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I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t feel like a writer. I can take pictures of patients waiting to be seen; photograph their ornate, beaded dresses; get a normally stoic subject to give me a sweet grin. I trust I can capture the beauty of Antigua and the Obras Hospital and the tireless volunteers who lean on God to do the work they came to do. I can look through a thousand photos and select a few that represent our mission. For me, those are the easier parts of this role.

But writing and conveying that beauty in print is harder. How do you convey a look of hope as patients wait to be seen, or a look of fear as they are wheeled into surgery? How do you convey a look of gratitude toward the doctors and nurses as they do their rounds? Or convey the stories as patients speak of their travels and determination to obtain medical care. And explaining how it feels to be able to hear clearly for the first time? I’ll give it a try…

I’d like to start with an incredible and super weird fact. This year the surgical team saw 74 patients and performed 103 procedures. Our Audiology team saw 74 patients and distributed 104 hearing aides. WHAT?? You know the phrase, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”? She’s so precise!

Saturday, April 13th, Team Cameron arrived in Guatemala City and drove to Antigua and to the beautiful Quinta de las Flores hotel. Working at the Obras Sociales Hospital, with its newly renovated surgical wing, meant we didn’t need to bring as many supplies this year. That was helpful as we didn’t have the usual long wait and stress over getting our trunks cleared upon arrival at the airport. We got settled into our hotel, had a lovely dinner and met with our Guatemalan Faith in Practice leaders. We took our group photo then turned in and prepared for the week.

Sunday was Triage and our first day at the Obras. After an initial tour the team broke out and met with prospective patients and prepared the operating/recovery rooms for the coming week. It was a long first day and I was impressed with the patience and perseverance of the medical team. Not only with the patients but with each other as they navigated this foreign space. Not to mention the patients who sat for hours in plastic chairs, nervous, tired, anxious, I’m sure. Some had traveled hours or days and were hopeful for a cure. This is where we met Esteriel, a 40-year-old woman, suffering from heavy bleeding and stomach pains. She had been waiting in Antigua for a week, leaving her 12-year-old at home to watch her 5-year-old who had severe autism. She had traveled 3.5 hours from Santa Rosa and was put on the surgery schedule for the end of the week. Hearing her story, her surgery was moved up so she could return to her children as soon as possible. Women’s healthcare is crucially vital in a country where women often have multiple children, and where access to this care is limited. Esteriel was one of many women the doctors met with, seeking similar care for what can be a painful and debilitating condition.

Following breakfast each morning our spiritual leader, Kristin Huffman, helped us connect with God – her successful attempts at inspiring us with the Holy Spirit before sending us off. As I begin writing about our surgical week I reflect on some of her lessons from her message of “Building Community.”

Building Community/“Hospitality” – Hebrews 13:1 “Stay on good terms with each other, held together by love.”

Kathy and Jeff Cameron have a gift for excellent cast ensemble. The team of three Gynecologists, a General Surgeon, two ENTs, two Anesthesiologists, four CRNAs, four Scrub Nurses, three Post-Op Nurses, a Pharmacist, a Patient Advocate, three Nurse Circulators, two Audiologists, four Interpreters, and a Spiritual Leader, included some of the kindest, most talented people I’ve ever met. Some had traveled and worked together for years, while others were new, experiencing the mission for the first time. The bond was quick.

During the week I watched the flow of the surgeons and nurses, the interpreters with patients, the anesthesiologists carefully watching their sleeping patients, the ward nurse and minister placing their hands on those in need, the post-op nurses watching over recovering patients…it was like a dance. It was beautiful. In addition, we had the wonderful Guatemalan Faith In Practice surgical/support team and volunteers that without them, none of this would be possible. Seriously.

Building Community/“Listening” – Genesis 28:16 “Surely the Lord was in this place, and I was not aware of it.”

