Our first clinic day in the village of El Chal, Petén!

Posted on: 01/28/2019

Author: Susan Wegner

People waiting outside to come into the clinic area "Red hats" ready to fill out names on triage forms Setting up privacy spaces Hector, chef extrordinaire, and his sous chefs! Byron is putting together a new wheelchair. Shelly is relieving pain by pulling a tooth in the dental clinic. Dr. Dick examines a young boy with lymphangioma, a large watery area in his neck. Jasmine receives her new, appropriately-sized wheelchair! Two grandmothers: Susan (team blogger), 72 & Elsa, 73 Happy to receive his new wheelchair! Sender is happy to have a walker to help him move around on his own! Mopsy and one of her patients

We met outdoors for devotions, led by Kayleen at 5:30 a.m.  She read us these words by Rachel Remen:

“Many times when we help we do not really serve. . . . Serving is also different from fixing. One of the pioneers of the Human Potential Movement, Abraham Maslow, said, "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.' Seeing yourself as a fixer may cause you to see brokenness everywhere, to sit in judgment of life itself. When we fix others, we may not see their hidden wholeness or trust the integrity of the life in them. Fixers trust their own expertise. When we serve, we see the unborn wholeness in others; we collaborate with it and strengthen it. Others may then be able to see their wholeness for themselves for the first time.  Helping, fixing, and serving represent three different ways of seeing life. When you help, you see life as weak. when you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. Fixing and helping may be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul.”

Kayleen sent us out to do the work of the soul as we interact our patients today.  We then had breakfast and, soon after, boarded the buses for the village of El Chal.

The ride through the colorful countryside to our clinic location took about an hour. The first lump in my throat for the day came when we approached the school where the clinics were to be held. A thick line extended up the clinic location’s wall (a school) for one block and continued around the corner. People of all ages were lined up. So much need! We got off our bus and went inside. The first task was to set up the various clinics in the rooms already designated with signs. Those assigned to each specific clinic (pediatric, general, gynecology, dental, imaging, pharmacy, lab and mobility) found their trunks and moved them to their spaces. For gynecology, set-up involved making smaller examination rooms by clothes-pinning large pieces of blue paper to supporting cords already strung across the room. The wheelchair clinic personnel set about constructing wheelchairs, a process that takes about 30 minutes per chair.  When the clinics were set up, people started being allowed to come in the central gate and were seated on chairs in a shaded area. Those personnel assigned to triage began interviewing people as to the health problem that brings them here. From triage they lined up on chairs outside whatever clinic was appropriate. When brought into the clinic, they were interviewed by a doctor with the assistance of a translator, examined, and prescribed with an appropriate remedy to or referral for their health problem. They then proceeded to the pharmacy for medicines or to the Mobility Clinic for equipment:  a cane, walker, or wheelchair.

I hung out in the wheelchair room for a while to follow people from diagnosis to obtaining their new mobility equipment. Such care goes into each consultation!  Here are some examples.

Jasmine is a young girl who came in an old, adult-sized wheelchair. She was slouched to the side because it was too big for her small frame. Her mother spoke for her. She had had an accident that left her with a brain injury. Since the accident, she hasn’t been able to move her hand and can’t walk. She hardly talks, although she did readily tell me her name. She is taking medicine for seizures. Dr. Jenny prescribed a more appropriately sized wheelchair. One of Jasmine’s hands is frozen in an awkward position. Dr. Jenny asked her mother to massage it gently each day to encourage an  increase in its range of motion.  In addition, it seems scabies is a problem in the home, so the doctor also taught Jasmine’s mother how to rid everyone of this itchy skin condition by washing all the clothing in the home. This was a great example of comprehensive care!

Alejandra is 13 years old. When she was two months old, she had a fever. As a result of this illness, she has never been able to walk, although she can speak. She, too, was prescribed a wheelchair.

Sender is a young boy who was born with spina bifida. His lower body is very weak, but his upper body is very strong. He can walk along a wall by leaning on it and swiveling his legs sideways, knees pressed together for support. He was prescribed a walker which he, along with Deb, the physical therapist, promptly decorated with many colorful stickers.  He seems to have a lot of grit! Walking with the walker tires him out after a few minutes, so he sinks to the ground and rests. When recuperated, he is up and at it again. What a trooper!  He was referred for evaluation for leg braces.

Elsa is an older woman who has a beautiful, lined face.  She is 73 years old and has many medical problems:  diabetes, heart, and stomach. She looks so ancient, yet is only one year older than I am!

More than usual of the young children in the Pediatric Clinic have cleft paletts to various extents. One of these is Natalie, whose cleft lip and palett is so extreme that her nose is sunken in so much she hardly seems to have a nose. It is heart-rending to think these children might go through all of life with this facial deformity and all the difficulties it can cause with daily life and relationships.  

Another child in the Pediatric Clinic is a boy named Tim with a huge, soft, watery area on the left side of his neck. This condition is called a lymphangioma and is caused by a malformed lymph drainage system. His mother said it had been treated previously by siphoning off the liquid, but the watery area came back. Dr. Dick cheered him up by running a toy truck up and down his legs and tummy. The playfulness brought out a beautiful smile!

Victor, a 17 year old who came to the General Clinic, has a scar on one temple and a foot turned in an abnormal direction.  He had had a major head injury.  Prior to this injury, his foot was normal.  As a means of playing “detective” regarding the effects of the head injury, Dr. Jim asked him many questions, including how he did in school. He replied that school was no problem for him. Then Dr. Jim asked him to raise his eyebrows. Victor could do it, but when he raised his eyebrows, the lower part of his face hardly moved at all. From this Dr. Jim deduced that he the head injury resulted in both physical and neurological injuries. His future surgery will probably require severing tendons in his foot so that it can be turned in a more normal direction, enabling him to walk again.

Today we collectively treated 593 patients!  We returned to Gil Town, our “home” tired but very satisfied to have been able to serve so many people!