Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Week's Difference

One week ago, I wrote about arriving in Guatemala and beginning our journey. Today we are heading home, with healed hearts, after being broken numerous times, and renewed hope. As I reflect on what this week has meant to me, I am in awe and I am still not quite sure how to put it in words. Before this trip, my hope for a better world was incredibly dim. I did not see much of love, or of God. Now I see God everywhere and I hear God in every waking moment.

The difference this week has made in my life is unforgettable. I see love everywhere now. I see God everywhere. I see God in my peers, who wore their hearts on their sleeves and fully threw themselves into this experience. I see God in the medical team, who are fully committed to their patients and taught us what it means to heal and be healed through serving others. I see love and God in the Guatemalan people, who do not let the inequality they witness everyday harden their hearts. These are God's people, who always end their conversations with "Vaya con Dios" (Go forth with God). They are rooted in their faith and have taught me what it means to be completely reliant on God and trust him. They have taught me to love abundantly, without hesitation or resentment. They have taught me to readily forgive. They give without expecting anything in return, and in that way, they have taught me to be more generous.

I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to be a part of this trip, of this journey. We have all said that our hearts broke a thousand times throughout the week, but it was put back together much stronger and much more capable of genuine love. I am grateful because I met some incredible people who are now like family to me and I could not have asked for a better team to with whom to have this experience. I know this week touched my soul because when I woke this morning, my first thought was, "I want to stay home". I've found a new home in the Guatemalan people.

Aichetou Waiga 

Tears and Joy

Our final day at Choacorral yesterday was met with both tears and joy. It was sad to say goodbye to all the patients, children, and community members, but we were all excited to reach out and help the community of Chapernas the following day.

After an hour long ride to Chapernas, I step off the bus and experienced a huge amount of culture shock. There were no paved roads, very few buildings, and a thin layer of dust covered everything. The school building that we were calling the clinic had no air conditioning, few lights, and a barely functioning bathroom. When I first walked into the clinic I could not belief the number of people that had showed up. The entire room was lined with men women and children, all trying to see a doctor.

I spent the morning with Dr. Lauri in pediatrics. It is so inspiring to watch how Dr. Lauri works. She always has a tremendous amount patience with the kids and easily diagnose patient after patient with confidence. Near the middle of the day I was running a script to the pharmacy when Brad pulled me into his room. Brad was a trained nurse who volunteer at this school made clinic twice every weeks, and he just happened to be from Ohio. The reason he pulled me into his room was to show me a very interesting case. When I walked into the room I saw a frail old woman sitting in a chair. As I moved further into the room I immediately realized why she came to the clinic. The woman, who was an astounding eighty-nine years old, was completely missing half of her nose. The skin and cartilage that should have been covering her nasal cavity was gone. Brad explained to me that the woman had small spec of skin cancer on the tip of her nose that went untreated and eventually resulted in her losing half of her nose. Now she comes in twice a week to get the area cleaned and bandaged.

What was heart breaking to me was the fact that had this woman lived in a more developed country that cancer spot could have easily been removed. While this woman may have lost part of her nose, she never lost her pride and determination. She held her head up high and managed to live ten years with the open sore. This woman showed me that when life deals you bad cards you can either complain and give up, or you can accept it and face it with a smiling positive attitude which she did.

Joseph Kavanagh

Where I Feel Called

Friday was undoubtably the most tiring and mentally and physically challenging day of clinic for me. Chapernas is a small village about 30 minutes from the coast in western Guatemala. As we drove into Chapernas we knew it would be different from Choacorral. The dirt roads, open air houses, and the type of illnesses varied vastly from Choacorral. Walking off the bus into 90 degree weather was not only a physical shock but when looking around i was shaken to the core. The two large buildings were basically just huge rooms that we took over and set up our stations at. We walked in the main building and it was packed with people waiting to be seen by our medical staff. However, when we turned the corner God blessed us with another pair of intelligent hands and a caring heart. Nurse Brad came into our lives as a surprise. He is an American nurse that does mission medical work in Guatemala and visits this site twice a week. He was just as surprised to see us as we were to see him. We worked seamlessly together to serve this huge population of people who needed medical care. I worked in triage all day. Hearing people's stories, investigating their health issues, and using nursing skills is my favorite part of triage. The fast paced atmosphere was especially difficult in this clinic. The heat paired with the amount of people and the acuity of the patients made the day especially hard. Working with Maddie and Xye was incredible. Our Spanish skills and nursing backgrounds prevailed and we were essentially done triaging by lunch time. However the most difficult things to witness was nurse Stephanie having to turn away patients. There were just so many people and not enough time or resources to see all of them. This was devastating but it shows how much continued efforts are needed.

My time in Guatemala has taught me more than I could have hoped. On Friday I learned, or perhaps rencountered, the fact that I, as one person, have the ability to change the world. If I changed or positively effected one persons life in the little town of Chapernus I did good. My last patient of the day was a old woman who had diabetes and was leaking, for lack of a better term, from her legs because of all of the edema and fluid retention. She had extremely low blood pressure but her blood sugar was only 175 without taking her medicine for her sugar for a number of days. This was not a problem of diabetes this was congestive heart failure. However, what I learned from this woman was not about her diagnoses, it was about the smile she had on her face when strangers were talking a foreign language surrounding her. It was about how her family advocated for her needs and care. It was about how her daughter was doing the best she could with what she had and was full of gratitude for our being there. My time in Guatemala was not about saving the people. These people do not need to be saved. They are strong, compassionate, loving , hospitable, grateful, and rich in life and love. They are different from the people I am normally familiar with, but that doesn't make them any less worthy of love and care. They need to be walked with not changed. Guatemala has officially broken and ruined me in the best way possible. This beautiful country and its people have changed the way I view health care and have possibly changed where I feel called in this world. They have taught me to love and wear my heart on my sleeve, that it is okay to ask for help, that vulnerability is not a weakness, and that it is more important to be rich in faith, hope, love, and community than in anything else. I am so grateful.

Melinda Birky