Since July, I have been answering the eternal ex-pat question, “How did you get here?” thus:
“I have a very, very old friend, Kevin Garcia, who took an interest in a medical mission sent from his HS alma mater about 10 years ago and he (rightly) thought that I might enjoy Panajachel. So, he introduced me to Dr. Carlos Flores of Vivamos Mejor and the rest is Utterances.”
Kevin has traveled with the Jesuit Medical Mission (JMM) on two of their prior trips in Central America and, since I was already on the ground in Guatemala, he invited me to participate with the team and to do advance logistics for their four day blitz visit.
The JMM model is extraordinary because it gives high school juniors and seniors, bent towards medicine, a chance to make a difference in a hands-on clinical setting. And, for sure, everyone would leave with bragging rights about the experience.
The JMM traveling team was formidable. Leading the team is Jan Jones, the visionary biology teacher from Jesuit who helped form the Jesuit Medical Society 13 years ago. Along with Jan came another dedicated faculty member, Ben Kirby, four professional volunteers from the Baylor Medical System (3 doctors and a social worker) and seven exuberant Jesuit students. Kevin, again, volunteered and brought his son, Drew, on his second tour, and his daughter, Olivia, on her first – that made 16. All three Garcias and Kathy Brady, MSW would act as indefatigable translators – changing English to Spanish in order to be converted into the local Quiche and Kaqchikel dialects – spoken by the indigenous Mayans.
After flying out of Texas at “o’dark-thirty;” taking hours to clear customs and enduring a rough three hour ride into the Guatemalan highlands this team rolled into Pana in late afternoon all ready to set up the ad hoc pharmacy and start treating “the long colorful line” of patients.
In conjunction with supporting the Medical Club trip, Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas does a medicine drive. This year JMM hauled down about 500 pounds of medicines to dispense. Much of the medicines that are not donated are bought from MAPS, a Medical Assistance Program from which organizations can buy prescription grade medicines at cost for mission trips. The Jesuit Mission was hosted by two local NGO’s again this year: Mayan Families and Vivamos Mejor. They provided local doctors, clinic spaces and fielded translators, drivers, nurses and Social Workers in Panajachel and in the more rural, Nahuala
From Day 1, Doctor Louis de Pena of Mayan Famlies dove in – treating and coaching for hours on end. He even thanked JMM for bringing in the “chaos.”
As noisy and funky as it seemed on Day 1 – things smoothed out by mid morning of Day 2. The boys rotated through three positions — variously shadowing the doctors, doing patient intake or working in the pharmacy. In any slow times, they played with the little ones – or engaged the waiting patients.
Looking beyond the stern facts of poverty driven disease, this Medical Jornada gave the students a joyous opportunity to meet and interact people-to-people and to be welcomed as professionals.
Day2 we would break for lunch with Mayan Families’ captain at her house. The meal at Helen’s was a special treat. Being invited into a private home to eat Tipica (beans, rice, tortillas and meat) in the cool shade after a hustling all morning was just what we needed.
Over dinners, the leader’s conversations would turn serious – planning, how to improve on delivery and speculating on where to find funding and partners for the next year(s).
Dr. Rhonda Walton had a reputation, already. She was reknown for saving the last infant, on the last day from pneumonia last year. This year, she was wondering about the effects of the body wash JMM brought for scabies — It needs to be washed off and she was concerned that patients might not have sufficient clean water for the rinse. “Plus,” she worried, “They sleep in their damp mildewed cloths for warmth” –Later, on a lighter note she enthused about a Neo-Natal Resuscitation training that could be distributed in pictograms the method had shown a longitudinal impact — particularly in countries with home births. Dr. Rhonda would wryly note that the Nahuala clinic was much slicker than last year’s space – at least no chickens jumped into her lap while she was seeing an infant.
Dr. Rana Pascoe was still pondering her tentative diagnosis for an infant, who had come in with no muscle tone… flaccid. She theorized it was the effect of untreated neonatal jaundice. Dr. Rana told the mother that she might do some exercises to help the child, who at 18 months still could not turn over. The grateful mother asked if she could have her husband listen in, too. And, so, this doctor instructed the girl’s eager parents in an activity like “patterning.”
On another matter, Dr. Pascoe would explain why (besides the tortured and strained working positions of weavers, laundresses and farmers) all the people had headaches. She recounted an interaction with a woman whose husband beats her and how as a doctor she was frustrated because she was only here for a short time and could only offer Tylenol. Clearly, no further social support was available and, more, there are prohibitions against leaving your husband– assuming that you had the money to do so. She concluded that “Here, there is no word for ‘Depression.’ And, if there were, they probably couldn’t talk about it, anyway.”
After lunch, I accompanied Dr. Yolanda Brady on what would become unsuccessful phone foray. Alas, she could not phone home. Meanwhile Yolanda asked me lots of questions on our stroll — like how long I was going to stay here. She expressed professional alarm about my responses. Apparently she thought my seeming lack of direction, high golf scores, matching blood pressure and various losing market positions were worrisome. I agreed. But, hey, there was so much going on and so many people that I would not have time to probe the other thoughts of the very serious Dr. Yolanda.
On Day 3, the team left all pronto-like at 7:30AM …. without me because I was getting my coffee at Solo Cafe.
Not wanting to miss the action, I was frantic to get to Nahuala and began racing for the chicken bus (that might not leave for hours) when I saw an angelic face driving a USAID SUV.
He seemed to be slowing down…
And, being an old hitchhiker, I asked him – all but randomly “Are you going to Nahuala?”
He answered with the question, “Are you Diana?” And, so I came to know Santos Alvarez, Vivamos Mejor’s big hearted Social Worker in Nahuala.