2016 Medical Trip Travelog

In April, 2016, 18 persons traveled to Cunen Guatemala to provide medical clinics in neighboring villages.  Linda Brewster provided daily reports back to family and friends at home.  This is her travelog.


April Team Day 1

Day 1

Dear friends and family,
It has been a very long day of travel. We were up and off to the airport by 3am and arrived in Guatemala City around noon (2pm home time).  We had 17 mission suitcases filled with medications and vitamins and other assorted items.  Getting through customs was fairly easy with the help of the local attorney we hired.  They did go through every single bag checking expirations etc.  We met up w team members from Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee and with our host and bus driver around 1pm and headed for Chichicastenango.  We did stop for lunch and a bathroom break, arriving in Chichi around 6pm (8pm home time).  So a long travel day!
As we made our way through Guatemala City in the bus, I again was confronted with the reality of life in a large city in a third world country… The rich and the poor.  The concrete walls are built high around each home and business with the barbed wire on the top. Separation that keeps you from knowing your neighbor. And in start contrast, the tin roofed shacks that people live in side by side by side.
When we started to see the mountains, I felt like I could breathe again.  The air was cleaner. There were children on the side of the road playing, or walking with mom.  The poverty is perhaps a bit out of sight but still very present.  There were many people walking on the very busy road we were traveling , women and men carrying heavy loads on their backs and heads. Dogs, donkeys, cows, goats, sheep and other animals by the roadside added to the vibrancy of all that was happening around us.
The beauty of this country is enormous.  The mountains are grand and the views spectacular as we drove up and down them.  I think today we reached 8500 ft and are staying at about 6000 ft.
Starting the morning with a gorgeous sunrise and experiencing the country as we drove to our destination had me thinking about what God had in mind for all of God’s people when it was all created.  Rich. Poor. War. Peace. Black. White.
I am sure as we head into this week of caring for hundreds of Mayans in the villages in the Highlands, we will all be thinking about why we are here and how God can and will use us to help others. It is a privilege to be here and I never want to forget that.  I am blessed. We are blessed.  And even as we bless others this week, we will be blessed 10 or 100 fold.  I am excited for this team to experience the love that I have come to know here in this beautiful country.
For now… Everyone is fast asleep I pray and tomorrow will be another day of experiences that will give us reason to pause and be grateful.
Blessings on your sleep. Know that your loved ones are safe and doing well.
 Blessings, Linda
Day 2
Team outside Cunen
Dear family and friends,
Today was an amazing day in Guatemala!  It was warm and sunny with.    A breeze as we headed for the mountains.  This morning we went to the market.  The market in Chichi is one of the world’s largest open air markets. It is a crazy place – filled with people, colors, sounds of bargaining and chickens and kids saying “good price for you”, smells of food cooking, flowers, and so much more.  A few of the team got good at bargaining today while others found it a bit overwhelming and just took it all in – knowing there will be more opportunities for bargaining in Panachajel and Santiago next weekend.
image1We also found our way to the Catholic Church and was privileged to be in attendance for some of a Sunday morning worship.  The church is a large church and it was filled!  The music was lead by a cantor and I found it to be particularly moving. There was something powerful about listening to the music being sung by a church full of people led by a cantor who kept the music in a rhythm. Perhaps it was also the candles that were lit by the people and left burning during the service and the flowers purchased by many from the front steps of the church to adorn the chancel area.  It was definitely worship – pure worship.
We then headed to the very large local cemetery where we saw the colorful above ground tombs and the burial spaces of the poor covered with dirt and adorned with a simple cross.  We also witnessed Mayan rituals in the cemetery which involves burning of incense with a lot of billowing smoke, lighting of candles, and spreading flower petals – all while chanting and praying.  The small chapel near the Mayan ritual site was open and for the first time I entered the chapel to find a large tomb with a cross in the center of the floor (I assume that means the chapel is not Mayan) and candles burning in front of an altar table.  It was rustic and plain and clearly had meaning.
We then walked back through the market for a wonderful lunch before we headed to Cunen.  I will just say that the Guacamole was great!
Our bus ride through the mountains was long (4 hours) but we were blessed with more spectacular views of the mountains.Driving to Cunen always raises the reality for me how deep into the mountains we are.  Cunen is a town in a valley surrounded by mountains and people are pretty isolated. I love going to Cunen because the need is so great there.  On the way, we did stop in Sacapulas for some to buy black salt.  You will have to ask them about it : )
image9Tomorrow, we head to Chiul for our first day of clinics.  We will set up the clinic in a public building.  We plan to arrive by 8:30 and start seeing patients by 9:30 or 10:00am.  It always amazes me how a team that has never worked together and who mostly don’t have a lot of medical experience can set up a fully running clinic in such a short time!
Tonight I ask that you hold us in prayer as we start the week.  And hold the people of Chiul in prayer as they come to receive much needed medical care.
Everyone is well and enjoying each other’s company.  Thank you for sharing them with the people of this beautiful country.
Blessings on this night.
Blessings, Linda
Day 3 clinic b
Day 3
Hola from Guatemala!

