HEALTH TALENTS INTERNATIONAL
Trip Report
March 27-April 3, 2004

By Marie Agee

Participants: Drs. Phil Bates, Grady Bruce, Jeff Lodge, Graham Loynd, Ken Mitchell, David Craig, and Ld Herzog; Dentist Dr. John Bailey, Jr.; CRNA Jan DeHaven; Nurses Neva Berkey, Jennifer Brown, Kelli Carter, Tina Hombs, Grace Jenson, Betsy Keene, Nick Maynard, Angela Miller, Albert Stroud, Jr., Ashley Towler, Tanya Trapp, and Ken Williams; Pharmacist Debbie Gale; 4th yr med student Rick Quincy; Surg tech Jason Vega; Pre-op Jerry Ervin; Chaplain Billy Morris; and support personnel Darol Bennett, Jacqueline Giles, Shea Hovater, Hilarie Maynard, Taylor Whaley, and Marie Agee.

The team arrived in Guatemala without incident, although two bags didn’t arrive with the group. That’s always an aggravation. Since I had gone via Tampa, Florida, in order to attend my nephew’s wedding on Saturday, I didn’t arrive until midday Sunday. Carlos and a young man named Seth Moseley, who attends Woodmont Hills in Nashville, met me. Seth is studying Spanish in Antigua and is entering medical school this fall. He had requested permission to help with the clinic so he could practice his Spanish and get some initial exposure to the operating room.

Sunday: When the team arrived at Ezell on Sunday morning, they found an extremely full slate of patients awaiting them. The list was so long that Dr. Phil Bates and Ken Mitchell decided to proceed with operating rather than waiting until after church. Several of the team members did attend, however, and were blessed by the experience. Even starting surgery earlier than we normally do, the surgeons worked until 9:30 that night to get all 17 patients cared for. This was after leaving 4 patients over to Monday. It was WAY TOO LONG a day for everyone, especially with the short night of sleep the night before. Seventeen patients were the most we did any day during the week. Everyone was totally exhausted before it was over. Phil talked with Sergio about the grueling schedule and they resolved to lighten it up for the rest of the week. Sergio explained that he had counted on running all three operating rooms all day long each day, but we just didn’t have enough staff to do that.

Monday: On Monday things clipped right along. We learned that one of our gyn patients had given birth to 25 children--and she had 28 grandchildren... so far! Another had had 9 children in 10 years. Still another woman, who was 29, had had to have her uterus removed because of a prolapse, when she was only 20 years old.

One darling little 7-year-old girl, named Silvia Pablo, whose picture I’ll post on the website, was from Santiago, on the banks of Lake Atitlan. The doctors with the Lipscomb team had held a clinic there the week before and had seen her. They discovered she had a hernia, and told her father about the surgical team that was coming in just a couple of weeks. When the time came for the surgery team to be there, the father and his daughter boarded a bus headed to Montellano. He kept asking for directions along the way until he arrived at Clinica Ezell. Once there, he was able to get Sergio to examine her and schedule her for surgery. That’s persistence!

When I was at ACU’s lectureship in February, I met Dr. John Bailey, Jr., son of the famous missionary to India, J.C. Bailey. The John I met is an oral surgeon who had been scheduled to go somewhere with another group this Spring, but that trip fell through. When he learned the date of this surgery clinic, he asked if he could go along. He worked each day with either Silvia or Walter and seemed really pleased with his experience. Silvia had saved him some challenging extraction cases, which he appreciated, and he really enjoyed going out to the villages with Walter. He was very fun to be around, and he says he enjoyed being with us and talked of coming again and again. He stressed to the other first time team members that our accommodations were certainly not the norm in mission work, but at the same time we should not be embarrassed to have Clinica Ezell, rather we should be grateful. That was nice, I thought.

I worked as a circulator nurse on several cases and prepped several. I watched Phil Bates repair an incisional hernia just like the one I had had repaired in January. In fact, I had brought my freshly washed binder that I had worn after my surgery so that someone else could use it. Phil chose to put it on this patient. How appropriate!

A couple of cases later, I watched Phil do the same procedure again, only this time it was on a man. He had a lot more belly fat than the woman did, so it looked quite different.

One elderly patient had a known cardiac problem, and she gave the post-op crew a bit of a scare initially when she arrived after surgery. She soon settled down, however. Thank God.

By the end of the day on Monday, the team had operated on 14 people, including 3 children (2 girls and a boy). They all had hernias.

Tuesday: Today Dr. Grady Bruce performed a prostectomy. It was only the second one ever done at Clinica Ezell. The patient’s name was Pedro, and he did quite well, with only a minor complication later in the week.

Early in the day a patient climbed up onto the surgical table and began quietly crying as she awaited her anesthesia. I ran over to her and wrapped my arms around her, whispering words of comfort. I began to pray in Spanish for God to be with her and keep her safe. She suddenly quit crying and began to pray herself! I could literally feel the tension and fear leaving her body!

