In the spring of 2018, one of our partnering physicians, Dr. Nicole Pinkerton, participated in a medical outreach trip to Guatemala. Dr. Pinkerton is a gynecologist at Specialists in Women’s Care and operates at Animas Surgical Hospital. The following article is her own first-hand account of the trip.
Guatemala is hard to describe in a few words. There is poverty, crime and corruption. There is beauty, love and faith. The geography includes coastlines, jungles and volcanoes. The weather has a dry season and a wet season. The pace of life is slow but somehow I felt more rushed when I was there.
Our time in Guatemala was jammed pack with triage and surgeries. We spent five days at Hospital Hilario Galindo, located in the southern Pacific Coast region of Guatemala. When we arrived at the hospital for the first time on Sunday, the rooms and shelves were completely bare. While the surgeons triaged the patients, the rest of the team unpacked our supplies and prepared the rooms for surgery the next day.
The facility was very nice and had been remodeled and expanded over the years. It now includes a clinic, 4 operating rooms, a pre-op and recovery area, an inpatient unit, a chapel and a break room and locker area with air conditioning. The operating rooms were air conditioned too, but the clinic and inpatient areas were not.
As one of the 4 surgeons, I spent the day talking to patients that had been pre-screened for possible surgery. I had a team that included a nurse and an interpreter. It was slow-going at first as I did not know the forms or Spanish or some of the customs that determine what kinds of procedures to offer. Throughout the day we developed a routine, and by the end of the day we had a system for getting through the interview and paperwork needed to schedule the surgeries over the next 4 days.
The next 4 days were filled with surgery and more triage. The surgeries ranged from simple biopsies to complicated prolapse repair. I performed 7 hysterectomies and the other gynecologist did 10. The hardest case that I performed involved a woman with both fibroids and endometriosis. The most rewarding procedure was a complicated prolapse surgery that was corrected. I also diagnosed an early uterine cancer in a young woman that will likely lead to her treatment prior to the development of late stage disease.
One of the highlights of the trip for me was visiting the wheelchair clinic. Wheelchairs were shipped prior
to our arrival and stacked up to the ceiling and arranged by size in a separate building called the wheelchair clinic. The volunteers assessed each patient, assembled a new wheelchair for each of them, and sent them home with a new opportunity for freedom. Many people arrived literally being carried by a family member and left with new found mobility and independence.
On Friday, we packed up our stuff, rounded on our patients for the last time and loaded ourselves onto the buses for the 5 hour return trip to Antiqua, where we would fly back to the U.S.
I went to Guatemala thinking I was going to provide a much-needed service to people with needs greater than my own. In some ways, I accomplished this and in other ways I did not. Yes, access to health care and surgical services is limited in Guatemala. We were able to bring the supplies, personnel and skills to a remote area of the country. We helped a lot of people with surgical problems. However, in the process, it exposed the limitations of the word “need.” In America, we are trained to believe we need a lot of money, a big house and a good job. In Guatemala, they are happy and content with far less material possessions. They gave us love and gratitude that we do not often see in our entitled world that seeks to compare and condemn at every turn. So, I received a lesson in humility and gratitude that was quite welcome.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Animas Surgical Hospital. Thank you to Dr. Nicole Pinkerton from Specialists in Women’s Care for sharing her experience and photos!