Day 7: Our Final Lap
As we rounded out our final clinic day, some of the team members declared this their favorite. This time, our trek took us almost 3 hours up the mountain top---our bodies a bit achy, a lot of “ducking” from tropical branches and leaves as we diverted our heads and arms for cover; streams, creeks, rivers to be crossed; cows and turkeys to be “shooed away” from our path, and sprinklings of waving young and old villagers as we road by.
In this village, we served close to 200 people today, making our grand total of people served approximately 1000! Lori, our “Jefa”, has suggested that this may be a record-setting trip with the most people served AND the most terrain covered! I think we all feel proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish this week and grateful to have done it together.
A few additional reflections for the week:
Healthy communities are a collective effort - While the villages we served are so vastly different than most of our everyday lives in Canada, there are also so many things that are fundamental and similar--- parents trying to do the best for their families; children who are fueled with curiosity, energy and a thirst for life; a need to be connected with others even when language is an apparent barrier, and opportunities to thrive as humans.
There is a famous quote by Diane Ackerman (American poet and essayist) that reads “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I have just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well”. This week, I believe that all of us lived both length and width, and I will be forever grateful to have had an opportunity to be part of this extraordinary team and experience. One crossed off the bucket list!
Day 6: A new perspective
Today may have been my favorite day of the week. Thankfully, the rain subsided and we were back to sunny skies as we boarded a boat to get us to our destination. If we thought the other villages were remote, this one felt like a complete labyrinth.
After an almost two-hour boat trip on the Rio Dulce and then another bumpy ride to the village snuggled in the jungle, we set up our clinic with accumulating proficiency and confidence. It was a new perspective today----as we boated along the coastline and marveled at the beautiful mountains, the thought that we had been at the top of one of them the day before in the midst of a community that was utterly invisible from our new viewpoint gave us a moment of pause.
A few other observations today in this village. When we arrived, there were only a few men waiting for us, along with a scattering of curious children. In these Indigenous communities, it is a patriarchal familial hierarchy, and so the first registrants are always men. They go through the clinic process, meeting with the nurse, physician, and pharmacy, and once approved (apparently there have been organizations that do similar work but ask for money for medication----money that people simply don’t have), then they invite women and their children to participate. Today, one of the community leaders, once he completed his “session”, called the village by using a conch shell that resonated through the trees! It was marvelous!
Again, this was the first time coming to this community, and we served just over 200 people today. The villagers were extraordinarily grateful to the team including letting us use outdoor bathrooms that were located on personal property (the clinic space did not have any available), offered us freshly chopped coconuts with coconut water, and even invited the team to enjoy a meal.
Our night ended with celebrating two of our team members’ birthdays---Tracey, our PSW who is one of our “veterans” and Monika, one of our translators who is originally from Switzerland but now resides in Guatemala.
Clinic success despite memories of Maid of the Mist
I would be remiss without acknowledging our driver, David, who has been exceptional in these past two days, navigating some questionable paths and terrains by Canadian standards. Today, to shield us from the torrential rain, he offered a tarp that at least partially shielded us (just imagine a bunch of health care professionals who look like they’re ready to take the “Maid of the Mist” Tour in Niagara Falls with our ponchos) ---needless to say, there was sufficient laughter to distract us from the pelting water and wind!
Day 4: Kids, kids... and more kids!
Have you ever experienced a day that felt surreal? Today was it, and I wish I had the words to truly describe all that happened. Picture our group huddled together, along with our duffle bags, in two trucks, driving for almost 2 hours on roads that felt abandoned by most of the population. Between mud trails, make-shift bridges over pristine streams, and acres surrounded by African palms and rubber trees, and the sun shining over us, it was nothing short of an adventure just to get to our destination.
The village, Adelita, is a remote community inhabited by Indigenous people who were persecuted during the Guatemalan genocide; conflict that included both state and guerrilla attacks. Many don’t speak Spanish; instead they speak one of 22 Mayan languages still in existence throughout Guatemala- “Q’eqchi”. So, in essence, we needed translators for the translators which certainly made for an extra layer of complexity and patience
There were few signs of what we would consider modern, everyday conveniences including cell phones, running water in homes, electricity, and basic infrastructure. Access to nutritious food is also extremely challenging where the “tienda” (the local store) sells primarily sugared drinks and heavily processed foods. Not surprisingly, our clinical team is often assessing for tooth decay, diabetes, hypertension, and stomach issues.
What was most distinctive about today’s clinic was the number of children we saw----women, often very young, with many, many children---a symbol of fertility that brings a certain status within the community. The beauty of course, is that these children are like any others--curious, playful, energetic and full of life!
We also had our OT support a teenager who experienced a life-altering injury with some assistive devices, and our nurses and physician completed two home visits for those that could not physically attend the clinic. In total, we saw approximately 200 people today…and after a long and bumpy road home, I’m confident that all of us will tuck-in early tonight!
Our Clinic Officially Opens!
This morning, with a sunny sky and the humidity making its presence known without pretense, we loaded into our vans and travelled about one hour to our first clinic destination--San Carlos Huitzil--a rural village that is surrounded by lush vegetation, a main road that dips and peaks with rocks and dirt, and a lovely two-room school.
When we arrived, the village leader was already waiting to greet us, and it was clear that the school had been prepped to accommodate our arrival, including a fresh scent in the air of clean floors and desks, chairs ready to be re-purposed into a waiting area, and tables that would serve as nursing assessment areas. We quickly set up our stations including a reception area, five nursing assessment areas, a physician consultation zone, an eye-glass area, pharmacy, and finally, a care-package area that allowed for distribution of essential toiletries and special “treats” for the children (shoes, hats, toys etc.).
The reception area filled quickly--we strategically added a children’s table for colouring to manage wait times--and throughout the day we saw women, men, and children of all ages. Some could not write, others had difficulty remembering how old they were, while others were eager to help their neighbors to navigate our questions and process with them. Our translators (Monica, Hector, Alex, and Jocelyn) are clearly instrumental to the smooth running of the clinic, particularly with supporting the nurses to, as best as possible, assess the person’s needs. Lori (our “Jefa”) remarked that the true success of a clinic is if patients who have received care call their neighbors to come, and sure enough, throughout the day, we saw more and more villagers walking towards us. At the end of the day, we estimate we saw approximately 145 people, likely a good proportion of the entire village!
With our first clinic in hand, we headed home, tired and sweaty but with the satisfaction that we did something worthwhile…and we did it together.
To pack or not to pack... that is the question...
The answer: pack everything! After a good night’s sleep and a local breakfast with plantains and refried beans, we got straight to work. The task: divide all supplies, donations, and equipment into ten hockey bags---two bags designated for each clinic day. It felt a bit like our first unofficial test as a team---how quickly and accurately could we fill the bags together with not a lot of room to spread out, and thousands of supplies (including toothbrushes, toothpaste, vitamins, medicine, wheelchairs, walkers, nursing paraphernalia, toys, school bags etc.) to organize. We devised an assembly-line approach that served us well, and by lunch time, our collective efforts paid off with all bags ready to go.