Bienvenidos a Guatemala!
We arrived safe and sound after a long day of travel with only one minor glitch. New customs procedures lead to a brief scare as our trunks containing the valuable medical supplies were not allowed to leave the airport. Fortunately our prayers came true and the officials allowed the release of the trunks.
We awoke Saturday morning in the hustle and bustle of Guatemala City. Loading the bus, we made the brief journey to Antigua, our home for the next week. We were warmly welcomed by the incredible staff from Faith in Practice as well as the staff from Hobras Sociales de Hermano Pedro, the hospital where our week of work will take place.
After touring the facilities and settling into the hotel, the group split ways and submerged themselves in the amazing surroundings of Antigua, Guatemala. Some took a guided tour of the city, while others toured on their own, taking advantage of the ample free time prior to the busy week ahead. The evening was capped by a nice dinner as a team. Surrounded by candle light and a warm meal the group began to feel like family.
Today we will see close to 150 patients and hopefully assign close to 40 gynecology patients and just shy of 60 general surgery patients for operations during the remainder of the week. The day will be busy and rewarding, as we will meet every single patient that we will serve.
Team 329, would like to thank all of the family and friends that made this trip possible. And for those loved ones at home, THANK YOU for donating your family member for a week of service in Guatemala. Keep sending those positive thoughts and prayers down south!
On Sunday we saw close to 130 patients and their families. It was incredible to see the hope in the eyes of our potential patients as they waited to be evaluated. The team worked like a well-oiled machine as the surgical candidates moved through the various stations. From triage intake, to evaluation by our nurses, surgeons and anesthesiologists, we were able to identify 53 general surgery cases and 43 gynecologic candidates.
We worked diligently evaluating each individual case. It was amazing to witness the teamwork of our group as well as the patience of our new Guatemalan friends and staff. It is a powerful feeling to realize that the brief interaction with our new amigos could potentially change their quality of life forever.
As the day came to an end, the group returned to our hotel for a wonderful meal prepared by our team cooks. As we wrapped up the day our team minister reminded us of the quote, “life is like a ten-speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use”. Falling asleep to dreams of healthy and happy patients we prepared for the following day of surgery.
Monday - Surgery Day #1
“Happiness comes from giving, not getting. If we try hard to bring happiness to others, we cannot stop it from coming to us also. To get joy, we must give it, and to keep joy, we must scatter it.”
Today we began our first day of surgery with a blessing by our team minister followed by diligent instruction from our fearless leaders. As the surgical staff marched towards the hospital our cooking team made their way to the market to procure the evening’s dinner.
With much excitement and anticipation our team prepared for our first patients of the day. I can say this with great certainty that every single member of this team left touched by today’s operations. Our patients were so grateful for their procedures that it brought tears to the eyes of their caregivers. But there was one particular case that touched our heart.
We were aware of a certain patient in definite need of surgery. Her case was potentially complicated, and the risks were high, but the pain was unbearable. After an involved conversations with our team, the patient and her family, various members of the Faith in Practice staff as well as the local Guatemalan doctors, the decision was made to proceed. It was clear that this was her last chance for a pain-free life.
As the patient awoke from a successful procedure, smiling and grateful, we knew that this was the right decision. Although successful, the surgery was lengthy and our flexible team was able to accommodate all the remaining patients. It was an emotional day, filled with excitement, but we can rest assured that forty-three lives were changed in addition to the twenty-three patients that were operated on today.
Late evening conversations over homemade jalapeño poppers, helped to re-energize the team and prepare for another long day of service.
Tuesday - Surgery Day #2
Our second day of surgery was another great success. We operated on 11 general surgery patients and 9 gynecology patients. In addition to surgery, our team dental hygienist was able to clean a multitude of mouths and our cooks were busy in the kitchen whipping up some amazing street tacos.
The theme of today was laughter, the universal language. A majority of our team has very little grasp of the Spanish language; which is why we love our translators. They are in HIGH demand. But sometimes they are busy and it is amazing to see the power of communication through a smile. This non-verbal symbol of love eases the worries of our patients as they awake from a successful operation. And lets be honest, with the character cast of nurses in pre- and post-op (we miss you Zipsie) it is hard not to laugh. Every smile and chuckle adds comfort to a potentially stressful environment.
