HEALTH TALENTS INTERNATIONAL
GUATEMALA SURGERY CLINIC
September 11-18, 2004

Participants: Drs. Ed Grogan, Eric Grogan, Courtney Collinson, Richard Herzog, Cindy Brown, James Martenson; CRNAs Kevin Burns, David Perkins, Kelly Saylor; Nurses Ashley Baker, Sharon Bradford, Leah Bradshaw, Jay Cancel, Suzzie Carrasco, Barb Cornell, Betty Dickerson, Patricia Frawley, Darlena Hudnall, Maryann Jozkowski, Rayelene McClane, Joe Smith, Bonnie Spink and Chris Zimpritsch; Pharmacist Jeff Johnson; EMT Lupita Sisneros; Translator Dianne Martin; Phlebotemist Jena Wells; Ancillary Personnel John Henry, John McClane, Sharon Midgett, Rosemary Geddes, Ruth Smith, Jeanne Burch, Luke Brown, Jimmy Martenson, and Marie Agee. (25 of these people were first-timers!)

The team’s arrival in Guatemala was very easy. There were no travel complications, except for the fact that our designated chaplain, Eddie Randolph, had decided not to come at the last minute because of Hurricane Ivan. Eddie and his family had moved to Tampa, Florida, only the month before and had already endured Hurricanes Charley and Francis. He did not think it a good idea to leave his family with Ivan looming on the horizon! In his stead, John McClane, a former minister, and John Henry, a hospice chaplain, volunteered to rotate as chaplain. We began to affectionally called them I John and II John.

The luggage arrived on time--even though the very last piece that finally made it to the conveyor belt was one of mine! We proceeded to load the bus and drive to Seteca to spend the night.

Upon arrival at Clinica Ezell the next morning, we had breakfast and did some initial unpacking and setting up before walking across the road to church. Baldemar preached and Carlos led the singing. John McClane (I John) led us in a couple of English songs during the service. It was quite uplifting.

We returned to Ezell, had lunch, and began operating. One of the gyn patients developed some post-surgery hemorrhage, so the gynecologists took her back to surgery and repaired that. She then did well.

By Monday the rhythm of the team had developed and things were moving along. There were plenty of hernias to repair as well as prolapsed uteri to remove. Our youngest patient of the week was a precious two-year-old girl who did extremely well after her hernia surgery. She was not out of surgery more than an hour or so when she woke up hungry and ready to go home! As her mother tried to feed her, she impatiently grabbed the spoon from her hand to feed herself! Our oldest patient of the week was an 85-year-old woman who had hernia repair. She, too, was delightful...always wearing a smile.

Many of the surgery cases this week were major, Some hernias were repeats from previous surgery clinics. (We never have any repeat hysterectomies!) With the additional bovie machine and newly donated anesthesia machine in operating room 2, Drs. Ed and Eric Grogan were able to utilize two rooms for general surgery throughout the week. Except for the need for extra nurses, that worked well. I John (John McClane), Sharon Midgett, and Luke Brown became "autoclave specialists" during the week, although none of them had ever done it before.

The container of medical equipment and supplies that we’d shipped several weeks before arrived while we were there, thankfully. With the help of lots of people, we were able to unload the truck in a short time. Two pallets were full of donated dental supplies, which made Dr. Silvia Albizures, our resident dentist, very happy! The container also included four donated dental chairs. On Wednesday night John Henry, who is a terrific fix-it guy in addition to being a hospice chaplain, removed Silvia’s old beat-up, raggedy dental chair and replaced it, with the help of several others. Because the lamp fixture was on the wrong side of the new chair for the room, however, John spent much of the next day reversing it. He had to go to town to have some holes drilled through the metal attachment then re-attach it to the chair. Alex and Walter, in their spare time, painted a couple of her walls that badly needed it. Silvia was thrilled!

Ruth Smith, Jimmy Martenson, and Luke Brown helped do some basic organization in the supply room after the shipment came in. Rosemary Geddes spent endless hours out there in the heat with me later sorting thru and organizing. Ruth later spent hours doing the same in the "clean" room. Her husband, Joe, who works with Healing Hands in Nashville, was a tremendous source of expertise in repairing and even identifying surgical equipment.

John Henry, on another day, climbed up on the roof of the kitchen/dining building to remove the exhaust fan motor for the kitchen. Seems it had somehow been installed backwards and was blowing hot air into the room rather than removing it! Not surprisingly, it made a huge difference in the temperature of the kitchen later!

The surgeries proceeded without incident, and the recovery room nurses worked tirelessly to care for their charges. We struggled a bit all week because of not having the full supply of nurses in the recovery room that we needed because of two nurses who dropped out too late to replace them and running three operating rooms fulltime. Even Dr. Jim Martenson, a radiation oncologist from the Mayo Clinic, pitched in and worked as a nurse all week.

On Tuesday we had a bit of an emergency when we had a "walk-in." The woman appeared to be in her 40’s, and she was running a fever of 101 degrees. Dr. Ed Grogan examined her and said she appeared to have gallstones. His plan was to give her some antibiotics then operate on her the next day. Within an hour, her temperature had risen to 105.8, indicating serious trouble! Dr. Walter Sierra packed her up and took her to the hospital in Mazatenango, where they have more extensive testing capability than we had. He returned several hours later saying that her fever had gone down and after getting a sonogram on her, the surgeon agreed to operate either later that day or the next.

One patient was 9-year-old Luis, who was so badly tongue-tied that even his mother could not understand him when he tried to talk. Neither surgeon had ever performed this type of surgery before, but upon hearing that my son had had the surgery twice and learning that David Perkins, one of the CRNAs, had helped with it numerous times, they decided to clip his tongue. He did very well during surgery, but the next day scared us a time or two when he spiked a fever. Fortunately, the antibiotics and lots of prayer took care of whatever the problem was, and he did well. Since Aubry Burr is a speech therapist, she volunteered to give him speech therapy. What a difference in his life that boy received!

Our patients were such a source of joy...and amusement. One woman came out of surgery praying really, really loudly as soon as she woke up. She would drift off to sleep then wake up and begin again. After about the third time, another patient got out of her bed, walked over to the woman, and shook her finger in her face repeatedly while saying something in Quiche. We could only imagine that she was telling her that she didn’t have to yell for God to hear her!

By week’s end, the gyn surgeons had performed 20 procedures and the general surgeons had performed 44 procedures, mostly hernias.

On Thursday everyone who wanted to made the trek to see the waterfall. The trip to and from was part of the experience because you have to travel through small, native Mayan villages that provide a window into the world where so many of our patients live. The trip is a vital part of the week. As one of the team members said, "It put all the pieces together."

On our last night together, we presented the HTI Spirit Award, which goes to the team member who went above and beyond the call of duty to make the trip special. The award went to CRNA Kelly Saylor, for sharing his funny, funny story of his experience when as a young man he was accosted by a drunk who tried to carjack his truck late one night in North Alabama. None of us will ever forget it, I’ll bet!

Mostly, however, the group will remember this surgical clinic as a special time of working together as a team to serve others by following the example of our Lord. We are grateful that all our patients did well and for the prayers of so many who helped make it happen.