The team members worked together quite well, which helped speed things along. Phil Bates and Grady Bruce worked together as well as separately to repair hernias, and Grady also worked with members of the gyn team in performing "bladder slings" and other procedures. I usually worked in Grady’s room when I worked as a circulator. As green as I was at it, I was pleased that Grady and Jason both told me that I did an excellent job!

On Tuesday afternoon several of us went over to the church for a children’s class that Jacqueline Giles had planned. Since Jacqueline does not speak Spanish, she asked Alex to do the teaching. Baldemar had arranged for about 30-40 children to be there. The activities lasted about two hours, and even then the children seemed reluctant to leave.

As I got to know the new team members personally, I learned that several had serious problems in their personal lives. In addition to the good these trips provide the Guatemalans, they are a balm to us in the midst of turmoil that sometimes invades our lives.

Wednesday: Everything continued to move along without complication, for which we were all grateful. The patients did well, the team members got along well and carried their share of the load cheerfully, with the Guatemalan folks working as hard as we did. I was fortunate enough to get a private room in the dorm this time, so I had lots of time to keep good notes. (That’s why this report is longer than normal!)

I was pleased with how the supplies are holding up, especially the sterile gowns. Rick reported having only 63 left after the February trip, and since we use about 300 on each of these trips, I repeated reminded the team members to bring some. And bring them they did! After the clinic was over, we had 91 left! One of the team members told me he had spoken with someone who represents several different medical supply companies. He thinks he can get us a continuing supply of gowns. He’s going to pursue that further when he gets home.

Ken Mitchell shared during the evening devo that they had started to take a woman back for surgery when they realized that no one had prayed for her yet, so they took her back to pre-op, gathered around her, and began to pray. As they began, so did the whole line of waiting patients! He said it was a wonderfully beautiful and touching experience.

Spanish-speaking Jerry Ervin then told of praying with one woman, who also began praying. The amazing and encouraging thing was that as he was praying for her... she was praying for all of us!

I had arranged with Carlos for the team "field trip" this time to be a visit to the Pacific Ocean, on the western coast of Guatemala. None of us had ever been before. In order to do this, we had to arrange two trips because all the nurses could not be gone at one time. So, on Wednesday afternoon we had determined to take a pickup full of nurses to the beach. After talking among themselves, however, they decided they wanted to go to the waterfall because most of them had never seen it. So they made that trip... and got wet in the bargain because the seasonal rains had begun to fall! They loved it, though.

Thursday: This is "down to the wire" day. No gyn surgery is ever done on Thursday, but in order to be free for the field trip, the gyn team members teamed with the general surgery team to get all the cases done on time. Nine cases were scheduled, but since two people didn’t show up, there were only 7. That made it easy to get finish in time for lunch and still visit the coast.

The coast was a weird experience. We traveled down a long stretch of road alongside banana and date palm plantations that looked different from any place I’ve ever been in Guatemala. The groves were beautiful, but the whole place had a tropical look to it. The houses in that area are built up on stilts. When we reached the coast, it was really depressing! The beach was nasty, with garbage, broken glass, and trash strewn everywhere, and the little tiendas standing sadly waiting for the "season" to begin, I guess. Others noticed, as I did, that the people were not even friendly to us, as though they didn’t want us there. I’ve never experienced that in Guatemala. Phil Bates said he felt that the village had an oppressive air about it, and I agree.

On Thursday morning the dentist, Billy Morris (the chaplain), and Brandon Bingman, a Lipscomb grad who was working in Guatemala and helping as a translator, all went with Walter to San Basilio, choosing to miss the coastal trip. As they traveled the long road up to San Basilio, an elderly man flagged them down and asked them to come see his daughter. The woman had the largest hernia that Walter had ever seen! They had pictures to prove it! She said she’d had it for 7-8 years and had been to several do doctors, but no one would agree to fix it. I can understand why.

The devo on Thursday night was heartwarming, as usual. Billy Morris is a minister from Green River, Wyoming, and he did a great job this week. He wants me to come to his church in May to spread the word about HTI. It was reassuring that all the new people on the team said they wanted to return. The surgical tech, Jason Vega, had written a rap piece about surgery and performed it for us. It was hysterical!

The final patient total was 70, with all doing well. For this, we all praise God!

On Friday the doctors made rounds, we had breakfast, said our goodbyes, then drove to Antigua. We stayed at Hotel Los Pasos, a small family-owned hotel, which we filled up completely. It was great, cozy and charming! They provided dinner for us there at night as well. We arranged for wake-up calls for the next morning--which amounted to the desk clerk going around and knocking on everyone’s door. But, it worked! We made it to the airport in time, and later in the day arrived home tired but happy.