Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Good morning!

6am and all is well. I have a steaming cup of coffee as well as a potential day off, in front of me. I can’t believe I have been here a month. The constant exposure to new illnesses and problems has broadened my knowledge and made me feel more confident. When I am practicing here, it is humbling to realize, on a global scale, just how limiting a formal pediatric education is. At home, I can’t think of a better job for me, but here, I encounter so much that I haven’t seen since medical school…Jumping from one environment to another has kept me on my toes.

This is my second 6-month stint volunteering with health care promoters. Last year I spent my time in Colombia, and now I am in Guatemala. Both sites are affiliated with a non-profit organization in California, Concern America ( Concern helps find volunteers and supports programs around the world. The programs themselves are run locally in the specific country by people from the area. Health care promoters form the basis of an effective health system especially in geographically challenging regions were finances, and distribution of medical care is scarce. They are lay-people that are elected by their communities to serve as the local health provider. We are one of a few groups that educates promoters, helps establish sustainable and affordable pharmacologic access, and acts as a consult service for more challenging cases. The educational site in Petén has been functioning in this capacity since the mid- 1990’s. In addition to teaching classes to the learning promoters, we also teach advanced courses to sustain and improve the abilities of the promoters who have been practicing for years. Some of the advanced promoters also learn how to teach and slowly take over the teaching of the newer promoters. Above the lectures we also have clinic 4 times a week. This not only serves the local people here, but also, more importantly, allows more experienced promoters and asesores (me) to work alongside learing promoters and teach along the way. There are many parallels between my work here and the learning and teaching I do with medical students and residents at the children’s hospital in Salt Lake City.

I love waking up early the days when we have courses here. Two wonderfully colorful older women arrive the night before to start preparing food for the promoters coming to learn. They get wood and start the fire, begin to cook the beans and corn and also prepare homemade chili (hot sauce). On the day of the course, the corn gets ground into masa, shaped into tortillas, thrown over the heat and eaten…Hot off the comal (a flat grittle-like metal surface). As of now my tortillas have steadily improved, but I am still WAY behind the curve. Not only am I on the slow side, but also my pre- and post-grill tortillas are misshapen with sub-optimal thickness and uniformity…kind of like the ugly ducklings of the litter…the kind ladies move my “art” a little to the side, I think they want consumers to know these tortillas were clearly not their product or responsibility. The Spanish verb for this act is sensibly “tortillar”, well, it is when done properly, I think the word for what I do is probably too obscene to print.
(can you guess which two are mine?)

As I mentioned in the last blog, I am feeling like a kid in a candy store in the clinic. We are responsible for everything. From history taking, vital signs and the exam to laboratory evaluation, microscope studies and treatment. It is really fulfilling. Especially when you realize that we are teaching people to do this in their home communities, far from more official care. I mentioned that people come from all over and at all hours. The environment is stressful, as there is not defined “down-time”, but it has formed a cohesive unit for the people that live and work here. There is partnership in everything.

In clinic yesterday, I saw a 70+ year old woman who really scared me. She was sick. I have been seeing and getting used to taking care of lots of bleeding and painful injuries, but I haven’t seen to many legitimately sick older people. She was accompanied by her husband, who was very caring and concerned. Her grandson walked with her everywhere and wouldn’t leave her side. Despite her high fever and ill-appearance she smiled when I mentioned how attentive her family was. I did everything I could think of; in the end, I couldn’t find anything treatable wrong with her. I told her I would come by her house later that night. “I think she needs a doctor.”

Clinic wound down and we were cleaning up from lunch. I was in the yard when a young girl ran around the corner of the clinic. “My friend just took a medicine and now she blew up like a balloon and can’t breathe.” Hmmmm…sure enough. A miserable looking, swollen-faced teenager came surrounded and led by a large group of family and friends. I have never given epinephrine for a severe reaction before; that usually happens before I am involved. For awhile, I think my heart was racing faster than hers, I was certainly sweating more. I gave it and she gave a massive inhale/gasp…I nearly fell over…was that a good gasp?? a REALLY bad gasp?? then her mouth turned up into a smile and her eyes lit up below swollen lids…ok, kind of romanticized, but it seemed that way to my relieved self. Her friends relaxed and there was a social gathering outside the clinic around her cot. Teenagers and family just hanging out, talking about their swollen friend. We watched her for 45 minutes, gave her meds and education about allergies and sent her on her way, with instructions to come back quickly for any signs of repeated swelling or problems breathing.

I remembered the older lady. I asked my colleague the way to the cemetery, she told me she lived there…next to it at least…”alongside” being the critical part). She told me to go straight down the street all the way and then turn right. This was much more funny at the time, but the word for straight and right are so close in Spanish, that I got pretty lost. After a completely meandering course, I found her home eventually. Her husband was outside and concerned. Her fever had stopped, but her diarrhea had gotten a bit worse and she had started vomiting. When I asked for a poop sample earlier in the day, I had a nagging feeling the container might be an issue. The family had cut off the bottle of a clear soda bottle and tied a piece of paper to act as a cover. She actually looked a little better. So there I am…riding down a rocky, dusty dirt-road on a tired bike with 2 half-inflated tires…one hand on the handle-bars and one holding a crinkled, worn plastic bottle containing what I hoped were answers. I was avoiding the jarring rocks and divots in the road, gazing at the purples and oranges of the sunset, and balancing the slushy sample. I was actually feeling really content.

I swerved to avoid a toddler learning to walk. I approached three dogs that began to eye me fairly ominously. “no way”…yep…All three simultaneously erupted with bared teeth, aggressive barking and nipping at my heels. “really?!?”…As I stood on the rickety pedals, the sample somehow did not leap over the edges and I managed to stay vertical and just far enough ahead of the dogs to make them loose interest. I arrived home feeling like I needed to finish my work with the sample before I ate dinner. It made sense at the time.

As I was looking under the microscope, one of the cooks tapped me on the shoulder and gave me a big hug. “don’t forget to eat.” The sample looked ok, nothing too ominous. I would go visit tomorrow morning. I washed my hands at the outdoor sink (pila), and turned around. The cooks had left my black beans, cheese, steaming tortillas and coffee on a plate next to the smoldering fire.

a pretty great day...

I hope this finds you well and happy. Sending positive thoughts…



Allison Good said...

What an adventure, sounds like a good day. xx

Lisa Seeborg said...

Yay, you're back! (Although I guess it's technically more correct to say Yay, you're gone! but that seems rude.) Glad to hear everything turned out okay with your feet. My kids thought those pictures were cool! We enjoy reading about your adventures. Happy to know you're doing well & looking forward to future installments ...
Lisa, Camden, Dylan & Chloë

Dad Mom and the 3 E's said...

Dr. Good great to hear from you again! the kids are all doing great. It is hard to believe that Ethan will be 5 this year it seems like just yesterday that we met in the RTU of Primary's. we hope you enjoy the adventure. Cory, Robyn, Ethan, EmiLee, and Easton