Kristin reminded us to listen to the subtle, underneath noises all around. Be present, not only listening with our ears but with our hearts. Look into the eyes of the patient or family as the interpreter is conveying the patient’s needs. Pick up on their fears and concerns, of which there were many, and provide comfort. One of our patients was terrified of anesthesia and afraid she wouldn’t wake up. She had lost a son during Covid and feared being put to sleep. Carlos Desir, a team CRNA listened to her fear and explained her procedure in detail so she would understand and feel comforted.

I wanted to understand our patients. I grew envious of the interpreters and felt a calling to become one. I spent Thursday morning in the patient ward, taking polaroid pictures of the patients, asking in my broken Spanish how they were feeling. Truthfully, it was the first time I felt a real connection and I wanted more of that.

Building Community/“Forgiveness” – Col 3:14 “And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.”

I watched Jennifer Gerardos, a team CRNA, gently place rolled towels under the arms of a sleeping patient while the surgeon, anesthesiologist, and scrub nurse carefully maneuvered her body into position for surgery. This moved me. I’m sure to them it’s a given, to make a patient comfortable; make sure they won’t wake up with a crick in their neck or a sore arm from laying weird. But it was bigger than that to me. The space they created was one of care and empathy. I am at an advantage being the photographer of this mission. I get to experience this type of scene over and over as I move through each facet of the mission. Watching these people, each one in their specialty, tend to the patients in their care, is beyond everything. Every single person has a role and every role is important. The respect and camaraderie among the Faith In Practice team makes me feel honored to be a part of it.

I enjoyed photographing the patients in Audiology. I was discussing the kindness and the calm nature of the people waiting to have their hearing checked. It is there that I learned the most beautiful meaning of a word. Aequanimitas – calmness of mind, patience, tranquility and equanimity. Wendell Todd, ENT providing audiology support, explained our patients possess something we chase every day…tranquility. They would wait for hours to be tested; were patient being fitted for hearing aides and learning how to use them; sat in a soundproof, scorching hot room, to have their ears tested; and answered questions, if they could hear them. Then if it was possible, they smiled so large the second they could hear! Then a thumbs up, or touch on the hand, or a big hug. It never gets old.

I became obsessed with watching the faces of the surgeons and scrub nurses as they worked over a patient. Also their hands…the way they intertwined with the instruments. So many instruments!! It’s funny how things become less graphic when you’re looking through a lens. At times I couldn’t get close enough to the surgical spot. This area, once healed, was going to change a person’s life. I often can’t believe my good fortune at being even a small part of it.

There isn’t enough room for all the stories but I’ll end with this one, it’s one of my favorites. Following Triage, three of our team members, Marilee, Kristin and Grace, had a little time before dinner and decided to walk around Antigua since it was Grace’s first time visiting. Getting lost in the streets they ended up walking past the ruins of the old cathedral. They paid to enter and as they made their way to the crypt a young man approached them…

Kristin – “He noticed our Faith in Practice badges and said he’d had knee surgery here in Antigua and he’d like to give us a free tour of the ruins. He said we were so kind to him and he wanted to pay us back somehow. His name was Sergio and he was a soccer player on one of the professional leagues in Guatemala. He had a meniscus tear and had to have it repaired by an orthopedic doctor from Faith in Practice. He gave us a free tour of the entire ruins. He kept saying, ‘Anything I can do to help, you made my life so much better.’ He kept moving his knee around to show us how much better he is now. It’s the first patient, post surgery, I’ve met on a trip here.”

Marilee – “being in the Operating Room you don’t always get to see the patients afterward. To be one of the people affiliated with the group that took care of him…it really hit home hearing for the first time about a patient who was helped by Faith in Practice.”

I’ll end by saying thank you, although how do I find the right words to convey gratitude toward our loved ones and donors? It’s enormous, this opportunity. Thank you for the unwavering love, support and encouragement.

And thank you, God, for carrying us. All of us.

-Shari Correll

“Hello, sun in my face. Hello
you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields…
Watch, now, how I start the
day in happiness, in

Mary Oliver