We survived our first clinical day!  We were set up and triaging patients before 10am and at the end of the day we had seen 85 patients!  It was a good first day.

I love seeing teams come together like they have known each other for years.  I am so thankful tonight for their flexibility in moving around in the afternoon as we tweaked the process in the pharmacy area.

Most of the patients today spoke Quiche’ which meant translation from English to Spanish to Quiche’ and back.  Our translators are great! We saw a lot of sick children and adults.  Lots of fever, “gastritis”, and upper respiratory things as well as knee pain, back pain, a bit of scabies and eczema, and parasites…. To name a few.

Our clinic was a bit of a hike from the bus today.  It was in a good size community building that was airy (not too hot) and already set up with some rustic wooden tables and chairs.  We hung sheets to define the exam rooms and each room had a square table and some chairs.  Not exactly the comfort of home exam rooms but we had everything we needed.  After people were given numbers they waited for their number to be called to have their vital signs taken. Once that happened, they sat in chairs and waited for a provider.  At some point they might have found themselves at the lab having a urine checked or a blood sugar.  After they saw the provider they went to the pharmacy to wait for their directions and medications if needed.  We gave every person who came through vitamins for themselves and for their family.  And many received toothbrushes and tooth paste as well.

So let’ see – Marilyn learned how to check blood sugars and give nebulizer treatments and what HCG meant. She rocked it in the lab! Sally stepped it up as she stepped in to help out with dispensing medications and working with an interpreter to give patients their directions. She and Peter did an awesome job!  Britney was awesome in doing vital signs and working in the triage area.  Carole helped out in triage getting patient histories, doing a great job! Sue, Terry and I saw patients all day – diagnosing and treating ailments.  Brandy worked with me in seeing patients. She is an NP student doing her clinical!  Why didn’t I think of this when I was a student?

Lorie – a dental hygienist – worked with some who had tooth issues and was a tremendous help with those patients!Day 3 clinic meds

And then Melissa, Meredith, Lorie, Laurie Beth, Savannah, Ben, Roger, Jim, and Chris all worked in the pharmacy in varying jobs. The pharmacy is by far the most complex area to be and day 1 is always a day of working out kinks.  Meds need to be counted out and bagged as well as labeled.  They then need to be dispensed and instructions given. That is no easy task! These folks did a great job today!

Honestly – every member of this team shined today.  They stepped outside their comfort zone to offer people they didn’t know a bit of kindness, love, and care they would not have otherwise. I am forever grateful.  The Cunen area sees 3 medical teams per year.  The rest of the time their access to care is very limited.  Today we made a difference in the lives of 85 people and we felt blessed.

As I write this, it is very quiet here.  Not a peep from the rooms.  I think folks were tired after a day that was physical (setting up things) and emotional (seeing sick people all day). Spirits are high and we are all looking forward to a new day tomorrow caring for another 80+ patients!

Thanks for your prayers today!  Tomorrow we return to Chiul.  It is a small town that generally has a large turnout. The folks we turned away tonight are first to be seen tomorrow.

I hope your day was as blessed as ours.  Please continue to hold us and the people of Chiul in your prayers.

Blessings on your rest.

Sent from my iPhone
Blessings, Linda


image2Day 4

Dear family and friends,

This was last nights note but I have been trouble getting an email out so… I am texting it to my son to email to you.

Today we spent a second day in Chiul and saw 106 patients!  The building where we held the clinic was off the beaten path – down a hill, through a back yard, up an incline, then down a dirt road.  Easy in the morning but a bit more difficult at the end of the day with heavy suitcases filled with medications. I thought folks would be exhausted but there was a spirit in the air tonight that was  fun and lively.

