (cute little glorified golf carts), stray dogs, and people all sharing one tiny cobblestone street.

After dropping our personal belongings off at the hotel, we ventured fourth to the clinic. More winding up steep roads brought us up to our workplace for the next week. I’m not sure how the clinic doesn't slide off the mountain. It’s perched upon the steepest hill I've ever seen. I don’t know how the vans made it. The view is absolutely gorgeous though! Our backdrop everyday is a massive volcano sitting behind the shining lake. The countless pictures I've taken don’t even begin to capture the essence of this place! After picking up our jaws from the ground, we began setting up for the day. My first shift was in pharmacy so I helped Nurse Cathy set up and organize all of the medications we brought. I learned to read scripts, fill prescriptions, and mix antibiotics from suspensions. It was incredibly exciting and Nurse Cathy’s stories from the Emergency Room made the day even better.

On Monday I worked with Dr. Lauri, who treated all of the kids, and Dr. Richard, who treated everyone else. Dr. Lauri was very much surprised when an entire first grade class came with their teacher. The kids were all very cute and generally healthy, but I learned the importance of having a documented medical history. Dr. Lauri did the best she could to treat whatever problems they reported, and we gave deworming medicine to all of them, but since the teacher was the only information we had, the physicals weren't as thorough as we would have liked. Knowing that I want to go into optometry, Dr. Lauri also showed me all of the tests she does on a child to detect eye complications. I was incredibly grateful for that and I could never get sick of watching her examine a child’s eyes. Lunch was prepared by women from the village and consisted of some sort of beef, tortillas (which are at every meal), guacamole, and salsa. I have to say, the salsa was the most delicious salsa I've ever tasted, and it was nice to have a homemade Guatemalan meal.

After lunch I worked with Dr. Richard (Nurse Cathy’s husband). I was very lucky to get to be with both doctors on one day! Dr. Richard was extremely thorough in explaining everything to us. I learned the proper way to write scripts and he taught us all about the importance of taking a correct blood pressure (and was very patient with teaching me as I’d never done it before!). We saw a few infections and gave a pregnancy test which were exciting! Richard also knew I wanted to go into optometry so during down time so he showed a group of us how to use an opthalmoscope and how to examine an optic nerve. I've shadowed optometrists before so I've done all of that, but that didn't stop me from shaking with excitement! Everything that I learn makes me that much more passionate about my future career.

My overall experience so far has been absolutely amazing! Everyone here is very willing to teach us and I've learned more than I ever could in a classroom. The most valuable thing I've taken away so far is the art of medicine. As Richard told me, it can be easy to take the easy way out and assume something about a patient, but doctors have to be incredibly thorough, caring, and even creative to treat a patient correctly. You have to be willing to go to a lot of lengths to look after the well-being of a patient. It’s so beautiful seeing the passion they have for medicine and for serving the people of Guatemala. It’s been a wonderfully irreplaceable experience and I feel so blessed to be part of it.

Kathy Kathmann
March 4, 2014

Monday, March 3, 2014

An Amazing Journey

This has been an amazing journey so far. I can't really believe that we are in Guatemala right now. This last couple of days I've woken up thinking that I am maybe at home in Texas because of the weather but then I step outside and realize, no Stephanie, you are in Guatemala!!!

So far we have had a day and half of clinic time and it has been incredibly busy. I think I imagined a completely different type of clinic. I am not sure what exactly I was expecting but I can already see myself wanting to do more work with these people.

Tomorrow is bringing another full day of work. Today we saw an entire first grade class of children that were probably the most beautiful children I might have ever seen. Tomorrow we will be seeing more children and some adults. I have been learnig so much about how to apply everything I've learned so far in the MIDAS program.

One thing that I have taken away from all of this in these few days is the amount of kindness each person in Guatemala has shown us. They have a respect that is not seen in the United States. I think we stand to learn something greater than our abilities by working in this community.

Stephanie Ibemere
March 3, 2014

A Snapshot of Day One

A Culture Beyond Rich

Yesterday was a very long day but none the less rewarding.

