Thursday, March 24, 2016

Timmy Global Health Brigade March 2016

Text and photos by Robyn Nielsen unless otherwise noted

Last week Pop Wuj welcomed the Indiana University Timmy Global Health brigade with much excitement and anticipation. Nearly 40 individuals ranging from undergrads to long time practicing physicians arrived in Xela on Sunday with medical supplies and an obvious display of enthusiasm.

Timmy Global Health is a USA based nonprofit that works to expand healthcare access to underprivileged communities and empowers volunteers to become better global citizens while understanding global health issues at a deeper level. Here in Guatemala, Pop Wuj partners with Timmy Global Health and receives monetary support in order to maintain year-round care for all of the patients that rely on Pop Wuj's free and low-cost health services. Timmy Global Health sends five volunteer groups to Pop Wuj a year where medical professionals, student volunteers, and community volunteers combine their skills and knowledge to serve rural communities around Xela with mobile clinics. Many of the individuals who we serve would otherwise not have access to health care without these brigades.

Unlike many other short-term medical volunteer programs, Timmy Global Health and Pop Wuj work with communities to ensure long-term health solutions including a referral day after the brigade leaves where patients with referrals receive the additional care that they need with transportation provided.

This much anticipated week filled with hard work, PB&J sandwiches and hand sanitizer started off a little something like this:

Day 1 started bright and early in Llanos del Pinal in Ixcanul Noj, the community center that is also home to the Family Support Center. After a group introduction and special welcome led by Pop Wuj's director, Carmencita, everyone went to their designated stations and got straight to work.

Carmen and brigade leader Shanti leading the first group meeting
Collectively, brigade members, local doctors, Pop Wuj interns, and Pop Wuj medical Spanish students shared the many roles that allowed the clinics to function as smoothly as they did including: registering patients, taking histories, checking vitals, evaluating patients, working in the pharmacy, distributing and explaining meds to patients, public health education, applying fluoride treatment to children's teeth, administering eye exams, and translating.

Pharmacy team in action

A view of doctors and med students in consults and the dentist at work
Timmy student applying a flouride treatment to a child while coloring
Although it was the first day, people adapted quickly to their roles and after the last patient left with their medications, high fives were shared celebrating the end of a very successful first day.

Patients waiting for consult in Llanos del Pinal
That day we saw a total of 72 patients (47 women and 24 men).

Day 2 started early with a 7am departure for our 1.5 hour journey to rural Xeabaj. The vans were loaded with everything needed to set up what was basically a small hospital and we were off.

Dr. Brett going above and beyond to set up the wires needed for the clinic
Upon arrival, we began set up at the local elementary school. Community leader Lorenzo, gave a powerful welcome to the brigade and a short history of why our services and efforts were so essential in his community. In 2005, Hurricane Stan displaced the entire community and since then they have slowly been rebuilding with limited resources .

The Xeabaj School where we set up clinic

Xeabaj is comprised of a K'iche' community where the vast majority of our patients first language was K'iche'. We used translators in order to insure the best care for the patients and we couldn't have done our jobs without the help of the translators.

Sean acting out how to use an inhaler to a young patient
In Xeabaj we saw a total of 61 patients (52 women, 9 men). The sun was hot and shining throughout the day, students took time to play basketball and soccer with waiting children and we ended the day as the clouds began to roll in around us.

Our caravan loaded up and ready to go home

Day 3 in Pujujil. Pujujil is roughly two hours outside of Xela in the department of Solola. The time spent in the mini bus, zooming around curvey roads and beautiful scenery gave us a chance to converse and reflect on the week thus far.

A small glimpse of beautiful Pujujil
When we arrived in the town, we were welcomed by several community leaders. One of the head leaders announced to the small community that we had arrived over a microphone system that echoed into the hills. Our makeshift clinic began setting up in the towns empty church, using pews for waiting areas and hanging up tarps and sheets for consult rooms.

Setting up in Pujujil

Some of us walked down to the nearby school, La Escuela Oficial Rural Mixta Caserio El Adelanto in Pujujil and provided parasite treatments to 346 kids.

Students at the school (photo by Shanti Aguilar-Cardenas)
Becky giving a parasite treatment to a student (photo by Shanti Aguilar-Cardenas)
Students lined up, ready for the parasite pill (photo by Shanti Aguilar-Cardenas)
Once the school let out, the majority of school children came to the clinic, curious of what was going on. We handed out coloring sheets (which turned into utter chaos) and played soccer and tag with them in street during lunch breaks or down times.

After seeing 61 patients (38 women, 16 men), the vans pulled out with children and community members waving us goodbye.

Day 4 in Buena Vista. We arrived around 8:30 am and gathered for another short meeting and welcome led by Doña Ana, the midwife who runs the hospital where we set up the clinic. She introduced the staff and the local translators and thanked us for our efforts. This time we were in a Mam community and, as in Xeabaj, we used translators to bridge the language gap.

 Ali, a Pop Wuj Medical Spanish student, with one of the women of the community. 
Pop Wuj students and Timmy students ready for registration
Sneaky birds eye view of the clinic and waiting patients

By the end of the day we had seen 70 patients (56 women, 14 men) and returned to Pop Wuj eager for the highly talked about dinner that had been prepared all day by Pop Wuj staff member, Carmenlina.

That night, more than 50 chairs were set up in the main Pop Wuj sala for the whole team as we munched on burritos made with fresh ingredients, said our thank yous and goodbyes and shared stories from the week.

Pop Wuj sala turns into a 5-star restaurant for the night
A full house!

The final day of the brigade, day 5, wrapped up here at Pop Wuj. Unlike normal Pop Wuj clinics which are usually held in the clinic on the first floor of Pop Wuj, we opened up the entire school in order to serve 81 patients (61 women, 20 men). Rooms that usually held Spanish classes were filled with blood pressure machines and doctor consults. It was comfortable to be at our second home and special to share the space with others.

The Timmy pharmacy team in the Pop Wuj pharmacy
5 for the 5th day!
Team Timmy in the Pop Wuj house

The team finished early around 3:30, headed back to the hotel and loaded into the vans for the journey back to Antigua.

From a more personal perspective, I found what was suppose to be somewhat of a daunting, busy week to be extremely fulfilling and inspiring. The gratitude that we received from patients after their visits made the long hours well worth it. The motivation that I saw in the young students was incredible and day after day they displayed more energy than the day before. While sitting in on a consult with Dr. Brett and a scribing undergrad student, she leaned over to me and said, "This is why I want to be a doctor." Although it was only a week, I saw a definite spark in students, an ignited passion for global health, and watched as they transformed throughout the week. What students take away from an experience like this is unsurpassable. Speaking with the doctors and brigade staff reignited my own motivation for a future in health work and I learned a tremendous amount from working in the clinic alongside my peers.

Thank you Timmy Global Health and everyone that was involved in such a transformative week!

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