Today was a busy day and a day filled with kids everywhere!  Oh.my.gosh.  I think every kid in town came to play at the clinic today.  I don’t always get to see what goes on outside the exam room, but I hear they had the parachute out 3 times and played with the kids!  The kids always love the parachute.  I also know I came out of the exam room to see a “swarm of kids” in a circle and upon closer inspection I found Lorie in the midst of them all teaching them how to brush their teeth! The kids were fascinated with her demonstration and were really paying attention !image3

The clinic ran so smoothly today.  We have an amazing team that is working so well together.  It feels like I have known everyone for years and years!  I think the team bonding is one of the things I look forward to on every team.  It always happens and I am always amazed and thankful.  We do have an awesome God!

Today I saw a 19 month old girl who was there because she had knee pain.  I wasn’t sure how mom knew she had knee pain until I examined her. Both knees had fluid on the knees.  They weren’t tender.  She seemed to be comfortable until she stood up. When she stood it became apparent that the left leg was considerably longer than the right.  And she was in pain. She started crying and didn’t stop until she was picked up. She had to bend the left knee to stand. When she walked she had a limp. Further exam revealed nearly a one inch discrepancy with the right hip higher than the left.  The right knee was also higher than the left.  And when she laid down the legs immediately dropped into an external rotation of the hip.  All this to say that she needed to see an orthopedic doc who could do tests and determine the proper course of action for this beautiful little girl.  And it turns out there is a podiatrist a little distance away who screens patients and books them for a group of orthopedic surgeons who come to Guatemala to do surgery on children twice a year. What a gift! I will be praying for this little girl – Ashley – that things work out for her to be seen and treatment allows her to be whole and healthy..

Terry saw a patient who was having significant gallbladder pain.  The woman had spent all her money going to the national hospital and being worked up only to be told that she had stones but she could not have surgery.  She has been in increasing pain x 6 months and was sitting at the clinic in obvious pain. Evidently it is not unusual for patients to be turned away at the national hospital (where care is free).  So many systems are very corrupt in this country. Health care is one of them.
Our team talked tonight and we will take a love offering in the am and provide this woman with the transportation she needs to go to the hospital in Shela for another opinion and the testing that she will need.  She will go by ambulance in the morning.

Please hold these patients and so many others we have seen in prayer.

image1God showed up today and blessed patients but also blessed each one of us.  It is a powerful blessing to hold the calloused dirty painful feet of someone who walks miles each day and doesn’t have the means to have adequate footwear.  It is a powerful blessing to meet shy children who soon are hanging off your back because they want to be with you and play.   It is a powerful blessing to hold babies whiles moms are being weighed.  It is a powerful blessing to be able to provide some relief of an ailment – even if only for a short time. It is a powerful blessing to be in Guatemala on this team, sharing these experiences together and loving one another through the highs and the lows.

Tomorrow we head to the village of Trigalles.  I look forward to sharing more experiences.

The team is healthy and well.  As I have been writing to you, I am listening to the laughter of others who are still in the “dining area” playing cards, sharing stories and having a great time.

Thank you for going on this journey with us.  Perhaps some day you will find yourself in Guatemala sharing your stories and love with others.

Blessings on your night!


