Day 1, travel, tour and train
Day 1 began for the Austin team at 3am, getting up and ready to catch flights to gather in Houston. The remaining team members met us in Houston to travel together to Antigua, Guatemala. Our flight was full; we arrived on time and were through immigration and customs without any problems. Loaded up on the bus to travel from Guatemala to Antigua. Took us about an hour to travel through the city traffic of Guatemala City. Saw a Walmart, many McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Shell - America is everywhere.
Upon arrival to Antigua we first toured the Obras. The Obras Sociales del Santo Hermano Pedro is a 500 year old Franciscan hospital and home for incapacitated and abandoned children and adults located in Antigua, Guatemala. At the Obras we toured the wards where the children and adults live, the hospital and operating rooms. We were blessed to be greeted by Joe and Vera Wiatt the founders of Faith in Practice and Linda McCarty the Chief Executive Officer. They are in town reviewing plans to renovate another hospital in a village.
Driving through Antigua we saw the decorations as the city prepares for the Easter season celebration. Our hotel is awesome. Many team members said that when they mentioned to family and friends that they were going on a mission trip it was assumed that we would be sleeping is tents or in rustic conditions. The Quinta del Las Flores rooms are very comfortable and have all the needed amenities (check it out at http://www.quintadelasflores.com/about-us.htm) . The grounds are plush and full of many beautiful varieties of flowers and unknown plants. Have a great view of the surrounding mountains and the active volcano. Checked in, cleaned up a bit, rested and relaxed then headed to for a group dinner at La Fonda. Though we were all exhausted from being up really early and a long day of traveling and touring, dinner was full of great food, conversation and fellowship. Traveled by bus back to Quinta Del Las Flores all to bed for a good night sleep getting ready for our first day of meeting patients and their families.
Day 2, triage and organization
Day 2 began as we gathered together for nourishment and a morning devotional with our team chaplain, Reverend Ryan Cook. He reminded us of our theme for the week is to love God and our neighbor and to remember why we are here. We then gathered together to walk to the Obras to begin unloading the supplies, triage and setting up the operating rooms.
As we arrived at the Obras we were greeted by the hospital staff and given triage and operating room procedural instructions. The doctors then went upstairs to the triage rooms and began interviewing the long line of patients. These patients had been seem prior by a Faith in Practice Village doctor and referred to our surgery team for this week.
The patients were waiting upstairs, the ones that came the farthest were served first. The patients visited with the surgeons to be evaluated and scheduled, then to anesthesiology and finally to complete their paperwork. The remaining staff emptied and organized all the supplies and prepared the operating rooms for tomorrow when we begin surgery. The Chaplain visited with the waiting patients and handed out colors-coloring books and cookies to the children.
Day 3, surgery
Surgery began today in 4 operating rooms with 4 surgeons and all the support staff of nurses, tech’s and anesthesiologists. In addition, a pediatric dentist is working upstairs. Our Chaplain is visiting with the family members as they wait for their loved ones and also sitting on the floor in the hallway outside the dentist room with colors and coloring books with many children. He is learning his colors in Spanish.
The patients were scheduled yesterday during triage and are all waiting in the hallway. One of the first patients was a baby. Two of her fingers were stuck together along the edges. Dr. Victor Atun cut them apart, grafted skin from her leg and now she will be able to use all her fingers. In the recovery room the nurses were holding her as she woke up and were unable to calm her down completely. They went and got mama from the waiting room and the moment the baby was in her arms she calmed down and the nurses were able to begin the process of recovery.
Most of the children seen by Dr. Keith Rice have so many rotten teeth he is only able to remove the tooth that is causing the most pain. The waiting lines are long and so many children need to be seen. For the most part this is the first time any of these children have seen a dentist. You can tell they are scared by the clenched fists and the feet wiggling around as Dr. Rice is working in their mouths.
The general surgeons, Dr. Rick Solis and Dr. Peter Driscoll are reparing hernias and removing gallbladders as these seem to be the majority of the problems with the adults. In addition our orthopedic surgeon Parminder Kang has been repairing knees and replacing a hip.
The needs are great and all the patients and their families are always smiling and very thankful for all of our help and the services they are receiving. For the most part none of these patients would be treated without the support of the Faith in Practice program throughout Guatemala.
At the end of the day the team completed 29 surgeries, 5 orthopedic, 8 gallbladers, 9 plastic surgeries and 7 hernia operations.
Day 4, Surgery, no electricity and shopping
We started our day with some good Guatemalan Coffee and our morning Devotional with Reverend Ryan. The subject was of the Good Samaritan and was very inspiring. As a closing we sang a couple of versus of Amazing Grace. It was amazing how many good voices are on the Team.
