HEALTH TALENTS INTERNATIONAL
Guatemala General/Gyn Surgery Clinic
April 14-21, 2007

Team Members: Drs. Benny Cleveland, Michael Ross, Ana-Maria Gray, Carol Harrington, Fred Mecklenburg, Scott Osmun, and Al Jones; CRNA Susan Finke-Klosterman; Nurses Anne Ballard, Mike Caldwell, Andrea Dunne, Angie Miller, Sheri Kretzschmar, Lynlee Johnson, Liz Ross, Steph Rostad, and Betsy Tango; Surg tech Vonda Leer; Med tech Tom Crews; Med student Rachel Overcash; Translator Julie Wheetley and Carly Donovan; Chaplain Jesse Pettengill; Board member Gary Tabor; Support personnel Lily Gutierrez-Benites, Steven Cotter, Adam Cotter, JoLee Thayer, Laura Jones, Louise Lary, Marla Shouldis and Marie Agee.


We had an incredible first day of surgery. It started off at 7 in the morning when we went to start the autoclaves and found that neither of them would work. They just wouldn’t build up pressure at all. I noticed that there was no water in the sight glass and mentioned it from time to time. We worked with them for a couple of hours checking and rechecking all our procedures and although everything was right, there was still no pressure. Finally, Gary Tabor went outside looking for a water valve. He found it and discovered that it had been shut off! (Seems it had been leaking.) He turned it back on and the autoclaves began working correctly. Whew!

An hour later our Guatemalan nurse named Marta, who has worked with us for many years, was trying to start the IV on our very first patient, a 17-year-old boy, when she stuck herself with a bloody needle. I was standing right there when it happened! Though the incidence of AIDS in Guatemala is still low, it is rising, so we are very conscious of needle sticks. We immediately grabbed an HIV Rapid Test stick and swabbed the boy's mouth. We then had to wait 20 minutes to see what to do next, but PRAISE THE LORD, the test was negative. No problem. (Whew!)

Late in the afternoon we all became aware of great concern in one of the operating rooms because of a missing sponge. They started the operation with 30 sponges (gauze) and were now about done, but they could only find 29 of them. This is a big problem. Nurses began scrambling thru the trash, looking under the patient, sorting thru the table of instruments, and looking everywhere but they did not find it. I began having that familiar ache in my stomach that I get when something like this goes wrong. The thought of have to cut this woman open again just to find the sponge was looming large. Finally, someone had the idea to use our laparoscopy scope to search. That required making only two small cuts in her abdomen. Lo and behold, when they did that, they found it! It was so saturated with blood that had simply failed to see it to remove it. Again, PRAISE GOD for His faithfulness in watching over us! Whew!

But, the day wasn't over yet...! About an hour after they found the sponge, we had yet another needle stick! Now, you have to understand that in all our years of doing these clinics we have had only one other reported needle stick, and that was 2-3 years ago. Now two in one day???

In this case, the doctor stuck her assistant--by accident, of course! Since the patient was still asleep on the table, we swabbed her mouth with the HIV Rapid Test kit immediately. Then again, we anxiously waited out the 20 minutes. Since Mayan housewives are actually the highest rated group for newly reported HIV infection, and the patient was a Mayan housewife, we couldn't take anything for granted. Finally, though, the 20 minutes were up...and the report was negative. Hallelujah!!

Thus ended our first day…and we were all exhausted!

Monday began quietly enough with the patients lined up in the pre-op room with their IVs running, patiently awaiting their turn. Things churned all pretty well until the late afternoon when the gyns began what appeared to be a routine vaginal hysterectomy. Typically these take a couple of hours. This one took 7. They ran into unexpected complications, so they had to just patiently work their way thru. Finally, they were done about 9 pm. The patient had suffered more blood loss than usual, so there was concern about that and they watched her very carefully throughout the night.

Tuesday’s work went very smoothly. Dr. Ana-Maria Gray decided to transport the patient who had experienced excessive blood lose to the hospital that was about an hour away. She felt strongly that she needed a transfusion. Since we don’t do that at Clinica Ezell, the only option was to transfer her, so we did. We even sent along Louise Lary, who has 0 negative blood…and actually carried a card saying that…in case the hospital needed her to be a donor. As it turned out, several of the woman’s relatives also went to the hospital with her, so they donated for her instead. The woman ended up getting two pints of blood, but she recovered quickly and went home in a few days good as new!

With these clinic teams, we always bring a team chaplain to daily remind us why we are there and what it is all about. And each evening after all the surgeries are done and we’ve filled our bellies with the wonderful food that our cooks provided for us, we gather together for a few minutes to hear the message.

This week’s chaplain was Jesse Pettengill from the West Islip congregation on Long Island, New York. He never failed us with his timely, right-on thoughts for the day. They were like manna in the desert to us! He would skillfully take whatever happened during that day and help us make sense of it by offering us God’s insights and encouragement. We learned early during the week that Jesse would have gems of encouragement for us at night, and we found ourselves really looking forward to hearing what he had to say.

One other significant case we had during the week was a man who was in for a simple hernia repair. He had been our patient four years ago, still suffering from an accident eight years before when he fell of the back of a pickup truck carrying a 100 lb. bag of coffee that crushed his pelvis and badly damaged his urethra. Dr. Grady Bruce was able to repair the erethra and remove the catheter he had been living with all that time! The man was one happy camper indeed! It was wonderful to see him again and have him look so well. When I talked with him, he spent the entire time praising God for healing him thru Grady.

The rest of the week was almost anti-climatic after such a bumpy start, but we are grateful for those non-eventful days! In all 64 patients received the surgical care they came looking for. We have such a strong feeling of joy, gratitude and thanksgiving when we are able to provide the kind of surgical care that the patients need and have things go smoothly. We team members talk from time to time about just how faith-building these trips are because the prayers we pray in Guatemala are prayed with more intensity and fervor than at home. Why is that? We think it’s because we are in a place without all the girders of underlying support we have at home that give us the false impression that WE are in charge. In Guatemala it is ever so much more apparent who is REALLY in charge…and it isn’t us. It is God and His Graciousness, for sure.

The motivating reason for Health Talents to take med/surg teams to Guatemala is to reflect the love and compassion of Jesus Christ to a people who desperately need help. The funny thing is that in doing so, we team members end up feeling that love and compassion more fully ourselves.