Day 4 clinic set up

Day 5

Hola from Cunen!
It is 9pm and everyone is in bed.  We had another amazing day – one filled with patients – 138 of them.  Our team was like a well oiled machine today.  Honestly every single member of this team was needed to make today happen.  There is not an unimportant job!  We have used our God given gifts and then expanded our gift bank tremendously : )  It is really hard to put into words how it feels to take a step back and see people who didn’t know each other a few months ago laughing together and working together and helping others – together.  I feel a deep gratitude.
Today we had some tough cases – a 5 year old with dwarfism who is unable to obtain any specialized help.  He is a cute smart boy whose body is growing in abnormal ways.
We also saw a boy who is autistic and who has Cerebral Palsy. His mom is a school teacher and Melissa spent time with mom guiding her to Internet resources that might help her to help her son.  There are 5 children in Los Trigales who are autistic (although there is not a term for that in Quiche).  Because it is not a recognized disorder, there are no resources.
Day 4 clinicI had a woman with a trigger finger today. It was quite significant – she could not bend her finger without it getting stuck. She really needed surgery to correct it but there are no hand specialists and therefore no option for surgery. So I injected it with cortisone and hope that she will get some good long term relief.  Maybe next time I find myself in Los Trigales I will inject it again!
We saw diabetes and hypertension and foot pain and back pain.  We saw a fractured clavicle and ribs, chest pain requiring cardiology work ups, ears plugged with wax, lots of cataracts and blurry vision, headaches, and so much more.
I think we all found ourselves doing a ton of education with patients, helping them to understand what was going on and why we were recommending the treatment we were offering. Many of the people we encounter can’t read and have a first grade education.  They often don’t follow through with medications and recommendations perhaps because they don’t understand. That can vary though from village to village.  Today we were working in 2 classrooms in the village school.  I loved seeing the fruits and vegetables on the walls as well as many other lessons. And I loved hearing the kids playing outside.
The weather has been beautiful here.  It has been in the 70s with a light breeze.  Today was a bit more humid maybe.  The nights have been in the 50’s which has been great for sleeping.  Some of the team are sporting some new skin color. The sun is hot and it is easy to burn here.
Suntan lotion and sunglasses are so important!  And yet few villagers have either.  We have given away a lot of sunglasses this week.  Chap stick too.
One of the places were our team has shined this week is in playing with the kids.  They have colored and painted nails. They have played ball and parachute games as well as given away clothing and hats and toys.  The kids bring a ton of joy when it is difficult dealing with so many sick people. And I can say that the kids here – while they can act like kids when playing, they are very well behaved.  They will sit with mom for hours waiting for an appointment without much fussing or whining. Day for children
Tomorrow we head to a new village.  I can’t tell you the name – yet.  The village has never had a medical team so I am not sure what to expect.  We could be inundated with tons of patients or not.  Sometimes it takes a few brave souls in the morning to come to the clinic and then when word gets out that they were treated well, the afternoon is crazy! t remains to be seen.
Again thank you for journeying with us.  I have had difficulty with getting emails out. The Internet is soooo slow that email often can’t go. So I will again text this message to Seth and ask him to email it by replying all.  Where there is a will, there is a way.
Know that God is blessing this place and this team mightily.  We are safe and working well together and developing friendships that will last a lifetime.
I pray you are blessed by hearing our stories.  May your day be blessed!
Blessings, Linda
Day 6 (Written the following morning)
Dear family and friends,
I am attempting to write from our moving bus this morning.  We had such a full day yesterday that I didn’t get a note out to you. We are currently headed back to Panajachel.  We have a lot of fun surprises in store for the team today. I am hoping that I will be able to send you some pictures when I get to Pana.  I should have a much better internet connection there.
Yesterday  we went to the village community of Chutuj. It was off the main road – up a mountain on a dirt road some distance.  The vista from the village was breathtaking.  The village was very remote. We saw a lot of sheep and goats and pigs and chickens.  We were privileged to meet a grandmother and her granddaughter who were sheep herders.  They had a flock of sheep and one goat. The relationship between the grandmother and granddaughter was sweet and endearing.
The people of Chutuj were wonderful. Their spirit was one of patience and kindness. The children were wonderful to engage. Everyone had a great day! We saw 114 patients in this village and had we had more time we could have seen more.  We were on a time limit because we were an hour from our hotel and we had to get off the mountain before sunset.  As we were coming down the mountain we were treated to an amazing sunset over the mountains.  image7
