Nestled high in the Sierra Madres almost 10,000 feet in the sky in the Ki’che department of Guatemala is a small village named Las Lomas. Like in the nearby town of Joyabaj, the cinderblock homes in the area have sheet metal roofs. Between Joyabaj and Las Lomas is a treacherous mountain road, much of it dirt, where cows and people share a drink of dirty water and an old school bus from Omaha rests on the side of the road.
When our bus, strapped with medical supplies, arrived after a three hour trek from Chichicastenango, the waiting crowds got their first ever looks at Americans. Once the clinic had been set up, many received the first medical care they had ever had in their city.
The small building we set up was behind a small blue church. The rooms were about 10 square feet. Two of the rooms, where the dental clinic and the triage nurses set up, had electricity. The physician took a room with a light bulb but no electricity.
These were, as group leader and retired Dentist Bill Brewer said, the have-nots of the world, those with little money who would be willing to walk miles just to be looked at. Women came in ornate dresses and smiled with chipped teeth as we approached. Children hid behind wooden posts, peeking out only to giggle as they saw the flash of a digital camera. Most of those who came to the clinic came to see the doctor.
People crowded around the doors as soon as everything was set up. We handed out numbers to families to try to organize the chaos. I worked in the pharmacy helping a nurse fill out prescriptions and trying to explain the dosage in Spanish. The Guatemalans smiled and thanked me as I butchered Spanish to tell them to take the Ibuprofen three times a day after each meal, or to take the sleep medication one time just before bed. I thought my Spanish had improved, but I found out later that as soon as they walked away they pulled one of our translators over and asked them to give them the instructions in Ki’che.
Honestly, I wasn’t too disappointed. Rosetta Stone doesn’t offer a course in Mayan.
Most of those who came were the suffering from the same problems: headaches, foot pain and intestinal problems. These are societal problems, consequences of the Guatemalan lifestyle.
“You saw all the people walking with poor shoes, with stuff on their back and head, and poor nutrition,” said Matt Crespo, my dad and team physician.
Scattered throughout them were those with mouth pain, who were sent to Bill. Bill spent the day hunched over, pulling teeth. There was little more he could do with as few supplies as he had, but despite the pain they were appreciative.
The pharmacy began to run low on medicine near the end of the day, something we were to rectify once we got back into town. Throughout the day we saw about 60 patients, including many children. Everyone who saw the doctor left with at least a pack of multi-vitamins and often much more. The local church asked for money to help cover the costs of the lights, but even those that couldn’t pay received numbers and saw the doctors. It was a unique day for the missionaries. Every patient that came was seen. We return to San Lomas tomorrow, expecting larger crowds as the news of the area’s first ever medical clinic spreads.
“Bring them on,” Matt said, smiling as we jostled around the rough dirt road on the way home.