I was privileged to start my experience shadowing Dr. Lauri in pediatrics where we saw 17 patients in a course of four hours. There was a small language barrier that slowed us down but overall the clinic went by very smoothly. I was able to see very many healthy babies and I could NOT believe how well behaved they all were. We dealt with no screaming or crying babies, they were all patient, well behaved and genuinely happy to be here.

This difference between American babies and Guatemalan babies just show how the culture here is so gracious and thankful for healthcare. It truly touches my heart to see this because I feel like in America, healthcare is something we definitely take advantage of. Dr. Lauri was telling us about how in her practice back home she spends the majority of her day trying to convince parents to vaccinate their children. Whereas here in Guatemala they will walk to the city of Solald (not sure if I spelled that right) and wait all day for vaccination for their children.

The different dynamic of culture really makes me really realize all of the luxuries we have in America that we do not even realize.

As someone who has traveled often, I have realized how spoiled we are as a country but never through the eyes of other people. I have never been able to immerse myself in a culture as well as I have been here (and I have only been here for one day).

I feel like I could go on and go about the children I met yesterday and about how adorable, loving and grateful they were. The children were SO polite, patient and all around well behaved. At one point Dr. Lauri was preforming a check up on a little boy and I began to play with his infant brother. As soon as I reached out to play with him the father handed me the baby. As someone that has not had much experience with infants in my mind I was like ‘’ohhhh god, what do I do with this little guy?” I was wiggling him around trying to get him comfortable and eventually I had him (Daniel) settled on my hip, and before I knew it he was looking at me with the cutest grin on his face. I really feel like I will not be able to forget that little boys smile and how warm I felt while holding him. The fact that Daniel’s fathers handed me him without me even asking, really shows how much they respect they have for us here. He trusted me with his child with absolutely no hesitation. Something like this is really hard to accomplish in our culture and touches my heart that I am able to attain it here.

If you cannot tell I’m absolutely in love with this culture. I have been here for one day and I’m already thinking of how I will be able to come back.

There is no doubt in my mind that this trip is going to change my life. Just from writing this blog I have teared up twice. I cannot express how truly happy I am that out of the 90-some applicants I was chosen for this experience. This just gives me more of an initative to make the most out of my trip. It helps me realize that I am here for a reason and this is a part of my life I am supposed to have to mold me into the person that I am meant to be in the future. I am here with an open mind and an open heart, and because of that I know I will be able to transform myself for the better.

As Dr. Richard was telling us last night; we have to learn to listen to what others have to samy, see through others eyes and live through the experiences that they share with us. That is exactly what I plan to do and cannot wait to see what the next week has in store for me.

The people here are AMAZING, the children are perfect, and the culture is beyond rich.

Thank you for your time,

Kelsey Minix
March 3, 2014

Breaking My Heart Wide Open

This place and these people are breaking my heart wide open.

Each little smile that I encounter, each hand that I hold, and each adult that I manage to actually communicate with yanks the chasm that cracked open when I stepped out of the airport apart even wider.

I’m overwhelmed by the beauty of the volcanoes when we turn the corners of the crowded little streets. I’m overwhelmed by cold showers which wake me up faster than the crazy delicious cups of coffee. I’m overwhelmed by the temperate weather that has yet to fall short of what I consider an absolutely perfect spring day in Cincinnati.

But mostly, I’m overwhelmed by the humility. By the endless patience. By the gratitude and excitement that leaps from the hearts of these people, even when all that I’ve done is hand them shampoo or placed a sticker on their little shirts.

Equally amazing is the exuberance that has shined from each of those on the medical team as we’ve run through hallways, brushed teeth, pricked fingers, and struggled to understand sentences. They renew me endlessly and have brought so many tears to my eyes as they’ve shared stories and danced with babies. We all keep saying over and over again, “Is this real life?” I think that’s the best way to envelope the feelings we’re all experiencing so far because TRULY it doesn’t feel real. It feels too beautiful and too blessed to be real.

So yeah, my heart is broken in the very best way because now it’s so open and so full and so happy that I can’t wait to see what else this week has to pour into it.

Morgan Alexander
March 3, 2014