Posted on: 03/19/2019

Author: Anne Fretes

My husband, Carlos, and I arrived home on Saturday, March 16that about 6:00 pm, tired but grateful to be home and to have had such a productive and fulfilling week at Las Obras Hospital in Antigua.  Yesterday I was exhausted for much of the day until I took a late afternoon nap for an hour. It didn't seem like I should have been so tired since I had gotten a full night's sleep, but I guess I was just worn out from a combination of non-stop activities all week and also from having to awaken at 2:00 am to be taken to the airport in Guatemala City for an early flight to California on Saturday morning.


      Our last full day in Antigua was Friday, March 15th.  In the late afternoon Carlos and I stopped at a bakery and purchased two bags of sweet and savory pastry items to deliver to the staff at Las Obras as a thank you to them for their gracious hosting of us in their hospital. It is hard to imagine what it must be like for them to work there week after week, having to adjust to an entirely different group of volunteers showing up each Sunday.  They seem to handle the chaos of that situation with grace and calm.  Some of our nurses and doctors commented that we truly felt like a team along with them, despite language barriers for most and also the temporariness of our being their colleagues.


     As Carlos and I arrived at the surgical ward area with the pastries, the very first person we encountered was a patient of his who was two days post-op.  His face broke into a wide smile when he saw Carlos. He wanted to have his picture taken with him and he was talking non-stop to him.  His speech was nearly impossible to understand because he has a speech impediment, but his body language was easy to interpret. He was clearly overjoyed.


     This kind of happy reaction from patients who were feeling the relief of having successfully gotten through their surgeries was not unusual while we were there. What wasunusual about this particular patient was that he had been crying uncontrollably both before his surgery and also afterwards. He seemed terrified before the surgery and in great distress afterwards as well.        Earlier in the day when Carlos had removed the bandaging from his surgery,  his patient had cried loudly the entire time.  He was very distressed, despite the pain medications he'd been given. His surgery had been complicated, difficult and more lengthy than anticipated, so it was not unusual that he experienced pain, but his emotional distress was more than most patients would have exhibited. It was difficult for Carlos to see his patient so distraught, but at the same time he knew that he had to remove to bandaging.


     So as you might imagine, to see this man smiling and delighted to see his doctor was an unexpected joy both for Carlos and for me, also.  It was such a blessing for both of us to know that not only was his suffering alleviated in that moment, but also that he would be returning to his home having been relieved of a chronic condition that had been plaguing him for years.  


     Ending our week in this manner was particularly poignant and a blessing because this last week's mission trip was Carlos's final week of being a surgeon. He had officially retired from working at the end of January of this year and although he will be able to attend Faith In Practice trips again in the future as an assistant in surgery or possibly as an interpreter or some other capacity, this past week was his final week of being a surgeon.  The smile and gratitude of his patient was a special farewell for Carlos's career and I felt privileged to be there to witness it also.  A blessing, indeed.   


     I relate this personal story with you because I have no doubt that it is one of many such moments that I could have related to you, the reader.  These kinds of meaningful and special moments happen every day in Antigua and other Faith In Practice sights around Guatemala.  It seems that those of us who volunteer with Faith In Practice need these mission trips as much as the patients need our team to enable their physical healing.  Our Faith is strengthened and yes, at times, tested each day we are there.  But in the end the journey to Guatemala is its own reward. 


     Deepest thanks to all of those who have participated by reading these stories and also for sharing them.  May our Faith continue in the year to come and may God bless us all, each and every one.