Medical Mission Trip to Guatemala: Travel Log

By Ali M. Rasool
This spring break I traveled to Guatemala on a medical mission trip through Volunteers for Intercultural and Definitive Adventures (VIDA) with a group of UT students. The following is a mini log of my time spent there.
Day 1: Saturday, March 8, 2014
I woke up extra early Saturday morning in Houston ready to go to Guatemala, and rushed over to the airport to meet up with the rest of my group for our 9 a.m. flight to Guatemala City. We landed in the capital at about 1 p.m. Guatemala time (they are one hour ahead of us). Soon after exiting the airport, we met up with our team leaders. We then took a trip to the mall, where we would exchange money (picture) and eat lunch.
One U.S. dollar equals approximately seven and a half Guatemalan quetzales. After lunch, we checked into the Hotel Princess, relaxed, and attended the welcome dinner and presentation at night.
Day 2: Sunday, March 9, 2014
We had an intense orientation from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. with the head doctor of the program. For the first half, we learned how to set up the clinic, fill out the medical forms, and ask the patients the right questions. In the second half we learned how to take vitalsfeeling the pulse, listening to the heart, taking temperature, and measuring blood pressure. We also had an overview of body systems and common diseases that affect the communities we would see. Each station at the clinic works had three volunteers, a translator, and a patient. One volunteer asked the questions, another wrote, and the last took the vitals. Together, we came up with a diagnosis and a treatment plan for the patient. Then the doctor checked the patient and discussed the diagnosis and treatment with us.
After orientation, we took off to the village of Parramos to meet our homestay families, whom we would be living with for the next two nights. My papa was the community leader and was well-respected in the village. We had delicious homegrown beans and tortillas for dinner.
 I remember looking up at the wall during dinner and smiling to myself for noting that the calendar hadn’t been changed since January. Our team leader mentioned how people in Guatemala are very relaxed about time. Papa noticed my smile and immediately got up to fix it. I also had the chance to talk with papa about health issues in the community. I discovered that many people suffer from parasitic infections because they do not boil their water or wash their hands while cooking.
Day 3: Monday, March 10, 2014
Today was the first day of clinic in a small village called La Libertad. I was nervous because I needed more practice taking blood pressure. I saw patients suffering from the common cold, fever, bronchitis, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and urinary tract infection (UTI). The doctor advised us to suggest preventative tips like exercising for at least 30 minutes a day and drinking 8-10 glasses of water a day for the patients.

I learned how important it is to ask the right questions. One patient complained of a dry cough. When asked if he had felt this type of cough before, he answered, "yes, about twice a year, when it gets cold." From this information, we deduced that he was likely suffering from seasonal allergies and should be treated with antihistamines.  
Tonight was our last night, so my home stay family hosted a farewell dinner for everyone. There was dancing after dinner, and I danced with my mama (picture). Late at night before bed, papa took us to his office, where I learned he makes maps in his free time. 
Day 4: Tuesday March 11, 2014
I started off my morning with some delicious beans and tortillas again. They really are the staple foods here. I said goodbye to my home stay papa. I gave him some chocolates, and he gave me a scarf in (picture).
Today was the second day of clinic in La Libertad. I met with patients suffering from diarrhea, sore throat, stomach ache, a parasitic amoeba infection, an umbilical hernia, pneumonia, excessive ear wax buildup leading to loss of hearing, and hepatitis A. I learned how to check for gastric obstructions and bloating using palpation and percussion on the abdomen to inspect the lower gastrointestinal tract.  
Towards the end of clinic, I spoke to the community about my observations so far in the past two clinic days, and I had the chance to offer them some preventative tips to improve their health.
After clinic, we left Parramos and traveled to Antigua. We checked into a hotel there, and then attended a salsa dance class in the evening.
Day 5: Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Today was a travel day, so we did not set up for clinic. Instead, we toured the ancient city of Antigua. We were really excited to see UT-Austin inscribed on the side of a small building and learned that archaeologist students from UT study abroad there. So we snapped a hook em’ picture right next to it (pictured below). After the tour, I took a rickshaw ride back to our hotel.

We then left Antigua for Panajachel, an amazing city located right next to the beautiful Lake Atitlan. For dinner we went ate a burger place, where along with overeating, I ate some forbidden onions. Forbidden because we were advised to avoid all water sources in Guatemala, which includes fruits and veggies naturally grown with the local water. I regret not giving this warning more attention for it was not long before I felt quite queasy.
Day 6: Thursday, March 13, 2014
Today we were back at the clinic in the community of Xe Juju. One of the greatest things I saw all day was the backpack baby. I remember asking the female patient about the whereabouts of the second patient she claimed to have with her. She gets up and points to her back. Attached to her is a baby in a sack, just like a pea in a pod, peering out at me with her big brown eyes (picture).
After clinic we stopped by to take some scenic pictures near Lake Atitlan and the mighty volcanoes it surrounds.

Day 7: Friday, March 14, 2014

Today was the last day of clinic, and I was recovering well from my food poisoning. In the picture, I am looking for white patches in the patient's throat and near her tonsils that would indicate she had strep throat. After clinic, we had a case discussion with the doctors to talk about the patients we had observed over the past four days of clinic.  
Two especially interesting cases were discussed. One patient suffered from leukoencephalopathy, the degeneration of white matter in the brain. She was brought in for MRI scans and we referred her to a neurologist. Another patient had preeclampsia, a disease pregnant mothers face when the placenta is not functioning properly. It is characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine, both symptoms displayed by the patient.
Day 8: Saturday, March 15, 2014
I woke up early with a few friends to go see the sunrise above Lake Atitlan. Later we went zip-lining. After going down 8 zip-lines, there was an obstacle course over a river that we had to complete. We had to walk over the river on wooden planks, which are loosely suspended from a wire above us, and continuously swung our way to the next plank until the end. I enjoyed myself, so much so that I didn’t notice the bruises and cuts on my hands and knees from falling.
After zip-lining, we traveled back to Guatemala City, saying goodbye to the mystical city of Panajachel and its Lake Atitlan. We came back to de-stress at the Hotel Princess and then attended the farewell dinner.
Day 9: Sunday, March 16, 2014
I said my goodbyes before taking off to Houston at noon. I took a picture (bottom left) with the team leaders, Danny and Pablo (left to right). I also took a picture (bottom right) with the team doctors, Dr. Andres, Dr. Emilia, and Dr. Maria (left to right). I left Guatemala with more friends than I had before and a much better idea of what it takes to be practicing doctor in a third world country. Most of all, I revisited the idea that we are human beings before we are scientists. We should not forget our innate ability to help others; it is what makes us human. I recommend everyone to take a similar trip if possible. If you have any questions or comments for me, please comment in the box below. Thank you for reading!

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