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Day One – Travel


Back to Guatemala with a few old (and some soon-to-be) friends.


Not much working today, although several of us did catch a nap (or three) on the flight and short (15 miles, nearly 2 hour) bus ride from the airport to Antigua.  All the way up. All the way down, then back up to 5,500ft.


There was an architect on the bus ride (yes, me) who thought we needed to sing classic rock songs and a Sesame Street version of “Wheels on the Bus” to get to know the new members better.


Off to the Obras tomorrow, for Triage Day, hoping to hear some incredible stories, so we can turn them into incredible successes.


Day Two – Triage and Stocking


Today, we divide and conquer two important tasks…to answer two important questions:


What do we have to work with?


Who do we have to work on?


What do you do with the random architect on the team?  Same thing…spend part of your day in the warehouse at the Obras (hospital) and part of the day sitting in on interviews with potential patients.


And, man did we find some good ones…


…boxes of leftover supplies that we pulled out some things we (they) could use, and some great stories (waiting to be told).


Lots of “old hat” normal procedures like hernias and tonsils, but a lot that I figure you don’t want me to share photos of…like…


A 60-year-old man with six (yes…six) fruit-sized cysts on his neck that we couldn’t operate on, but drained (sorry, hope you’re not eating) that same day instead of waiting for surgery.


A 72-year-old man with polyps in his nose that have literally “come out of their cage” and have prevented him from breathing out of that same nose for nearly 20 years…


And, my new friend Diego, with a small mass that looks like, but is not, his Adam’s apple.


And Patita (little duckling) 2.0 with a mass on her tongue that doubles the size of her actual tongue.


So many more…that I’ll share later.


Day Three – Surgery Day One


Took a while to get started, but the team finished strong, completing just under forty (yes…40) surgeries on the first (of four) surgery days.


It was the next chapter for patients of all ages, as their stories enter the phase where all the people they met yesterday now don their funny hats and masks, and do what they do best, expecting when they awake later in the day, that the things that ailed them are gone or on the mend.


A few of us ventured over to Casa de Fe for the day, to see where the families that don’t have local accommodations stay before their surgeries.  The facility has the capacity for 80 people, but because of our team of over-achievers…with a schedule of well over 120 patients…they converted the chapel benches into 8 more beds and rented a local hotel for the remainder.


Casa de Fe serves 5 meals per day, and utilizes a bracelet system for all patients and family members with special diet restrictions, showing this process-driven architect that the chaotic world we live in always has hope for a little order now and then.


Another big day tomorrow…and a visit to the recovery ward…prepare yourself….


Day Four – Surgery and Recovery


I am at a complete loss of words (and angst towards LinkedIn for not letting me post more pictures) but I am pushing through…


Today, we get to see all sides of a hundred stories in one day, with a round in the recovery ward to start the day, where the team is greeted by grateful patients, and more surgeries (adding to the 36 from the second day…75 in two days…so far).


The surgeons are the super-heroes in the group (don’t tell them) during rounds, always greeted by smiles and hugs, with more genuine appreciation showered on the group than can be put in words.


Our young lady friend who thanked the team on Triage Day, then again at Casa de Fe, then again in Pre-op, and yet again in the PACU…with a smile and a “thank you for helping make me better” at every stage…now pays us all back with hugs.


On the surgery front, the 72 year old man with nearly 15 years of complete nasal blockage gets his relief, the plastics team separates two fingers that had been fused together since birth in a 10 year old boy, and our little Patita gets the lesion removed from her tongue….amongst other minor miracles.


For those who have followed along with this year’s bigger story…THANK YOU…


More to come…


Day Five – Surgery Day Three


Exhausting…in a better way than you can imagine…with yours truly (yes, me) actually scrubbing in (twice) to help on a special case where extra hands (no skill) were needed.


A quick pause and a shout out to my construction friends who may catch this post…electrical safety is NO joke…


My “extra hands” today were needed to help Dr. Roger Brown and the plastic surgery team on a man who was electrocuted….fusing some parts of his skin together, requiring surgery that lasted the whole afternoon.


With a heightened (now hands-on) appreciation for what doctors, surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists, and healthcare support staff do every day….I’ll stick to architecture…but love sharing their stories.


To start the day, more rounds with the surgeons, touching base with Diego (who hasn’t yet looked in the mirror to see the mass on his neck is gone), and Jorge (who now has all ten digits to wave back at us)…it was a good day.


Day Six – Final Surgery Day


Another day of rounds in the recovery area of the Obras, some VERY cute kiddos, and some simultaneously heart-breaking and bucket-filling stories.


On the plastic surgery front, the team repaired the finger of an absolutely adorable three year old boy, who burned his hand when he was a baby…but the hardest part of his story to hear was that he was left at the hospital as a baby, for reasons only his real mother understands.


There were also two young ladies who had some deformities repaired and some unique masses removed from their ears but the best story of the two…and the hardest to hear…


…was the 7 year old girl who wanted doctors to help stop the bullying in school because of the unique condition of her ears. She was kind and direct, from pre-op to the PACU, stating several times that she was not afraid and not worried…because she knew the team would help her…and stop the other kids from making fun of her…yep…that was the feeling we got too!


Back to the day…I can’t describe how many times today, as the surgeries winded down, the number of hugs I gave and received….and how it felt to embrace someone else and tell them how much you appreciate them, how much you love them, and how much you truly enjoyed spending a week with them.


More coming on the overall feeling of the week, but I can say without hesitation that this is…sometimes like faith…absolutely incredible yet indescribable.  It can’t be read, it can’t be written, it can’t be told, or heard.  It can’t be felt with a touch.  It is an emotion like no other…that breaks your heart as it fills it.


As for our work…the team completed over 150 surgeries in four days!!!  Not a typo, and it makes me so proud to have a played a tiny part in it.


Tomorrow, a last round in the recovery ward, a brunch together, and a free day…but for tonight….rest…


Day Seven – Final Rounds


The only “work” today was recovery ward rounds with surgeons and translators, including follow up with some patients from earlier in the week who needed to stay at the Obras and Casa de Fe through the week because of unique conditions.


Middle of the day was a group lunch just outside of Antigua, followed by some self-guided exploration by the team, both old and new.


More hugs, more smiles, more gratitude, and more emotions than can fit into words, so I’ll keep it short and sweet…


Every face has a story, but it’s always one that could have another ending if you choose to take a chance, jump in, and help.


What you never expect, and what you never can tell with only your words and pictures, is what parts of YOUR story are rewritten in the process.


More stories about these faces to come, but in the meantime, we head home tomorrow, and look back to what the group accomplished, the lives that were changed, and our next trip.


Erin Joseph Machac AIA