HEALTH TALENTS INTERNATIONAL
Nicaragua Mobile Medical Trip
February 2-7, 2006

Participants: Dr. Alan Boyd; Dr. Charles Jarrett; Doug Steele, PA; Teresa Steele; Pharmacists Debbie Gale, Benton Gardner, Guthrie Hite; Chaplain George Welty; Translators Steve Fox, Oscar Mejia, Jesus Paguaga; Support Personnel Bill Gardner, Jason Hickok, Grace McIntyre, Gary Tabor, Valari Wedel and Marie Agee.

Clinic Days 1 & 2: We spent the first two days working at Rene Polanco. Jose wanted to do this this year for two reasons: the government medical clinic that had opened near the church in the last couple of years has been closed, plus the hospital docs are on strike, which gives the people no ER to go to. (While we were there, the transportation people went on strike. On the way to the airport on Tuesday morning, we passed long lines of buses parked on the side of the road.)

Jose had carefully scheduled the patient load to match the caregivers we had, so we worked really hard all day, but did get through and see everyone before we left for supper. We had no North American dentist with us, but a young Nicaraguan, whose father is a general surgeon, worked with us every day, and Gary Tabor helped him. Jessica Romano, one of our scholarship students, was there also. She cleaned teeth for three days.

Dr. Juliana Mena, Jose’s wife, saw patients, along with Alan, Charles and Doug Steele. Ruben Roman treated patients, as well. He was situated in a room with between Doug and Charles and consulted with them after each patient to ensure that he was diagnosing correctly. Darling Ayerdis worked alongside him for the two days we were at Rene Polanco. By the end of the two days we had treated 684 people and dispensed approximately 75 pairs of glasses.

On Friday morning as I was walking through the patient waiting area, someone spoke to me in English…really good English. It startled me, so I stopped to chat. He was a 30-year-old man who, when I asked him how he learned to speak English so well, told me that he had lived in New York City most of his life. Seems his family had left Nicaragua during the war and gone to the States when he was a kid. At some point, he got in trouble with the law. When they discovered he was in the US illegally, they deported him BACK to Nicaragua. So, here he is…in a land he doesn’t know, where the unemployment rate is 60%, and living off the money his mother sends him from New York. He said, "I'll never get in trouble again about anything!" He seemed quite chastened.

He was very curious, however, about who we are, what we were doing, and if our government gave us the money to do this, etc. When I assured him that the government doesn’t give us anything, that everyone paid their own way, he seemed really touched. When I asked him where I could buy some Super Glue that we needed, he jumped up and ran out to get some. When he came back, he refused payment for it, saying it was a gift for our doing what we were doing for the people of Nicaragua.

Since he told me he lived very near the church building, I related this information to the church leaders so if he showed up for church one day, they might be able to connect with him spiritually. Say a prayer for him, please. His name is Milton.

One of the patients was a 21-year-old man with cerebral palsy, who weighed only 32 pounds. His mother carried him in like a baby.

Most of the ailments were fairly routine, with gastro-intestinal problems, eczema, arthritis, etc. Temporary relief only, but the people will remember we cared.

Clinic Day 3: Piedra Menuda Iglesia de Cristo: This village is near Masaya, but only a 30-minute drive from Rene Polanco. When we arrived, we found a churchyard full of patients, and the inside compartmentalized quite nicely into exam rooms. The dentist and dental student worked up on the stage, and the pharmacy was out in the back of the church in a room with half walls, letting in plenty of fresh air. It was perfect for creating a safe environment for the meds and creating a “counter” for the patients.

George Welty led the bi-lingual devo, as he had done for the past two clinic days. He was assisted by the new preacher at Rene Polanco, a man named Hugo, who is from El Salvador. He studied at the Baxter Institute in Honduras.. By the end of the day, we had treated 258 people here.

The most touching case of the day for me was a 12-year-old, poorly dressed, dirty little urchin, who was wearing a nasty-looking baseball cap. That is honestly what he looked like. Even the other children made comments to me about how dirty he was. He kept hanging around the pharmacy, however, as I was translating, so I would chat with him between patients. I found out in the course of these discussions that he had only been to school one year in his entire life and could not read.

