Last week I returned home from my first medical relief mission. Myself, and a team of talented medical professionals, embarked on a journey to provide care to a population with little to no hospital access. We set up mobile clinics in multiple locations and treated an array of illnesses with the medications and supplies we had available to us. I was touched by the stories of many patients, and so glad to be able to use my skills to help others in need.
Before we set up our last clinic, on our last day in Guatemala, we visited a family home nearby to better understand how the average household functions. It was, perhaps, the experience that affected me most.
A single room home with walls made of corn stock and only one bed for the entire family. Mud floors, which soak and turn into puddles when it rains. A “stove”, essentially a fire pit next to their bed, covering the ceiling and walls in soot that the family with young children breathe constantly. The family living in these conditions, making the best out of what they have, in circumstances I would have never been able to imagine. When I first committed to this trip I expected to see a different quality of life, but I was not prepared for just how drastic that difference is. It has sparked self-reflection and inner debates about the purpose of my life. When I came home I walked into my own house, looked at my large bed, and wondered to myself how I ended up here and they didn’t. I felt guilty, and struggled to understand how people living on the same planet can be in such different worlds. Since I’ve been back, what I used to consider ordinary has taken on new meaning. My house has increased in value, perhaps not in numbers, but in appreciation. Food tastes better. Grocery stores appear larger. Materialism now a foreign concept.
Ultimately, the purpose of this trip was to help others in need, and I believe we succeeded in that. But it also opened my eyes to the privilege I often overlook in my own life. I’m grateful to be a part of such an amazing team, doing such amazing things, and look forward to more opportunities in which I can help in the future.
Jennifer D’Alimonte, RN.
Today was our last day. My feet are sore from standing on concrete floors all day. I have been working in the pharmacy and we have seen every patient over the five clinic days. They have been full days; non-stop days. One day, I didn’t even get to the washroom until 4:30. For me, that’s a miracle (and not an everyday miracle). But, all said and done, I am not tired. I am invigorated. I could not have worked with a better team and seeing the smiling faces of these beautiful children helps take your mind off your own problems.
Working in the pharmacy has given me a new appreciation of the role pharmacists play in our health care system.
Miranda, our pharmacist, was amazing in how she was able to partner with the doctors to find a medicinal solution or to find a substitution med when we ran out of the first choice.
So, my feet, they’re not really sore, they’re experienced in a way that could only have been Guatemala.
Today’s clinic day saw us in the village of Pastores. This beautiful location is tucked between two mountains and is well known for its leather work, specifically shoe and boot making. Every store makes and sells leather footwear.
Our medical team were kept on their ‘toes’ all day as we cared for the community’s healthcare needs.
We saw infants in respiratory distress, many cases of Chickungunya, and worked with local paramedics to help get a woman with a serious intestinal bleed to a hospital. Dr. Greg and nurse Monica also did a house call nearby!
As team members move in and out of various situations and roles we can count on each other’s support to keep the medical clinic functioning at full capacity.
Throughout the week Dr. Santina has been a key supporter of the team. Dr. Santina is our ‘cheerleader’. She is there to offer advice, expert knowledge and encouragement. It is her encouragement that has sustained us through the busy week. At the end of a long day Dr. Santina’s infectious positive energy provides the spark to ignite us.
Dr. Santina connects with people with great intent. She holds you in her attention listening to your story to ensure full understanding of what is being shared. This purposeful connection with people enables her patients to feel ‘cocooned’ within her protective care. It is a comfort to know women around the world have a strong advocate and friend in Dr. Santina.
Dr. Santina is a Gynaecologist/Obstetrician.
Thursday was a well deserved rest day. Since arriving in Guatemala, the team has worked non-stop. We started the week with a full day preparing to be mobile, then straight into 3 long clinic days. It was good to have a day to rejuvenate as we move into the last few days of our work in Guatemala.
Team members took time to learn more about the people of Guatemala, specifically Antigua. What a beautiful historical town. Antiqua is a city in Southern Guatemala surrounded by volcanos. Indeed today we heard a great ‘rumble’ from one of the volcanos. Two days ago the same volcano showed some activity by sending smoke into the sky.
I would be remiss if I did not once again share about our exceptional healthcare team. Every member of the team brings so much of themselves, that we are truly greater than our sum. The synergy among the team builds each individual up so that only the very best is exposed.
