High school kids from Jesuit Medical Mission tentatively blinked out of two mini-vans about sundown last Wednesday night and it had taken them a real long day to get to Lake Atitlan from Dallas, Texas.
First, two tall Asian kids with short cropped hair and devilish smiles uncrumpled and, stood side by side before introducing themselves. I heard someone stage whisper that Tim Nguyen and Kevin Kim would try to confuse us by switching names. Next out, were two taciturn guys: Manoj Jacob and John Euart; their carefully chosen moments and words would prove as interesting as they were rare. Then, John Simion, a veteran of last year’s trip, swooped me high into the air and put me down in front of the serious looking Chris Steiner – this year’s designated el Oso. (You know, the chest thumping bear.) At last, Olivia Garcia, wedged her way through the guys to give me a hug. Last year, she had accompanied her dad as a “translator” but the doctors very purposely engaged her, too. (It is an open secret that some folks want to see her study medicine. And, she can wait to decide that until (at least) after high school..)
Alas, their first hours would be absorbed with logistics as we changed from the unacceptable hotel into better quarters. It was after eight when we finally sat down to supper at one of the Santiago Atitlan’s three restaurants. We would begin everyday there before traveling twenty minutes out of town, beyond the coffee and banana fields to the village of Chacaya. The town of 1,500 is announced by it’s memorial map. The large sign that shows churches, fields, evacuation routes and is variously graced by depictions. Along with flying Quetzals and pretty quipils lay three women in their own blood under an armored tank. The students were curious about this grizzly scene. I told them that the Civil War had been settled less than a generation ago and that many of their older patients may have seen the violence.
A few steps away was Pastor Pedro’s clinic where his son greeted us in a crisp shirt. Diego, is about fourteen and he would be stationed at the pharmacy to translate the doctor’s instructions into Tzutuil, the local Mayan dialect for the next few days. The students unloaded the ten fifty pound duffels and began to set up. Within a half an hour, medicines were in alphabetical order in plastic bags lining the twelve foot square building, the doctors were sufficiently settled into their rooms, the tent (that would be used for triage) popped up suddenly and after that the students began to sit down with their first patients.
All morning, the dirt field between the clinic and pharmacy filled with feral little boys wanting to play or to get sweets, toys and cash. At lunchtime, the students divided themselves and teamed with the youngsters for a pick-up game on the court behind the clinic. sitting on the concrete bleachers, we cheered for everybody while balancing our plates with grilled chicken and local vegetables.
At dinners, the students were funny and exceptional bright conversationalists. John Euart spoke with some sophistication about neuroplasticity. He had already read the most recent works on turning strokes and OCD around. Kevin Kim, who shared this interest would get the word that he had been accepted into the University of Chicago (home of the recently demolished and eponymous Dreyfus Research Labs.) The two “business guys,” Chris and Tim, were hatching clever models for opening their practices.
“Have a van pick up and deliver senior patients.”
“Build a one-stop complex with out-patient surgical suites, dental care, emergency room, etc.”
Aside from his kindly tent-side manner, everybody was impressed with Manoj’s alarmingly skillful bargaining.
Someone quickly made up this fictitious scene:
“Merchant : 300.
Manoj : ZERO
Merchant : 200.
Manoj : Okay. 30.”
One of the most effective offerings was a giant bag of toothbrushes and toothpaste. After handing this stuff out to the waiting hands in minutes Olivia and John presented dental training. There is no way to calculate how many teeth were saved by teaching kids why and how to brush..
The good/bad news was that patient load was not as heavy as last year. However, the doctors appreciated the additional time that they could take with patients and the students. At one point, John Simion said that he was glad that the crowds were thinner.
“The hardest thing, last year, was closing the gate on the people we could not see.”
In three days, the students would see a little less than three hundred patients presenting asthma, allergies, diarrhea, malnutrition, rashes, depression, anxiety and exhaustion and one case each of TB and CP. When I asked what was the best part of the trip, they answered that they enjoyed the team energy and most especially they loved the smiles and thanks that came from their giving this service.
Jesuit Medical Mission 2012 – The Supporting Posse