In the middle of the afternoon during one of the rare lulls, he leaned over and whispered a question to me. He wanted to know if we had medicine for parasites. I asked him if he had parasites, and he said yes. I told him we did, but his mother would have to come get them for him. He said his mother lived in Leon and that he lived with his grandmother. I suggested he go get her. He looked very sad, and said, “She won’t come.” It was clear this boy need help. After consulting the pharmacists about giving a child medicine without a parent present, we decided that I should take him to see one of the docs first. Alan Boyd was available, so, boy in hand, we went in to see him.

During the exam, Jorge asked Alan if he could help him with lice, too. Alan was wonderful in how he responded to the young man. He was direct yet respectful with him and assured him that he could help. He also suggested that he would have fewer problems with parasites if he stayed cleaner… and handed him two bars of soap.

Later, I asked him if he would like to learn to read. He was enthusiastic in his assent. I said that if I arranged for someone to help him, would he give it his all. He promised me he would. I then hooked him up with the preacher at Piedra Menuda, who also talked with him and told me that he would visit him in his home and do what he could to help. Say a prayer for him, too, please. His name is Jorge Lopez.

Sunday’s Big Adventure: Some of us had quite an eventful day on Sunday. While half of the group went to the market, the other half went with Jose up to Momotombo to meet with the church leaders about the new proposal that Doug Steele had presented at our last board meeting. Included in the group were the 3 HTI board members, Grace McIntyre, Doug and Teresa, their friend Jesus from Paradise (in Honduras), and Jose. Gary drove the rental truck, and Jesus drove his personal truck. In keeping with Gary's track record, he was stopped by the police again. The policeman said he had passed on a solid yellow line. There was very little traffic, so none of us had even noticed that he'd done so. Gary admitted he had because he was trying to keep up with Jesus. The policeman was not at all interested in any excuses that either Gary or I tried to offer. About the time he had begun writing the ticket, Jesus came back and Jose climbed out of the car and walked over to help. Through his quiet, non-threatening manner, he was able to convince the policeman to let Gary go without a ticket...once again. It is so crazy because Gary has gotten stopped every year but once in the 8 years he has been coming here, yet Alan drives every year, too, but he never gets stopped!

We arrived late for church, but since Jesus was preaching, it wasn't that big of a problem. After church we had a very fruitful meeting with the church leaders. We outlined for them what HTI does and doesn’t do and our mission philosophy. They said they understood and could accept all of it. I think we all came away feeling good about working with them. When we started home, we decided to visit 2-3 of the proposed mobile clinic sites. That's when the fun began.

First of all, it is the dry season here and the roads up there are not paved, so it was very dusty. Secondly, the distance we have to travel to the third clinic was about 20 miles on those dusty roads. Since Jose was in the other vehicle, those in our vehicle were convinced we were lost as we drove mile after mile of desolate roads in the dust! Finally, we arrived at Tecuaman, our intended destination. There was a government health clinic there staffed by only a nurse two days a week. We saw it, said great, then started to load back up. At that moment Jose told us we had to go back the exact way we'd come to get to the Managua highway. We groaned loudly but set out.

We hadn't gone 15 minutes when the first truck pulled over, folks piled out and one of them opened the hood. We groaned again...louder this time...because we were in the middle of nowhere with a broken down pickup.

The guys decided very quickly that the problem had to do with the alternator belt trying to slip off the mechanism. Doug Steele seemed to know a lot about cars, so he immediately took charge. To make a very long story short, along came a man in a horse-drawn cart. He saved the day for us.

Doug had decided that he could fix the problem by wedging the mechanism in such a way that the alternator belt would stay in place. The part the farmer played is that he had a nearly 3’ long machete. With one whack each, he cut up five 2" diameter green branches into 6" long pieces to use as wedges. Doug put one in place, Jesus cranked the engine, and all was well so we took off. We went only a couple of miles until the wedge fell out because of the bumpy road.

After fixing it this time, we travel probably 10-12 miles when it fell out again. Once more, they replaced it...and we took off. When we used the third wedge, we were really beginning to worry we only had 2 wedges left...and 50 miles to go!

Fortunately, the third one held the rest of the way, and we made it back safely. Later, the hotel owner arranged for his mechanic friend to pick up Jesus' pickup in the morning and have it fixed by the end of the day. When we got home Monday, we learned that it only cost $35 to fix it!

The postscript to this is that on the way to Piedra Menuda on Monday morning, Alan was stopped by the police! Gary felt vindicated…although Alan was quick to insist that it was a routine stop!