Last night at our team meeting we decided to provide the funds for the little girl I wrote about earlier who had one leg longer than the other.  We contacted a local orthopedist who also feels it is probably her hip.  He wants X-rays and then he will see her next week.  If surgery is needed it may be a few months before that can happen but it will happen.  Had we not seen her, it is possible she would not have received the treatment she needed.  We will provide the funds for their transportation to the doctor and the X-rays and any other things that she needs.  The surgery itself will be free.  National medicine.  The problem is that the national hospitals are in the big cities and the people in the villages don’t have transportation and they don’t always know how to access the resources.   We also will be providing the transportation and funds for any testing for a family with a mom and 5 girls. Three of the girls including a 2 year old I saw yesterday have an eye condition where there is constant strabismus which interferes with their vision.  The are very light sensitive and have a hard time seeing outdoors.  Their vision inside is poor as well. We have contacted a private eye hospital in Guatemala City (which is a huge distance – 10 hours – for this family to travel).  It is a premier eye hospital though and they will see the girls for 50Q (about $7.00) each.  They have a system where a portion of the money from those who can afford to pay actually provides care for those who can’t.  We will cover the transportation and hotel and food to and from the hospital.  The family will cover the 150Q for the 3 girls.
image8At our team gathering last night we were blessed as we talked about the ways in which we have been the hands and feet of Jesus and the ways which we were blessed by the people of Chutuj.  Everyone had a great last day of clinical.  We could not have provided the care we did without each and every team member.  Every job is equal in it importance.
Our team of 18 has 3 providers and 2 OB nurses.  Everyone else works outside the medical field.  So if you are reading this and thinking that you would love to do this but have no experience…. All you need is an open heart to love the Mayan people.  From counting pills, to playing with the kids, to doing a blood sugar or a urine dip to listening to hearts and diagnosing to triaging to dispensing medications – every person on this team is vital. You could be one of those team members.
As we continue to drive and I finish this up, I am hearing conversation and laughter.  There is a rumbling as the team is requesting Archie (our driver) to put on tunes like Sweet Home Alabama so they can sing and dance (in their seats).  This is a great group- like every group that has ever gone!
Thank you for lending your loved ones to this mission.  They were used mightily this week and the people here are so appreciative!
Hopefully the next email will be from me with pictures of our experience!
Blessing on your day…
Day 7image2
Good evening!
Perhaps it is morning by the time you open this as it is bedtime here in Guatemala.  Today was a travel day and we are now in Panachajel.  This is a wonderful town to be in.  The beauty of the lake, the people, the culture… I really do love Pana.On the way here we stopped at a school in the village of Chulumal. We were able to go into the classrooms and see the kids work as well as interact with the children. They loved showing us their work and they were learning English so they could say a few words here and there.  We met with the superintendent who talked with us about the school. They take first students who can’t afford the public school in Chichi.Then they take anyone else. It is grades 1-9. Grades 1-5 meet in the morning and then grades 6-9 meet in the afternoon. They share the space.image10We then went to visit a family of 11 children and a mom.  It was a hike from the road to get to the house – up dirt roads and then paths.  The father died one year ago from alcoholism which is a huge problem in Guatemala.  The team got to see first hand how many of these families live.  The house was made up of 2 bedrooms with a total of 6 beds and a tiny kitchen. The beds were boards with blankets on top. The mom talked about how 5 of their children had finished 9th grade before dad died and she was working to keep the rest of the children in school.  Public school costs money in Guatemala.  Most children in these villages do not attend school.   We had taken food with us to the home and we left that with some money. Before leaving the home we prayed with the family asking God for blessings on the family and the home.We.arrived in Pana on schedule and went to dinner.  Everyone is now in bed (I hope).  We plan to take the boat across Lake Atitlan to have breakfast in Santiago which means an early morning!So as I head to bed I will finish this with pictures and send it off with our blessings to you.
Day 8Day 8 dinner
Hi folks,
Short note tonight as we leave early in the morning for the 3 hour drive to the airport.Today we took a boat to Santiago on the other side of the lake for breakfast at Los Posado. We all have a great breakfast!After breakfast we walked to the church in Santiago where Father Rothner was killed during the civil war in 1981. He was a catholic priest from Oklahoma who helped the Mayans during the war and ultimately lost his life.  They have restored the chapel in which he was killed.  It is a heartbreaking story of the war.We then worked our way to the boat via the shops. Lots of great things were bought by all. Let’s say the economy was helped out here!Day 8 fishingWe then took the boat to San Antonio Polopo where we saw weaving and had an opportunity to buy some pottery. It is the one place on Lake Atitlan that has pottery.After leaving San Antonio we went back to Pana. Terry and Sue went zip lining while the rest of the crew rested or shopped. I’m not much of a shopper but I walked with others who were, until I was significantly worn out. Today was an overcast muggy day. So by the time we got back to the hotel we were all hot and sweaty And tired.Tonight we went to dinner and after dinner Clarissa from Salud Y Paz came and talked with us – showing a video. We made do with the furniture from our rooms.Day 8 volcanoI think everyone had a great trip and felt their hearts expand a bit. I know I did. I am eternally grateful to the entire team for their commitment and hard work as well as the love they gave to the Mayans.  They made a difference this week!  And as a result found the blessings to be 100 fold.

Thank you for traveling with us.

Sent from my iPhone
Blessings, Linda