HEALTH TALENTS INTERNATIONAL
Guatemala Mobile Medical Clinic
October 30 - November 5, 2004

Participants: Physicians Dr. Steve Walker, Dr. David Weed; Dentists Dr. Jim Haller, Dr. Robert Lamb; Optometrist Dr. Van Smith; Nurses Greg Holder, Cheryl Crissup, Crystal Loden, Renai McClanahan, Mary Beth Petr, Pharmacists Guthrie Hite and Dave Ellis; Med Techs (married couple), Randy and Pam Richardson, Bill Stovall; Medical Students Jeanie Tryggestad, Jonathan Walker; Photographer Erik Tryggestad; Non-Medical Personnel Shirlie Ellis, Jim and Donna Freeman, Donna Lamb, Rob Lamb, Beverly North, Gary Tabor, Valari Wedel and Marie Agee.

The team arrived without incident, spent the night at Seteca, then traveled by bus to Chichicastenango the next morning in time for worship services at the Chichi Church of Christ. We actually arrived a couple of hours before church time, so we had time to go to the market for a while where we were privileged to see the legendary church in the center of town that offers both a Catholic mass indoors and a witch doctor’s ceremony on the front steps of the church.

Immediately after services concluded, the building was transformed into a medical/dental clinic, with the dentists, optometrist and pharmacy on the first floor and medicine and lab on the upper floor. Many of the non-medical folks set in counting out the 25,000 vitamin tablets we’d brought into packets of 30. In a short three hours, the medical team treated over 100 patients. The team then returned to the delightfully charming Santo Tomas Hotel for the night.

As we were loading up to drive to Mactzul Sexto on Monday morning, we heard music coming from the market area. Turns out it was the "Day of the Dead" celebration, which Guatemalans celebrate the day after we celebrate Halloween. The team begged for time to go see it and take a few pictures. It was quite a festive, colorful celebration, with about fifty colorfully plumed and costumed-bedecked men dancing in a circle. They had been dancing for at least 30 minutes before we went down to see them and continued with their dance after we left. It was really a sight to see!

We then boarded the bus and drove on to Mactzul, a Quiche village high in the mountains. The road was long and winding, but the scenery was very beautiful! The road proved to be too much for the bus to go all the way to the church building, so we parked at a school and walked down a long path to the road the church was on and finally arrived at the church. Thank goodness the dry season had begun...the bus would never have made it as far as it did if the roads were wet! The trek to the church on foot was fun, but the uphill climb after made it quite arduous for some of those among us, including myself!

The church building here was absolutely beautiful. Since many of the church leaders were present during the clinic, we had an opportunity to talk with them and learned that the congregation was 30 years old. For the past 25 years, they had been hosting an annual Quiche Church of Christ conference, and it had grown to where about 4,000 Quiche-speaking brothers and sisters in the Lord now attend! Quite an impressive feat!

We were impressed also by the elder because they helped us teach a children’s Bible class in Quiche. Donna Lamb had brought with her Bible stories that she had asked Dr. Mike Kelly to translate into Quiche for her. Naturally, we weren’t able to read them, so a couple of the elders took turns telling the stories to the children and even led them in some songs. We especially requested that they sing one in Quiche for us, and they did. And it was lovely. It was a testament to how speaking in "tongues" is beautiful music to the Lord.

Because the group sang with gusto for us, we decided to sing for them. After a couple of songs like "We love you with the love of the Lord" and "Jesus loves you this I know," Erik Tryggestad taught the children the favorite song of children all over the world, "Father Abraham" Though they didn’t understand the words, they acted it out with enthusiasm!

It was sad to leave, but by mid-afternoon we’d seen all the patients so we packed up and headed out for Clinica Ezell.

On Tuesday we divided into two groups, with one group going to Pensamiento, a village three hours away that is near Las Flores and the Mexican border. It is on a coffee plantation. The second group went to Samayac, a town only about 45 minutes away.