Everyone demonstrates leadership in action.
Our hospitalist, Dr. Greg, is the epitome of leadership with humility. He brings so much humanity, caring and dignity to his health care work that it demands others to follow suit, making a difference in the lives of all he comes in contact with. Dr. Greg’s patients benefit from his expertise and we have the privilege to work with him.
Stay tuned for news on our last 2 clinic days.
Day 3 in Guatemala saw the team incredibly busy. Today they broke into two teams. A clinic team and a teaching team.
The amazing medical team were in two communities. The morning saw them in Parramos and the afternoon clinic they worked in Antigua. What has quickly become the norm, the clinics were very busy with people waiting for us prior to our arrival. I cannot emphasize enough how hard the medical team works. It truly is a collaborative team working together well into the late evening to ensure every person who needs to is seen by a medical care provider.
At both locations the logistics of ensuring a streamlined movement of people from registration, through the clinic and onto the pharmacy is accomplished by Lisa and Ken. Their welcoming manner is a blessing to the families in a hot and crowded environment. Great thanks to them both for their work.
The teaching team taught two sessions on the subjects of paediatric dehydration, newborn care and obstetrical management. Our audience was Guatemalan medics and nursing students. The morning and afternoon session saw us reaching out to over 120 students and paramedics.
It was rewarding for us to meet the students and other healthcare providers in Guatemala. The high professional standard and drive for knowledge will ensure devoted healthcare individuals for Guatemala.
Having been able to be a part of the Guatemalan healthcare community, even for a short time, is a life experience. I give thanks to the students and paramedics for letting us be part of their learning and work life.
Rebecca McAlpine, NP
EMI Medical Programs Director
Today was another day of driving along narrow streets with walls lining the pathway to our destination where we are met by the lineup of patient locals waiting for healthcare.
We never know who will be there. We never know who we will see. They wait acceptingly and with a smile to meet with a healthcare provider to share their story.
I endeavor to practice the simple ministry of presence today — purposing to be present not knowing their world but caring, loving, and giving with compassion.
Monica Friesen, RN
What a fantastic day we had! It was our first day offering medical relief to the Guatemalan community of Chimaltenango. Our whole team was fully engaged to ensure all those who came to the clinic received individualized care.
Our paediatrician, Dr. Michael, was a big hit! He was constantly surrounded by children. He spent the day examining and treating infants, toddlers and children. Every parent whose child was seen by Dr. Michael was greatly comforted to have the expertise of a Canadian paediatrician.
The pharmacy team, lead by Miranda, was a “work of art”. They were a streamlined, efficient team working tirelessly into the evening. Miranda ensured that all 320 individuals received their treatment medications with an explanation and written instructions corresponding to the medications.
For myself, the most humbling experience of the day was the hug I received from an eleven year old boy who came to the clinic completely by himself. This lad had cellulitis of the lower leg. He was treated with medication injected directly into the muscle and given medication to be continued over the next several days. The relief this young man felt was expressed in a spontaneous hug. I was blessed to have been at the receiving end of this expression of emotion.
I give thanks to the community of Chimaltenango for letting us be a part of their lives for a moment. It was an honour to be with you.
Rebecca McAlpine, NP
EMI Medical Programs Director
Day one is spent sorting and preparing for the first clinic day. This requires “all hands on deck” and everyone helps to get things done. This means counting and sorting medications, vitamins and supplies as well as photocopying and paper cutting. The team is excited and ready to go.
Everyone is safe and sound in Guatemala this morning.
“We arrived safe and sound and on time and were met by the Loving Arms people who transported us to Antigua. All our bags arrived without incident and cleared customs, including the hockey bags containing medical supplies and vitamins. After a 1 hour drive to Antigua the team checked into the hotel and looked forward to a good night’s sleep.
Today we are going to the Loving Arms Centre to sort medicines, prepare the pharmacy supplies and get ready for the first clinic day. We will be taking some photos and will send them.” Ken Dick, president.
The first clinic day tomorrow will be a “first” for some of our team members and a “first in a long time” for others. It is an experience they will not soon forget. Being a part of providing a much-needed service to people who do not have access to regular medical care is life-changing. We can’t wait to hear from each of these team members about their experiences.