Wheelchair Clinic in Guatemala by Janet Sargent

Janet Sargent, RN

January, 2020

Traveling to Guatemala to provide care in rural areas with Faith in Practice has been very rewarding for me.  This group is well organized, efficient, and kind to all (patients, local and international volunteers).  During our 4 days of providing free village medical care, we 36 volunteers cared for nearly 2,400 patients, with services including a wheelchair clinic, pharmacy, dental, dermatology, pediatrics, via/cryo, OB/Gyn, General adult, Cardiology, as well as Family Care.  A great benefit of this program is working alongside local medical providers and support staff, including doctors, dentists, nurses, and additional support personnel.  We learn from each other to provide care that is medically and culturally appropriate.

This year we served the municipality of Poptun, in the Department of El Peten in Guatemala.  El Peten comprises about 1/3 of the total land area of Guatemala, yet contains only about 4% of its population.  El Peten is a tropical rainforest, with warm weather and plenty of rain.  There are many Mayan ruins there including Tikal and El Mirador, as well as innumerable ruins yet to be excavated.  Twenty one Mayan languages are spoken in Guatemala, and Q’eqchi’ was spoken by many of our patients.  Some of them spoke Spanish as well, which allowed us to use our Spanish interpreters, and those who did not, often brought family members who could interpret for them in Spanish.  We stayed in Poptun, to set up clinics and provide care in the two villages of Machaquila and San Francisco.

Many of our patients had traveled long distances up to 6 hours by bus, and others crawled into the clinics on their hands and knees.  We had patients who came from Belize to the East, and Coban to the West.  I was touched by their joy and laughter, and their gratitude for whatever care we could provide.


Wheelchair assembly

Wheelchair assembly

Some of the patients who most touched my heart included a 48 year old woman who had polio when she was 5, and who had been crippled and unable to walk ever since.  She crawled into our wheelchair clinic and hoisted herself up into a chair, declining any assistance to do so.  She works for a church, and travels by bus giving religious presentations.  She lives with her mother; never married, and appears to be an attractive, confident and happy individual.  She was so grateful to receive a wheelchair that may be folded, to allow her to travel by bus for her work.

Another patient we cared and provided a wheelchair for was a 29 year old male with cerebral palsy.  He had never been able to Wheelchair clinic patients waitingwalk, and had never attended school because he didn’t have a wheelchair.  He had some dysarthria, yet was able to explain his needs well.  He and his mother had travelled several hours to come to our clinic, and were so grateful to have a wheelchair to support his mobility needs.  It was inspiring for me to interpret for the medical provider who told this patient and his mother that some of the smartest people in the world have cerebral palsy; and to experience the joy they conveyed when told that we would give them a wheelchair.

Some of the things I learned included that the venomous bite of Barba Amarilla snake found in this region led to amputations in several of our patients; that the Suelda Consuelda plant is successfully used to heal closed fractures; we had many cases of poorly controlled diabetes that resulted in amputations, and several motorcycle accidents and gun shots that resulted in paralysis and/or amputations.

As an RN and a Certified Medical Spanish Interpreter, I provided care mostly in Triage and in the Wheelchair Clinic.  I was able to take medical histories, check vitals, and convey information between patients, families, and providers, as well as interpreting between local Spanish speaking staff and English speaking volunteers from the USA.  In the wheelchair clinic, I supported an incredibly caring Physiatrist from Washington State, who gave endless amounts of love, encouragement, information, and support to these patients.

I always feel that I take away more than I give from these clinics.  I am so inspired by the encouragement that people in these communities provide to each other, how they make do with so little, and are able to laugh and find some enjoyment in life despite the challenges they live with.  I feel blessed to live as well as I do, and to be able to share in some way with some of the people of Guatemala.

Team photo

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