The Pensamiento group arrived just before the rains did fortunately, since getting there involved another long and winding road. We were able to unpack on relatively dry ground. During the course of the day, Drs. Steve Walker and David Weed had identified two hernia patients for the January clinic and found a woman with a basal cell carcinoma on her nose that she’d had for two years. Walter will refer her to the cancer hospital in the city for treatment.

One of the more unusual aspects of the day was the baño, which straddled a rapidly running stream with about a 12-foot drop. It was a stark visible as one of the causes for bad water in Guatemala!

The rain came down in earnest all afternoon, making loading the bus a real challenge. The front yard of the civic building we were in was solid mud, at least six inches deep. Even getting to the building next to where we were holding clinic to teach our children’s class was tough. Again, we saw about 100 patients before calling it a day, loaded the bus, and headed back to Clinica Ezell. About half-way back, we came to realize that we had a police escort. They followed us all the way to the clinic to make sure we were safe. We shared our supper with them in gratitude.

While my group was at Pensamiento, the other group went to Samayac. Their day was very emotional. The pediatric nurse practitioner’s first two patients were babies who were very malnourished. Dr. Sierra know one of the patients, and that child was already in the nutrition. Another lady was very ill, with tuberculosis they thought. They suspected she might die within the week. There was yet another infant who was very ill. In fact, he had recently been in the hospital, but his father did not want him and was refusing further treatment for his child. The baby’s mother was quite distraught, as you can imagine. Baldemar prayed with his and witnessed to the mother about Christ to bring her some sort of comfort. She seemed better after Baldemar’s counsel. The doctors did not think the baby would survive the night.

The dental clinic was very busy...so busy that they had only 15 minutes for lunch! They saw a 13-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who had many decayed and crowded teeth, but she wouldn’t let them get near her mouth! Dr. Walter was going to get an appointment with Silvia for her to work on her when a surgical team was there and anesthesia available.

Dr. Van Smith conducted a vision clinic. Not only people visited his clinic, however. Evidently some hens did because Van found two eggs, still warm, that a couple of hens had laid in his eyeglasses’ case!

Early the next morning, we heard that there was a protest in progress at a major intersection near the clinic. Seems that this was another protest again the Guatemalan government, which during the years of the civil war had asked locals to be a part of the Civil Patrol and promised them payment that never materialized. Clearly, it didn’t have anything to do with us.

We lingered around the clinic for a while until someone recalled that there was a back road we could take to get to our clinic sites, La Ceiba and Xejuyup, so we set out with determination. It wasn’t long, however, until someone we met coming the opposite direction on the road told us that La Ceiba was blocked off and that passage was not possible. So, we decided to all go to Xejuyup.

We traveled on until we arrived at Chocola, the village where’d we had worked for ten years before building Clinica Ezell. There we found another roadblock, but they let our caravan of bus and pickups through without incident.

The clinic day at Xejuyup was event filled, to say the least. A woman had an epileptic seizure in the middle of the yard, a worker walked in with his right foot all bandaged up asking for help. Seems he’d accidentally whacked his big toe half in two with his machete. Later in the day Dr. Walker was asked to make a house call to the home of one of the church members, an 86-year-old man. He’d fallen two weeks ago into a bed of hot ashes, blistering his right thigh. It was now quite infected and needed care.

As we were winding down by mid-afternoon, word came that the road was totally blocked between us and Clinica Ezell. Carlos, some of the board members present and I discussed our options with Carlos and decided if worse came to worse we could spend the night in the Church of Christ in Santo Tomás with the assurance that the church members would feed us!

Finally, however, someone remarked that the protesters usually quit in late afternoon in time to get home for supper, so we decided to wait until about 5 to leave. We did that, and though we did find another roadblock in Chocola, we passed thru again without incident.

When morning came, Baldimar brought news that the president had announced on television the night before that he would negotiate with the protesters if they would cease their protesting. Sure enough, when we set out for Antigua, no roadblocks were present anywhere.

Antigua was fun, as always, and our final dinner at the Don Rodrigo Hotel was delicious. Rick Harper joined us, as did a few of the board members present for the board meeting the next day. It was the conclusion of another worthwhile, profitable clinic trip that brought help to many... and a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to help among the team members.