HEALTH TALENTS INTERNATIONAL
Surgical Clinica at Clinica Ezell
Montellano, Suchitepequez, Guatemala
September 6-13, 2003

By Marie Agee

Trip Participants: Drs. Ed Grogan, Eric Grogan, Ana-Maria Gray, Crista Johnson, Graham Loynd, Fred Mecklenburg, and Lawrence Freund; CRNAs Kevin Burns and Eddie Milam; Pharmacists Katherine Alsup and Jeff Johnson; Nurses Rebecca Bednarek, Neva Berkey, Leah Bradshaw, Barbara Cornell, Leslie Doke, Patricia Frawley, Carol Lowrance, Nick Maynard, Vicki Ratts, Bonnie Spink and Michelle Walker; OR Tech Richard Yates; Pre-op Jerry Vanlandingham; Chaplain Dan Campbell; Translators Dianne Martin and Melanie Smalling; Sterilization crew Alfred Anderson and Todd Ratts; Team leaders Marie Agee and Rick Harper.

Not only did everyone arrive on time with no travel complications, but every bit of our luggage made it to Guatemala without a hitch. We took that as a good omen for the week! As is typical of our routine, we spent the night at Seteca and arose early to drive on up to Clinica Ezell. Patients were lined up upon our arrival, so after a bit of breakfast and a time of unpacking supplies, the task we had come to Guatemala to do was begun in earnest. Contrary to our initial optimism, the first day proved to be a very long and frustrating one.

The very first gyn case was more complicated and time consuming than anticipated. Fortunately, the patient recovered nicely, but it took a while for our schedule to get back on track. In the general surgery room, things were slowed down because so many of the patients had bi-lateral hernias. By the second day, it was obvious that that we would need to do something we had not planned to do…open the third operating room for surgery. We had always been reluctant to run three rooms at once for fear of overloading the recovering room and exhausting the nurses. There was nothing else to do, however, if we were to have any hope of providing the surgical care so many had come for.

By starting early and working late into the evening using all three rooms, we began to see a difference in the pace. By the end of the last day, the general surgeons, Dr. Ed and Eric Grogan reported that they had treated 48 patients and had performed 59 separate procedures (54 hernias, 3 hydroceles, and 1 groin exploration). Two of the patients were children. The gynecologists reported that 27 patients had had gynecological surgery. This made for a record total of 75 patients in one week! This amounted to 74 people who had been blessed by the touch of the hands of Christian surgeons. These Christian surgeons had gone to Guatemala to reflect the gratitude they felt for all they had been given through Christ Jesus.

There were several highlights during the week—both within the ranks of our patients and the visiting team. First, the patients.

Seems as though there is always one patient that stands out in my mind after each trip. This time it was a tiny little old lady with a big spirit. She stood only about 3’ 8” tall and had a huge dowager’s hump on her back, but as soon as she could get out of bed, she was up helping others. She kept her eyes on all the IV’s around her and alerted the nurses if any of them needed attention. When a patient began twisting and squirming around in the bed, she would go get a nurse to check on them to see if they were in pain. Though she was no taller or heavier than a 10-year-old child in our culture, this little Mayan lady made a huge impact on everyone!

An amusing thing happened that reflected the growth of our reputation in the community. One of our patients was a 20-something young man who had had hernia repair. Turns out he spoke English, which is quite unusual in that community. His story was that he had been living and working in Los Angeles for several months and knew that he desperately needed hernia repair but had no insurance. He was from Mazatenango, about 45 minutes away from Clinica Ezell. His family sent word to him that the Gringo doctors were coming again, so he slipped back into Guatemala (as easily as he had slipped into the U.S. probably) and went to see Dr. Sergio Castillo. He confirmed the diagnosis and scheduled him for surgery. I didn’t ask him what he planned to do after he recovered, but I think we can all guess!

It was a major source of joy to see general surgeons father and son, Drs. Ed and Eric Grogan, operate together all week. A more kind and humble pair would be hard to find. Eric had recruited nearly a dozen folks from his church, Brentwood Hills Church of Christ in Nashville and Vanderbilt Hospital, where he is a resident. The attitudes and spirits that this group possessed were just wonderful. They seemed to really understand why we were there.

In the gyn room, we had retired gynecologist Dr. Graham Loynd, fresh from a trip to Malawi with Suzi Stephens. What a capable, good-natured guy he is! And from the Washington, D.C., area, we had Dr. Fred Mecklenburg, chairman of the OB/Gyn Department at George Washington Hospital, Dr. Ana-Maria Gray and ob/gyn resident Crista Johnson. They, too, were extremely capable and dedicated to the task of providing surgical care that their patients so needed.

I must mention the nursing staff, as well. We have had some really fine groups of nurses on our clinics, but this one was extra special. To a man (or woman!) they were excited about being there and diligent to the task at hand. From Neva Berkey, who acted as head nurse, past veterans such as Vicki Ratts, Bonnie Spink and Barb Cornell to newcomers, Nick Maynard and Shelly Walker, and the Vanderbilt team, the nurses worked together as a well-oiled machine!

We rarely are blessed to have a pharmacist as a part of a surgical team, but on this trip we had two of them: Katherine Alsup and Jeff Johnson. They were invaluable in dispensing their knowledge about which meds were needed, but they were so flexible. The image of Katherine sitting in the floor of the pharmacy stuff patient take-home bags, complete with Spanish Bibles, will stay with me for quite some time! (The patients love these bags. One little lady stopped me in pre-op and made me promise that we would be sure to save one for her when SHE went home!)

And, of course, undergirding everything was the help of the non-medical staff. Translators Melanie Smalling and Dianne Martin worked ceaselessly to keep communication flowing. The ever reliable sterilization crew, veteran Alfred Anderson and first-timer Todd Ratts never left their post. People often ask me how they could help if they aren’t medical professionals. The truth is that without translation help and sterile instruments, none of the above would be possible. There is a role that nearly everyone can play in this ministry.

These trips are always spiritual experiences for me, and as chaplain, Dan Campbell helped keep things in focus. Each evening he reminded us in different ways to remember the Great Physician, the giver of all good health. Such a great week. Thanks to all of you who participated.