And here comes the end of our journey. I write with an overwhelming mix of emotions as the sound of children laughing and the taste of rich tortillas still linger with me. My thoughts and memories of our experiences brings me happiness for the new friends I’ve made, sadness for leaving such an amazing country, and hope for those with limited resources in Guatemala.
The spiritual element of this trip was also such a remarkable experience. I’ll never forget participating in the Mayan spiritual ceremony for healing. We used the cleansing power of sage to sweep away unclean elements and illnesses from our body along with the power of symbolic candles to pay respects to the Mayan gods. It is truly awe-inspiring how much respect the Mayan people have for the land, fire, water, and air as elements of life. At the end of the ceremony, I felt refreshed and ready to experience more of the beautiful city of Antigua as a cleansed person.
Perhaps the most inspirational moments of the trip occurred during the home visits. Dr. Richard, a few of my peers, and I traveled up the mountain to visit people in their homes. Rabbi told us that as we traveled higher up the mountain, we should expect to see more telling signs of poverty—and he couldn’t be more correct. I remember one young man in particular, whose house was no more than a very small stone rectangle with a corrugated steel roof. All he had for furniture were just two small beds and a couple tables. This man, despite feeling sick, was so happy. He was so appreciative to see us and welcomed all of us into his humble home with such respect.
I also remember another home, which was slightly bigger, but housed four generations. What an amazing experience it was to see such strong women living together in the same household—a stark contrast to here in America where some children are immediately kicked out or leave at the age of 18. I saw in the eyes of these people the spirit of family. The great-grandmother made sure that she shook every single one of our hands that day. They were all so happy to see us and were so thankful that we had helped examine their health and medical conditions.
The home visit that touched me most deeply was most certainly the couple in their 90s who lived in a humble stone home down a treacherous steep path. I held the hands of the elderly woman as I performed her blood glucose test and noticed how strong and calloused her fingers were. I thought back to my days shadowing an internist at my local hospital and remembered seeing so many elderly hospice patients with complicated chronic conditions. I immediately wondered how we could help manage these two individuals’ diabetes or hypertension, which they would most certainly have. However, after completing the tests and Dr. Richard’s physical examination, it was found that these individuals were perfectly healthy! How amazing that these two individuals on this isolated part of the mountain were so fit in mind and body. I saw in their eyes the spirit of hard work and blooming health—I will always remember them.
This journey to Guatemala touched me so deeply; it is a bookmark in my life that will always stay with me. When we were coming back down the mountain, we met a lady preparing fresh coffee beans to be cooked. All we did was see her in passing, and she could not stop thanking us for helping out her community. She must have thanked us at least four times. Despite having so little, a persistent theme throughout these visits was that all of these people were so happy. They need not depend on the materialistic consumerism that plagues our society to feel fulfilled. All they need is each other and a good, home-cooked meal.
Drs. Eric, Lauri, and Richard were such a blessing to have as medical professionals on this trip. I have never met healthcare professionals as kindhearted and pedagogical. Each one of them, in their history and physical examinations or patient counseling, were so kind to the patients while teaching us more about medicine. These doctors are keen to treat the whole person, which I believe is one of the most important aspects of patient care, and they have refined my image of the holistic and compassionate physician I aspire to be one day.
The trip reminded me how blessed we are to be Americans. We have an excess of things here; and so we should always strive to live life to its fullest by making use of what we have, not wasting, and limiting our selfish wants to have more. Most of all, we should always have a good attitude and strive to be more happy. In the words of Miguel, the amazing father of Mishel and Diana, “Amigos and amigas…if you are happy, I am happy. If you are not happy, I am still happy.”
Gracias a Dios for the life you have given me; I promise to be a happier person and always help others to be happier in their lives.