Nicaragua Mobile Medical Clinic
January 28-February 2, 2010
By Marie Agee
|Team Members: Drs. Alan Boyd, Charles Jarrett, Jonathan Walker, Steve Walker and David Weed; Dentist Robin Pruitt; Pharmacist Larry Owens; Nurses Betsy Keene and Rebecca Mitchell; Chaplain Jack Boyd; Translators Julie Wheetley (also co-team leader) and Steve Fox; Dental Helpers Allison Brewer and Gary Tabor; Compassionate volunteers Debbie Amos, Joann Boyd, Rosemary Geddes; Shike Keene; Sharon Midgett; Harriette Shivers, Robert Taylor and Jean Walton; Team Leaders Marie Agee and Julie Wheetley.
This was the 17th mobile medical team that HTI has sent to Nicaragua, and getting the team through customs in Nicaragua was one of the easiest we have ever experienced. Perhaps it was because we had asked Jose Garcia to purchase the bulk of the meds in Nicaragua this time, so we didn’t have as much to bring ourselves. Since it worked so well, we’ll likely continue that practice.
Of the 23 team members, 13 were first timers to Nicaragua. The majority of them were non-medical, so I had some concern about finding enough things for them to do. As usual, the Lord worked it out. I was also concerned about the pharmacy because we almost always brought at least two pharmacists with us, sometimes three. This time we had only one. I knew we would dearly miss our faithful friend, Guthrie Hite, passed away last year.
Clinic Day #1- Nuevo Horizonte, Tipitapa: Jose Garcia had told me that our first clinic would be held at a new church, located in a very poor area on the outskirts of Tipitapa, Nicaragua, about an hour away from Managua. It was called the Nuevo Horizonte Iglesia de Cristo and is a church plant from the large congregation in Tipitapa called the Tipitapa Iglesia de Cristo.
When we arrived, we found the “church building” to be merely a roof overhead that was about 15’ square, four wooden posts to hold it up, and a simple signboard that read, “Iglesia de Cristo.” The walls were made of black plastic sheeting wrapped around the outside with an overlay of banana tree branches. Amazingly, there was a Port-a-Potty on the back side of the field. The pharmacy across the way was in a very small separate building that appeared to be an abandoned shed made from crudely cut boards with a dirt floor. We had the basics of what we needed for the day…shelter from the sun and all (well, not exactly) the convenience of home!
The houses that surrounded the church were all in the same primitive state. The frames were mostly made of wooden poles covered by plastic. The nicer ones had tin roofs, but many simply had more plastic. I was reminded of the earthquake tragedy in Haiti right now and realized that the people living here were not much better off. The doctors got situated in their offices inside the front half of the “building.” Dr. Robin Pruitt set up his dental clinic in one of the back corners, while Steve Fox and Robert Taylor fitted patients for reading glasses in the space that remained.
When we began setting up the pharmacy, we realized just how much we would miss Guthrie… because we discovered that we had not prepared the pre-printed labels that he and Dave Ellis had always provided. Such labels greatly sped up the prescription-filling process. Immediately, we asked two of the non-medical volunteers to begin writing labels. Sharon Midgett and Harriette Shivers jumped in immediately to begin that task. Lifesavers they were indeed!
It was hot…probably 90 degrees… all day! That didn’t stop Joann Boyd from organizing several work stations for children’s activities. With the rented vans as her classrooms and aided by several non-medical volunteers, she led the children in varying activities throughout the day. They heard Bible stories, sang songs, strung beads, and made foam butterflies. Only when Joann and her team felt that they needed a break did the crowd of children dissipate for a while.
The most dramatic patient of the day was a little 3-year-old boy who was quite filthy. He’d been brought to the clinic by his elderly grandmother. Each time I say him that morning, he was crying madly. Finally, when he was lying on the ground sobbing, I stopped and tried to talk with him and his grandmother. His response to my efforts was only to cry harder, but his abuela began telling me that he’d been crying for the past 24 hours. She’d brought him to the clinic hoping that a doctor would see him, but she had arrived too late to get a number. She was quite distraught because she knew something was wrong but was not able to figure out just what it was. Also in the conversation, she told me that she was raising him because his mother (her daughter) was insane, to use her phrasing, and his father was not in the picture.