We walked to Los Obra’s as a group and put on scrubs while getting ready for surgery. The doctors and their team got to work as patients were brought in and we completed 7 surgeries when suddenly we lost power. The doctors were amazing and we used flashlights to give them enough light to continue. One of the non-medical volunteers was happily helping by holding the flashlight. Eventually the backup generator came on but caught fire and in came the local Fire Department. We then shut down all non essential power but the generator had to finally be shut down. After a short wait we had to give it up and close for the day. The Team has a good plan for making up the lost operations by the end of the week.
The next problem was our team Dentist had to leave for home due to a sudden illness in his family. Before we left the hospital we gathered in prayer for a good outcome. He will be missed.
Many of us then went to lunch or shopping and the local Jade shop did a thriving business. Throughout the day team members got to help with chores at the Hotel preparing a special dinner and catching up on correspondence and e-mail from their offices and home back in the States.
Day 5, 12 hours of surgery
The entire team was up early and ready to work with some very high expectations of “catching up” on yesterday’s cases and hopefully getting many of today’s cases completed. Team members began showing up in the Café at 5:45 or 6:00am to eat a small breakfast. Our daily devotional was given by our team Pastor Ryan Cook reminding us to “take my yoke upon you… for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” – a good way to start the workday. We then walked for from Quinta de las Flores our hotel to Las Obra’s Hospital to begin the long day of surgery.
The power problems were fixed and the day went very well. Our team of Doctors, Anesthesiologists, CRNA’s, Surgical RN’s, Surgical Technicians, Photographers, Bloggers and all of the support staff of Guatemalan’s completed 29 surgeries even though one complex surgery took 9 hours and an ACL repair took over 4 hours. Many of the cases we weren’t able to complete because of the power outage yesterday were done today.
Much of what is accomplished is due to a very well trained medical staff passing on their knowledge to other members of the team. Many of the volunteers on their first medical mission are very thankful for knowledge gained from others. As the week goes on the various personalities and skills are realized and Team 318 becomes a tremendously productive and cohesive unit. There is no one unit and no one individual, it is the team together that makes it work. The local Guatemalans are use to working with a new group each week and cooperate with the ever changing personnel from the USA very well. They are the ones who know where the equipment and supplies are and how to find a quick substitute if needed. In many cases the substitute is the only thing available to the Team.
One more day of surgery, a day to pack up and visit with the patients then back to the States.
FIP Day 6 - Thursday
At the end of the day we had completed 101 surgeries during our time in the operating room. Out of the 7 surgery teams that have spent weeks in Antigua this year our team exceeded all the other groups by many, many surgeries. Even more impressive is that we accomplished this in 3 ¼ days because of the power outage on Tuesday. We had two 12-hour days in the OR but finished all the cases that were waiting for care. Our work is done in the Operating Room but we still will visit the patients in the morning before we have the late morning and afternoon off to visit and shop in the city.
This morning in devotional we talked about thinking about we instead of me. This team of 29 individuals coming from 4 different cities, all different walks of life and experiences came together as one team. We are here to treat and care for those in need and none of us wanted to leave without helping of all those expecting care.
After the final day of surgery we all went to dinner together to celebrate our accomplishments and each other. As rewarding it is to heal those in need we have all grown to love and respect each other and have developed new lifelong friendships.
Day 7, last day before heading home
Final day! Began as usual with our devotional talking about how Jesus is all forgiving, as we should love the unlovable. It has been so easy to love the people of Guatemala because they are so appreciative. They come to the hospital and wait hours for care and never complain and always have a smile on their faces. As the doctors completed final rounds the patients all gave words of thanks and wish us blessings from God. All of the patients we treated this week would not have received care without the help of Faith and Practice. The organization has developed a system to go out into the villages and seek out those in need of care. They then are told to come to the hospital on a particular week and begin the wait.
We are all exhausted but filled with joy. This experience is like no other. Everyone one of the team members would share the same stories and experiences of the getting back so much more than we gave.
Tomorrow we begin the long day of travel back to the states. Looking forward to seeing our family and friends and sleeping in our own beds but will treasure the experiences of this week.
Day 8, Traveling home
All of us got up early once again but instead of preparing for a day at the hospital we gathered for a long day of travel back to the States. The bus arrived and we loaded up our luggage and the empty trunks that had been filled with medical supplies. 3 of our team members stayed in Antigua for a few days to take part in the Easter season celebrations this weekend. The remaining team members boarded the bus and headed to the airport in Guatemala City. The flight back to Houston was on time and we all boarded the plane without any problems. Arrived in Houston together as a team for the last time. Completed the process of re-entry into the US, said our good byes and either went home or to our connecting gates.
Words cannot completely describe the experience provided by Faith in Practice to serve the people of Guatemala. With their organization and support, team members are able to drop into Antigua for a week and have all the logistics arranged. This program allows the team members to spend all their time with patients and family members. As you can expect this experience is life changing and one that I would hope all of you reading this could experience one day.