I’m back from the first of what I hope will be multiple mission trips to Clinica Ezell in Montellano, Guatemala. I’m exhilirated, exhausted, and extremely thankful that I convinced myself to take Monday off from work, as I’m in no shape to deal with the hundreds of emails that inevitably await my return to the office. I’d love to share so many things about my trip with you, but since I’m still brain fried at the moment, I’ll just answer a few questions and share more later when I’m more coherent.

What did you do there? As one of the “Compassionate Support” people, I didn’t have a definitive role (at least not compared to the surgeons and nurses, for instance). It was mostly a case of try to jump in and help out wherever possible. Some of the things I did included helping sterilize instruments for surgery, sorting and packaging vitamins and medicines to be given out, and helping to record vital stats on the patients in the recovery room. One of my favorite experiences was being able to go to one of the mobile clinics and observe exams. Thankfully I had a translator with me to help me understand the diagnoses. I recalled a fair amount of my high school Spanish, but not enough to carry on a conversation with a patient on my own.

What were the Guatemalan people like? To put it simply, they exemplified the word “gratitude”. They expressed thanks to us for every little thing we did for them, no matter how seemingly insignificant. They taught all of us volunteers quite a lot about appreciating what we’ve been given. They were also extremely friendly and always greeted us and came around and said “adios” and “gracias” as they left the clinic.

How many volunteers were there? In addition to the 12 of us from our church, there were another 30 or so from all across the United States. It was a mix of surgeons, nurses, nurse anesthetists, translators, and other non-medical support. Including the full-time clinic staff, there were around 70 of us working at the clinic this past week, which made for some close quarters but also very good teamwork.

What kinds of surgeries were performed? Mostly hernia and cleft lip/palate repairs, with a few other surgeries such as cyst removals, ENT-related, etc. We saw patients as young as 3 months and as old as 81. In all, around 60 surgeries were performed.

What was the weather like there? Montellano is about 50 miles from the Pacific, and fairly humid and hot–I’d say upper 80s for the most part. However, with the exception of one day, it rained every afternoon we were there, cooling everything off and making for some very pleasant evenings. We spent Friday night in Antigua, which is more near the mountains, where the air was cooler and less humid, more like the high 70s during the day.

Did you have all the same modern conveniences of home there? For the most part, yes. We did have running water–and potable, filtered water, at that, at least at the clinic. (We couldn’t drink the water at the hotel in Antigua.) We had electricity, and the hospital had a generator that kicked in the few times the electricity went out. One thing that we did not have that I definitely missed was air conditioning–the only places in the clinic that had A/C were the operating rooms and the sterilization room.

What was the food like? The food was great. The cooks there at the clinic outdid themselves. We had a variety of food–chicken, fish, even lasagna one night. Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and a different fresh fruit juice, including hibiscus tea, at every meal. With just about every meal, including breakfast, they served corn tortillas. They were good, but I think I had enough to last me quite a while. My favorite thing that they made was probably the homemade guacamole. Yum!

On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the experience? (asked by my friend Karla at church this morning) 25

Do you want to go back? Duh. Anyone care to join me?

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