I took him to see the pediatrician, Dr. David Weed. David’s initial examination didn’t reveal anything of significance, but as the child was screaming in protest, we noticed that his front teeth were badly decayed. David suggested that I take him over to the dentist, Dr. Robin Pruitt, and ask him to check him out. That provided the answer to the boy’s problems…his upper four front teeth were so badly decayed that pus pockets had formed in his gums. Since that seemed to be the problem, Dr. Pruitt pulled the teeth. We could see an immediate difference. He continued to cry for a bit, then as Gary Tabor held and rocked him, he went to sleep. After an hour or so, Jose and Gary took the grandmother and her grandson home, and Gary said it was the most pitiful place he’d ever seen.
Elders from the Tipitapa church were present all day long, as was the evangelist for the new church. We frequently saw them studying the Bible with various patients throughout the day. In mid-afternoon we gathered by the “kiddie pool” baptistry to share the joy of a baptism! This is always so special as it so visually links physical and spiritual healing. By the end of the day, we’d seen 379 patients here.
Clinic Day #2 – René Polanco Iglesia de Cristo, Managua: The second day we worked at René Polanco, where we have worked most often during the past 17 years. It was good to see many old friends there again. Before we started to work, Steve Fox presented the morning devo in Spanish and one of our translators translated it into English for us gringos! After a couple of songs in Spanish, Jack Boyd led a song in English. Then the intense clinic activity began.
We had our five North American physicians plus three Nicaraguan physicians seeing patients, so needless to say the pharmacy was jumping! Even with six of us working in there, we couldn’t keep up most of the time. The line stretched out across the width of the room and sometimes turned back towards the opposite wall. Pharmacist Larry Owens, nurse Rebecca Mitchell, Sharon, two Nicaraguans, and I worked hard and fast all day, but we eventually got done!
While this was going on, several were counting vitamins, and Joann had her children’s activities in full steam ahead mode. Looking around, I recognized many of our regular patients, especially Dr. Alan Boyd’s “polka dot” lady patient who kept her regular annual appointment with him. Carlos Baltodano’s mother and sister were also there, as was the cerebral palsied young boy. By the end of the day, we treated 436 patients at René Polanco.
Sunday: On Sunday Robert Taylor preached at the René Polance worship service, accompanied by four other team members. The rest of us drove up to the colonial city of Leon, about two hours northwest of Managua. Since the church service in Leon started early, we had a devotional and communion service at our hotel before striking out. Once there we were given a private tour of one of the oldest and largest cathedral in Latin America.
After lunch and an hour or two of wandering the city, including some touring an art museum that we learned possesses four original Picasso paintings, we headed back.
Clinic Day #3 – Tipitapa Iglesia de Cristo: We arrived at the church building to find everything ready for clinic, so after another morning devotional, everybody got busy. The pharmacy was once again a hotbed of activity, but since we had only five doctors prescribing, it was manageable most of the day. Unrelenting, but manageable! Since I worked in the pharmacy most of the day, I didn’t get to circulate and see the patients. One patient I did see had a mass on the top of his leg that he was concerned about, but after examining him, Dr. Alan Boyd felt that it was nothing serious because he’d had it for twelve years and there had been no change in it. This was the first time the man had ever had a doctor examine it, so he felt reassured.
The Tipitapa church building was quite nice, even having a tiered floor in their auditorium…the only one like it I’ve seen in Latin American. I was told that the membership numbers about 100. The elders here seem very focused and forward thinking and expressed much gratitude for our being there. They want us to return next year as well.
By the end of Monday’s clinic, we had provided compassionate care for 365 people. This made a grand total for the three days of 1,180, but since we worked in many who hadn’t had official numbers, we estimated that the grand total was at least 1,200 people.
The team left for home on Tuesday morning with grateful hearts for the opportunity to serve our Lord by serving those in need in Nicaragua.