Captain’s Blog – Stardate 1/10/2012 – Guatemala Galaxy
Today we encountered one of our biggest challenges ever on a medical mission trip. It’s Tuesday and we should be in clinic today. Instead there are 22 of us who have come down with some mysterious illness. Yesterday, in our first day of clinic, we had a team member or two get sick each hour beginning at 9 am. For most, it began with severe retching vomiting followed by water like diarrhea. For several of us, it was just the reverse. What followed was about two hours of rigors (violent chills where you can’t stop shaking) until all of the bones in your body ached. Chills were the norm followed by low fevers where you felt quite hot. Multiple members required IVs and this is where the God stories begin.
We have always carried an emergency kit solely for our team. In it were two half liter bags of normal saline. As Derek Leonard, our trip director and pharmacist prepared the kit he noticed the bags had expired. To order them, he needed to order 10 1-liter bags along with the kit with the IV line and needle. He decided to throw five of those bags in the kit. Little did he know how badly they would be needed? In the six medical mission trips I have been on, we have never used one IV bag. This time we not only used those, we needed to scour the local pharmacies in and around Sumpango for more. Several of the seven Guatemalan medical students who work with us as interpreters were busy on their cell phones trying to find more liters of fluid so we could make it through the night. They were calling as far away as Antigua, an hour’s drive, and willing to go get them for us. Fortunately Dr. Paredes, our local physician, was able to find some within 15 minutes of Sumpango. Oscar Chiquitó, our local connection with Los Olivos, was gracious enough to bring them out to us late last night so we could keep those in need hydrated. All toll; we went through over 15 liter bags Monday and today.
This is where you find out what kind of team you have. To begin with we had eight physicians and four very experienced nurses. Julie Price has been on these trips for the past five years. Jolene Tramburg was on the trip to Guatemala last year and Roberta Dobrzanski and Ruth Glodowski joined us for the first time. Hopefully the experience from this year won’t deter them from future trips as they were indispensible. These nurses became our guardian angels; shifting in to high gear as the needs arose and never showing any sign of panic. They worked tirelessly starting IV lines, tending to the sick, recording vitals and working together as a team as if they had worked together for years. Truth be told; none of them had ever worked together. Nurses are that way; the unsung heroes behind the scenes of every war the US has ever been in. To begin to list each one’s skill set would do injustice to the others as I would most likely miss some. Suffice it to say that we had all the skill sets required to run a first rate field hospital. They worked tirelessly throughout Monday night until two of them required IVs themselves today.
I put Dr. Jean Montgomery in charge of our infirmary. I can manage neck injuries and dislocated ankles on the football field but with illnesses like we had I was happy to hand the reigns over to one with much more experience than I. We were actually very well prepared with our team. Dr. Jarabek is a newly retired internal medicine doctor from Ministry and Dr. VanHeest is a newly retired general/vascular surgeon from Milwaukee. We had two pediatricians from the Marshfield Clinic; Dr. Koehn is a pediatric neurologist and Dr. Trinh is a pediatric hospitalist who works with hospitalized children and infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Dr Montgomery works with Aspirus in internal medicine and Dr. Arnold is one of our pathologists at Ministry. Dr. Chen is a cardiologist from the Mayo Clinic and I do sports medicine at Ministry. To say the least, I felt we were very well qualified as a team to handle most anything.
Miraculously, we had 10 or so members who to date have not contracted the illness. Four of our physicians and two of the nurses have somehow managed to escape the drudge. They, along with several of the medical students, have been invaluable to the rest of us as they served us meals, scrubbed bathrooms and floors with bleach, changed bedding, and basically tended to our every need. They were servants to all of us and we are so grateful for their courage. Our thought is that this is some virus we have not seen before but it could be just the typical traveler’s diarrhea as well. What ever it was, it tested our team’s resolve and by God’s grace, we are prevailing. Hopefully the illness is behind us and tomorrow we will be back serving the wonderful Guatemalan people instead of ourselves. The concern they had for us was evident by the fact that the elders of Los Olivos Church came out to the orphanage where we stay and prayed for us this afternoon. They are such a wonderful people and always so gracious and caring to us.
Pastor Heath led us through worship tonight and the chorus to one of our songs seemed to sum up our situation.
Our God is greater, our God is stronger
God, you are higher than any other
Our God is Healer, awesome and power
Our God, Our God…
To that we just say “Thank you Lord” for getting us through these past two days.