From treating a chicken to getting jostled by an earthquake, the 30-member medical team conquered numerous first experiences as they served the people of Guatemala.
On their first full day in the country, they worked in Guatemala City at a feeding center and interacted with orphans and their caregivers. While the medical portion of the team saw patients, the rest processed bulk medications into individual dosages since new customs regulations stated all medical supplies must be brought into the country in their original containers. After a brief visit to an orphanage, they loaded up for a four-hour plus bus ride to their final destination of Los Amates in the northeast section of the country.
With the help of local pastors and translators, the team set up clinic locations at five different sites and served between 250 and 350 people daily. The group rose to the extra, and new, challenge of setting up their equipment and supplies in a different location every day. One day, they were in an open sided church and the next an enclosed building, creating warmer conditions with less of a breeze to make the hot and humid weather tolerable.
Normally, extractions are the focus of the dental clinic and the team did plenty of those! However, for the first time, they also had a dental hygienist cleaning teeth with the help of a medical student, although both helped the dentist pull teeth when needed. One particular dental challenge in the region was the community’s habit of drinking coffee sweetened with lots of sugar, including giving it to young babies in their bottles.
The optical area encountered many bright smiles after handing out new glasses. There is nothing quite like helping those that could not see to read before. One highlight was seeing developmentally disabled twin girls transition from shy and insecure to grinning and pleased in their new glasses.
The medical portion of the team was blessed with a variety of specialties – a nurse practitioner, physician assistant, ER doctor, internist, and pediatrician – who were able to bounce treatment ideas off each other. One special moment was when a brave 12-year-old girl with an infected tear duct sat very, very still as a needle was used to allow the infection to drain, providing relief after two years of itching and scratchiness. At times, the medical team was busy with families of five or more. The patients were grateful, even if the best the team could do was relieve suffering and not cure the underlying issues.
In one case, a woman’s daughter had problems the team wasn’t able to treat. After giving advice to the mother about ways to make her daughter’s life better, they prayed for the girl. The treating doctor realized that perhaps it would be better to start with prayer rather than to offer it as a “well, at least we can pray for her” last resort. Later in the day, the woman returned with her husband and entire family and requested to see that same doctor. In a short amount of time and through the power of prayer, trust had been built.
Some needs seen were not medical in nature. The team had the opportunity to pray for a woman whose chief complaint was anxiety that began after she found out neighbors were gossiping about her. In cases like hers, the compassion of Jesus shown through caring hearts soothes more than any medical supplies or expertise brought into the country.