Wednesday, 3/7, and our routine is well established. Another full day of surgeries. As all of the team continues their respective duties, it’s important to understand the relationships that facilitate bringing these critical medical services to the disadvantaged people of Guatemala.
The Obras Sociales Santo Hermano Pedro is the primary facility through which FIP conveys their services. The OSSHP vision statement describes the Obras as "a religious and humanitarian institution that extends the example of Sto. Hermano Pedro, giving integral attention to offering a better quality of life to a person, regardless of race, creed or class". Services offered here include care for malnourished children, eye surgery and dental care, hospice at Casa de Fe, food for the poor, child care and substance abuse rehabilitation. Significantly, they also offer long term and permanent resident care for 230 mentally and physically challenged individuals, especially abandoned men, women and children of all ages.
FIP is the largest of all the humanitarian surgical groups operating at Hermano Pedro, and is actually the second largest health provider in the country. (The national health care system is the first). This year FIP will fill 16 of the 44 scheduled surgical weeks available. In addition, FIP will also run eight village trips, during which outpatient care is given to more than 12,000 patients living in poor pueblocitos distant from medical care. In-country Guatemalan doctors triage village residents once each year, who in turn then wait approximately nine more months for the opportunity to come to the Obras for their procedures.
The sixty-nine FIP individuals our team will operate on this week come from pueblocitos and towns across central Guatemala, including many locals living near Antigua. Interestingly, this week a dozen of those people will travel here from three far away villages surrounding Lago Izabal, in the departamento de Izabal, near the Gulf of Honduras. The people from this area primarily farm corn, and live in or near the aldeas of El Estor, La Tinta and Telemann. For most this will be the first time away from their native village. They speak Keqchi, the local Mayan language, much different than Guate Spanish.
Their journey to the Obras begins with the logistical support of Compaoeros en Cirugia (formerly Compaoeros en Salud), an in-country volunteer organization that, among other things, identifies and brings these compesinos to Antigua for their surgeries. (CC funding is provided by FIP). CC members function as patient advocates as well as Keqchi translators, staying close to the patients throughout the process.
Following the story of these twelve patients, they begin by meeting with CC, who identify their heath care needs and recommends them to FIP for surgery. The patients will assemble in Coban, nearly 200 km from their homes, and then travel as one group another very long distance to Antigua via bus. The one-way trip from their aldeas to the Obras will take more than twelve hours.
A single family member may accompany each patient. They are housed at Casa de Fe throughout their week long stay, arriving Saturday night in order to attend Sunday morning triage. The patients are scheduled for one of our four OR days, returning to Casa de Fe to convalesce while the rest of their group awaits their turns. Eventually, they will all travel back to Coban together on the following Saturday, their long journey finally over. They have been away from their family and native environment for over a week, surrounded by strangers who don’t speak their language.
Tomorrow we will visit Casa de Fe, a separate temporary residence facility for the recovering patients and family members several blocks from the Obras, built and operated by FIP.