The clinic/hospital in Chocola was founded by Dr. Sergio Castillo over 10 years ago. It was an abandoned coffee plantation facility operated by the government. Refuge International travels to Chocola for clinic and surgical services several times a year. Dr. Castillo runs the ship as the sole physician the rest of the time.
Approximately how many patients were served by your medical team?
There were 2 NPs, 1 NP student, and a PA involved with primary care clinics every day. The surgical team consisted of 2 general surgeons and a gynecologic surgeon. Due to the holidays, the Day of the dead and the Day of the saints, census was on the low side of usual at the Chocola clinic. We worked for four days straight (M-Th). The clinics saw around 60 patients each day, while in Chocola. In Xojola, they saw over 110 patients each day.
I was involved with the surgical team as one of 2 “PACU” nurses. During the Xojola clinics, the other PACU nurse and I alternated, so that she and I both got to travel to the village with the primary care team for a day. During that clinic visit, she and I acted as the “lab techs.” We were in charge of performing basic chemistry ISTATs and UAs, including urine pregnancy tests. We also had a portable nebulizer in our lab room and administered nebs to children, as needed.
We performed between 6-8 surgeries a day in Chocola. Most were scheduled; a few were add-ons from the clinic. We did mostly hernia repairs and lap (plus 1 open) choleys. The gynecologist performed hysterectomies and tubal ligations. My responsibilities included oversight of patients for approximately one hour immediately post-op, administering analgesics and antiemetics and taking frequent vital signs. Thereafter, I would transfer the patient to the hospital side of the building, which was just beyond a set of double doors. The “hospital” was staffed by 2 Guatemalan nurses, working 24hour shifts for the entire week. I would, in my broken Spanish and via my Spanish interpreter, convey what type of surgery the patient had and what meds/fluids were given during the case and post-op.
What did you enjoy the most about your medical mission?
I most enjoyed working alongside my teammates and the fact that we served those who were truly least underserved. It was really wonderful to hear of what compelled each team member to come on this mission trip. It was a first for a couple of us, but I know for sure it won’t be the last.
I think what Deborah, our trip leader and president of RI, said one night during a casual conversation will continue to impact me for years to come…“one way to measure poverty is by the number of choices one has.” An utterance with such profound meaning, I can’t help but be affected to this day. This is not the standard of American healthcare, nor of American life in general. The people we served in Guatemala really had no options. We were but mere instruments for a short amount of time in giving them one. That was truly what made this trip worthwhile for me.
What was your “most memorable” moments or experience?
There are many notable memories. One highlight was witnessing a jeweler from Texas (husband of one of our NPs) transform into a surgical tech in a matter of minutes. He welcomed and met the challenge with a true servant’s heart. You’d never guess he’d never set foot in an OR ever in his life (at least on the other end of things).
Seeing lives transformed on account of this experience, including mine. The camaraderie amongst us was real and uplifting. Living with Dr. Castillo and his family in his home, serving with one purpose together.
Thank you, ONAAT, for affording me this opportunity of a lifetime. I’m grateful that an organization like yours exists. Although I could afford to go without your generous gift, it definitely helped defray the credit burden. I have spoken of your organization to other RNs in my workplace, who may now consider going with me next year.