For the amount of good that occurs each day it isn’t hard to smile, but there was one instance today that was difficult. A young mother came to us in excruciating pain with a mass on her leg. Unable to determine the composition of the mass, the doctors decided to biopsy and possibly remove the painful lump. With great sadness it was discovered that the mass was potentially cancerous, making removal impossible without a pathology result. The mass was biopsied and the beautiful young woman awoke in the post-operative room. An extremely difficult conversation occurred with the patient and her young husband as to the reason they were unable to remove the mass. Yet despite her continued pain and disappointing news, she managed a smile. There is still a glimmer of hope as she is now in the Faith in Practice system and will be followed up after the results of the biopsy. All we can do is hope for the best and continue to keep her in our thoughts and prayers.
Wednesday - Surgery Day #3
The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.
Today was the team’s third day of surgery. We performed 14 general surgery cases, 11 gynecology procedures and cleaned 13 sets of teeth. Everything is going great and all our patients from the previous days are doing well. The team has fallen into a comfortable routine. Although the team has come to provide service to our friends in Guatemala, it is the connections with the patients that have made a lasting impression on the team. It is different for everyone, but I do believe that at least one patient has made an impact on each team member.
Yesterday one patient made a lasting impression on the nurses in the post-operative room. The gentleman, a real charmer, was scheduled for a bilateral hernia repair. He woke up with a smile on his face and wanting to practice his limited English skills. This of course brought smiles to all of the nurses and patients in the room.
Unfortunately, this same gentleman was our first (and only) patient that needed to return to the operating room. Sometime in the middle of the night while coughing he managed to disrupt the repair. While this is not uncommon, it is certainly not desired. The team was amazed by the patient’s reaction to the news. He was so grateful for the opportunity to have the hernia repair surgery, that he took the news in stride and maintained a very positive perspective.
He returned this afternoon for the quick repair and once again charmed the ladies in the post-operative room. It is these small interactions that make all our hard work and preparation memorable.
Thursday - Surgery Day #4
Today was our final day of surgery. We completed 15 general surgery cases and 11 gynecology procedures. This brought us to a total of 51 general surgeries and 43 gynecology surgeries, reaching a total of 94 patients served. For some of these patients they needed multiple surgical procedures, bring the true total of procedures to 119 for the week.
Today one of these patients had a truly life-changing experience. A 36-year old woman came in with a mass in her abdomen that was thought to be a uterine fibroid. She explained to the doctors that she has been unable to have children and she has since given up hope on becoming a mother. The decision was to operate on her with the hope of removing the uterine mass. During the operation the doctors discovered that there was actually no fibroid and the uterus was fine, but her ovaries were twisted, causing her discomfort and preventing her from having children. Unbelievably the surgeons were able to reverse this problem, giving her the potential to become a mother.
As the patient awoke from the procedure, she surrounded by doctors and nurses anxious to tell her that she may now have the opportunity to become a mother. Tears of joy filled the eyes of the patient and the team as she realized her new future. One team member grabbed her daughter who is also on the trip and explained to the patient that she was 38 years old when she was born. The mood in the room was one of complete joy.
This was another moving story from our brief stay in Guatemala. I can say with confidence that all of the patients this week have made exceptional recoveries. The difficult case mentioned in Monday’s blog posting has fared well and is now eating solid foods and is expected to head home on Monday. The young lady with the leg mass mentioned in Tuesday’s posting, has gone home to her family. Her pain is under control and she is now in the Faith in Practice system to continue her care after they receive the biopsy result. She is in our thoughts and prayers. The gentleman mentioned yesterday, who unfortunately had to return to the operating room has continued to entertain our team. He will make a full recovery. Finally, the lady above is recovering with her husband on the ward with hopes of the future and the new potential for children.
This trip has been an amazing experience for all involved and we are already looking forward to returning next year for the week of March 9th 2013! Tonight we will celebrate the wedding anniversary of Mary and Jim Stempel with a renewal of their vows. After the wedding tonight we will dine on Chinese food prepared by our team cooks and reflect on the past week.
Tomorrow the group has some free time to enjoy Antigua as we prepare to say goodbye to Guatemala. Some will relax and get some last minute shopping done, while others plan to hike a volcano or visit a local orphanage. In the evening we will have our celebration dinner to cap off an incredible week. Thanks again to all reading for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers. We can’t wait to return and share our experience with you.