Guatemala Mission Story by Cindy Lindsay

Each year I travel with a team from Faith in Practice, to care for those who have no access to medical care in the remote areas of Guatemala.image1

We have the privilege of serving thousands and thousands of patients.   I wanted to share about one encounter in which I was able to serve a Mom and her son from a remote village and apply my nursing knowledge and resourcefulness with the goal of helping achieve the best possible outcome.

This story happens to be about a baby from a remote village in Jalapa, a dusty three hour bus ride from our base in Antigua.  One of our Pediatricians happened to snap a very touching photo of the baby’s mother collapsing with relief and gratitude into my arms at the end of treatment.  It was very emotional for all of us. Here’s the story as told by myself (with story recall collaboration with the Pediatrician):

“I was in our makeshift lab analyzing a urine sample when one of our pediatricians tapped me on the shoulder.  ‘Do you have a moment to take a look at this wound?’ he asked.  As a nurse, I’ve seen thousands of wounds over the years, but the look on his face told me that this one was different. Also, the lab always had a very long line and this doctor never interrupted me so I knew something was very wrong!

He led me to a small crude exam room in the emptied school, designated as our pediatric clinic.  There on a wooden table, a frightened young mother held a diaper-less baby who was wailing loudly.  There were six or seven large circular deep burns on his buttocks and thighs—so deep, I could smell the tissue damage and burned fat and muscle.

The mother’s voice shook as she described for our translator what had happened. Her seven-month-old baby boy had fallen into the coals of her cooking fire.

My heart went out to her, but the RN in me also kicked in. Because in this remote setting we didn’t have access to all the typical medical supplies I would easily have at my fingertips in the US, I would have to improvise.  I told the pediatrician that I thought I could “MacGyver” a few things together.  I had learned to do that in my ten years working with Faith in Practice.

We gave the baby some pain medicine and gradually his screams became whimpers.  I told the translator to describe what I was about to do so the baby’s mother could replicate the procedure when she got home. Then I began to clean the wounds. The burns were very deep and painful, and I could not use a swab to clean them. Instead, I squirted saline from a syringe to wash off the urine and stool.

I told the mother that because the burns were in the diaper area, the greatest danger was infection.  I told her she must clean, change, and dress his diaper area regularly.

Tearfully, she confessed she had no money.  Everything she had was spent on food. All she had was tattered rags for diapers.  I had assumed this was the case and in my scavenging I had already found some supplies that I cut and folded into a stack of makeshift diapers.

Once my nurse tasks and teaching were complete, I had time and the courage to look deeper into this mothers eyes. We locked our gaze not nurse to mom but mom to mom.  I saw fear in her eyes, fear that her son would die, a real possibility out in the remote villages of Guatemala with wounds at such high risk for infection.  I also saw that she blamed herself. ‘This is my fault’ her look said.

She started crying.  I wrapped my arms around her.  I’ve cried before over cases, but always in private, after the treatment was done. But now tears began to stream down my face.

‘We’ll find a way to help,’ I told her through the translator. ‘We’ll give you medicine and clean cloths so you can wash and reuse them to diaper him.’

She collapsed into my arms and sobbed. I was now sobbing with her. It felt like she was releasing the weight of the world, and I was absorbing it.

When we could speak again she turned to the translator. “She says you are his champion,’ she told me.  ‘No, tell her, you are his champion!  You acted quickly, you did the right thing! You got him to us! I know how far you had to walk today to get him to us! YOU are his hero!’

I prayed that our effort would be enough. A Faith in Practice surgery team was coming in two weeks. If she could keep him alive till then, that particular team had a plastic surgeon and I was sure they could do what we could not.  We gave her fourteen days worth of supplies, antibiotics, pain medicine and burn cream to get her through. And for two weeks, I prayed for that little boy and his mom, every single day!

Two weeks later, the courageous mother and child were brought to our small hospital in Antigua, and thepastedGraphic Faith In Practice plastic surgeon began skin grafts.  Thanks to her, her son is alive.”

Here is the pic the pediatrician snapped really quick (and as nonchalantly as possible) as the mom collapsed into my arms after I cleaned the babies severe wounds.