Trip 141, Post 1

Posted on: 01/21/2007

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Team 141 has made it through 2 days of travel to our wonderful hotel. There have been plane rides (including a Guatemalan Navy transport), bus rides of various sizes, and a 4 hour boat ride with incredible scenery. Everyone along the way has been extremely gracious, but I think we will all agree that leaving half our trunks of supplies in Houston has been mucho extra work for our logistics directors.

This had nothing to do with our trip planning and filled several team members with panic as the plane taxied away, but we could see our trunks still in the carts on the tarmack. Hopefully, all our supplies will arrive and we can replace what we are borrowing from friends here.

Even though we experienced several delays we still received the tours of Obras Sociales del Santo Hermano Pedro Hospital and Casa de Fe yesterday. Our assignments have been given, questions have been answered, and the outdoor tables are set with fresh flowers for our first dinner here at the Hotel Vinas del Lago. Signing off to go eat and enjoy our team.

The following short story was written by Randy Birken, MD, one of the OB/GYN physicians on our trip.

Faith In Practice, Team 141: January 2007

Cold and wet for a Houston January, it’s the six forty AM arrival at the international terminal that raises doubts. Sure, we want to volunteer – help the indigent, people who struggle living with almost nothing except for the sustenance of family and faith. But 6:40 AM for a week working in rural Guatemala? - big difference between generosity and being sacrificial.

We board the tardy plane and the uncertainty resurfaces. Why am I doing this and who will I be with and how much can I do for patients in a medical environment void of lab or x-ray? The art of medicine, listening to the patient, and the revered physical exam, once the magical touching of a healer, just doesn’t exist anymore. Or does it? Perhaps, somewhere within us, we seek to rediscover the nobility of a profession, when taking care of a patient meant taking care of a patient.

The flight to Guatemala is routine as we crowd around an archaic baggage area, piling red and black trunks filled with medications and supplies, like a chest of diamonds. A set back – not all our supplies made it on the plane. Panic? Anger? No. No one gets too upset, for life’s vicissitudes are expected – and to the people who believe in and who devote their time and energy to Faith In Practice, it’s merely a slight detour on the road to magnanimity. What is really going on here – a group of physicians, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, translators and an administrative staff, experienced and resigned, unfazed by impediments - a different feeling, a group united by purpose, a band of brothers and sisters to help others.

We walk out into the Guatemalan sun, pleasantly warm and welcoming. But it’s the ride to Antigua, slowed by roadwork that permits time to become acquainted with our village group. It’s an easy get-together and a growing camaraderie, a closeness formed by a mutual quest, a search for the grandeur of mankind, the great equalizer that makes us all one and the same.

But it’s our visit to Casa de Fe, a refuge for patients and family members, and the Obras, the first hospital founded in Antigua that really ignites our charitable instincts and touches our compassion - a cleanliness, tranquility, and devotion, unique and irreproachable. Yet, when the Padre speaks to us, hush tones clearly enunciating the purpose and accomplishments, especially a desire, genuine and untarnished, to help more people, an epiphany, the moment we realize that we are part of a bigger plan, a force that transcends primal human nature and brings it to a dimension that is spiritual and good.

So, we sleep a little and begin our mission. A flight on an almost windowless military plane, an exotic ride through the Caribbean into the Rio Dulce, followed by daily boat taxis with comical misadventures on rough waters producing near testicular crushing pain, as well as the roller coaster drives on pockmarked dirt roads within an aged bus that would never pass a Texas state inspection.

But it’s the people at the villages - those surviving souls within extreme poverty - that are the real gifts. Clean, gracious, and appreciative. It is their care that brings us our rewards, a level of medical care that is pure and divine, satisfying and just. We enjoy our company, sing, tell jokes, and mingle with our new family under one goal and one spirit.

Aristotle said that to know the good is to do the good. That we have experienced, an unforgettable week of revelations and personal bonding, an exaltation of the human spirit, strong and resilient, loving and compassionate. The 20th century American writer, Bernard Malamud said that life is tragedy, full of joy. In essence, that has been our week. Faith in our fellow man, faith in our higher power, faith in ourselves, faith in practice – a full circle, a tapestry of life itself.