Nicaragua Mobile Medical Clinic
January 27 - February 1, 2005
|Participants: Drs. Alan Boyd, Charles Jarrett, and David Weed; Nurses Lea Ann Kidd and Elaine Fischer; Pharmacists Guthrie Hite and Bill Staggs; Chaplain Carlos Baltodano; Board Member Valari Wedel; Others Sarah Crowder, Steve and Susie Fox, Larry Kellum, Stormy Lunsford, Grace McIntyre, Ashley Reynolds, Abigail Wedel, Silvia Weed, and Marie Agee.
The Managua trip started off with a bang... because for only the second time in fifteen years of going on medical missions trip, my bag didn’t show up. I had recently purchased a red one, knowing how few of them there were and that being red would make it easier to spot. But as I stood at the luggage carrousel watching all the black bags go round and round, there was only one red one. Each time it went around, I checked the tag, and each time saw that it wasn’t mine. When all the bags had been unloaded, there was still only that lone red bag waiting. I began to suspect that someone had taken mine by mistake. Well, flexible as we who go on these trips are, I made do. Others loaned me things to get by, and life went on.
The Rene Polanco church building was the scene of our first clinic. When we pulled up out front, we had to weave our way thru the waiting crowd. Inside, we found that things were well organized, as usual, and ready to go. After unpacking the meds we brought and organizing the pharmacy and a devotional led by Steve Fox in Spanish and a prayer by Larry Kellum, the day began. As patients waited, one of the ministers offered words of spiritual encouragement as well as playing the Jesus tapes in Spanish throughout the day.
The total number of patients at the end of the day was 423, I believe. They included folks with all manner of physical problems as one might expect. Some could be helped. Others could not. One young girl who appeared to be about 9 suffered from what was described to me as Golden Hahr’s syndrome. This is a genetic condition in which the two sides of the face don’t grow all the way together, leaving her with bulging eyes that are wide apart. It is often accompanied by mental retardation. Despite her condition, she seemed very happy.
One of the final patients of the day was a victim of spiritual problems. The mother was there with her 12-year-old son for some minor physical problem. Something about the mother’s demeanor, however, alerted translator Carlos Baltodano to ask if there was an alcohol problem in the home. Surprised at the question, the mother said "Yes, my husband drinks." Carlos went on to ask if he was sometimes violent when he did. At that point, both the mother and son began to cry. Carlos counseled and prayed with them, but he was left with a heavy heart at the sadness of it all.
This family did not attend church, but conversations about this with Jose Garcia and his brother, Juan, assured me that this problem was also in the church. In many cases, only the wife and children attend, but they have to endure the father’s drinking. We discussed the idea of finding a Spanish-speaking family therapist to go to Nicaragua for a seminar with local church leaders to teach them how to help.
Late that afternoon I learned that someone had returned my bag to Continental. Jose drove me over to the airport after clinic, but the office was closed. They said I needed to come back tomorrow. Rats!
The Santa Ana church, located near the city garbage dump, was the site of our second clinic. We arrived to find the building ready for us with cubicles all arranged, new toilets installed(!) and a patient waiting area full of patients. The church is located in quite a bad part of town, but it was much bigger than I had expected. The minister told me that they had about 100 in attendance each week.
After we got everything and everybody unloaded, Jose and I set out for the airport with Grace McIntyre and Manuel. Manuel actually lives in the garbage dump, so Jose was going to drop him off so he could make the rounds and tell others who live there about our clinic. I had never seen the dump.
After seeing it, I can honestly and through my tears say that it was the saddest, most depressing thing I have ever seen in my life. By accident of birth, people there are doomed to a life of squalor the likes of which I have never seen. They survive by scavenging for scraps of lumber or metal to build the houses in which their babies are born. They scavenge thru garbage to find food or things to sell to buy food. Jose told me that six weeks ago three young brothers living there died from eating food they had found in the dump.
The vultures were everywhere. Whether soaring overhead or just sitting, they waited to devour whatever they could. They represented to me that life in the dump is a life that fears being devoured... by lack of opportunity, bad food, desperate men, or disease. Violence in the dump is high as people compete for that next piece of rebar or that sheet of rusty tin. Most of those I saw scavenging that day wore multiple layers of clothing and had their heads completely wrapped in cloth like protesters in the mid-East. They did it to protect themselves from the smoke, cuts, and scrapes that were inevitable in their line of work. But, none of that protected those three young boys.
I left the dump with an intense awareness of the unfairness of life, yet with a greater sense of obligation to help with the resources we have. Health Talents should be very proud of its mission in Latin America. Not everyone’s needs are as great as the dump dwellers, but we help many people who live on the edge. Our most important help, however, is to give freely the Living Water of Jesus.
Later in the day a woman came from the dump showed up at the clinic with her 8-month-old baby. I remember seeing her from that morning. Though her body and clothes were covered in dirt and her hair matted, I was pleased to see that her baby was clean. He’d had diarrhea for 8 days, and she came to get help for him. She left with an antibiotic, several days’ worth of oral rehydration solution, and most importantly, a bottle of clean water to mix it in. I find myself thinking of her throughout the day. She is no different from me. Despite the squalor in which she lives, she loves her baby, takes good care of him, and gets him help when he needs it. A mother’s love is the same wherever you go... even in the dump.
After leaving the dump, we drove again to the airport, where this time I was able to get my bag. Hallelujah! Clean clothes at last.
We arrived back at the clinic where we were told that Little Ashley was there with her grandfather. She is the hermaphrodite that we’ve been trying to help get surgery. It was my first time to meet her.
By the end of the day, the caregivers had provided treatment for 230 people. The team left tired, but looking forward to our dinner out at Tre Fratelli, an Italian restaurant.
Sunday was worship and free time. The Rene Polanco building was full to capacity, about 200 people, by the time the service began. The service was bi-lingual, and the congregation made our group feel very welcome. Both Steve Fox and Dr. David Weed led songs. After church we headed out for lunch, Catarina, and the market at Masaya. Catarina is the famous overlook where you can see several lakes in what appear to be collapsed volcanoes. After a full day, we stopped on the way home at Pizza Hut, of all things, and had good ole American pizza for dinner!
Our final clinic day found us at a community we’d never visited before... Piedra Menuda. Unlike all the others I had ever been to in Nicaragua, this one was in a rural area, and it was a wonderful place! The churchyard was filled with patients when we arrived.
Things cranked up very quickly, with patients filing in and out of cubicles, as the preacher preached out in the yard. The first patient seen was a woman having an anxiety attack. There were also lots with skin problems, a result of living in a rural area I’ll wager. Late in the morning a few of us went out to check out the community and came upon the lovely local school. Although it was a holiday, a few teachers were there, so we talked with them and learned that there were 50 first graders in one room, 56 second graders in another. We didn’t ask about any higher grades than that! That was enough of a shock! We offered the teachers Tylenol!
The day finally came to a close with our having seen about 435 patients. The church gave each of us a little memento to remember them by. It was a touching close to a wonderfully rewarding day and week.
The next morning I was standing in line to check in at the airport, when I noticed that the man in front of me had a red suitcase just like mine. I asked him when he had arrived in Managua, and he said Thursday. I told him that I, too, had arrived on Thursday and couldn’t help but notice that our bags were similar. It reminded me about my lost bag and that I figured someone had evidently taken mine by mistake. He whirled around, and said, "Agee! You must be Agee!" We laughed and laughed. What are the odds of coming face to face with the person who took your suitcase!