The Clinic in the Mountains
Posted: April 21, 2017

With nothing to hold but the pockets of my own pants, I step onto the rooftop and gaze into what I can see of the mountains. They fold into the distance enshrouded, swallowed by a fog that replaces the dust every morning and night. How stark is the contrasting night and day in these Guatemalan mountains, as if the clouds cannot decide how to move through the world; how curious it is, when the earth is disordered by indecision.

The stone beneath my feet is quiet and cold without the synthetic heat I am used to in America, but here heat comes when we need it. Here, it is gifted to us by the Guatemalan nursing staff. Heat waits to be created for my fellow nursing students and I, ready to be prompted in the Chuj, gathering itself in the folds of the wool blankets we’ve been given, radiating from the wood fire in the kitchen. The heat of existence lingers beneath this solid techo, ready to warm me and keep me safe. It is generated by the people in the room beneath my feet surrounded by fog, and within that room, where the fire blazes and the food is being cooked, I am aware of their hearts.

How funny it is that we came here to help them.

Today, they are teaching us about their work: we will shadow them in consultations, chart the height and weight of toddlers and infants whose eyes have barely shifted into their lifelong color, and do home pregnancy visits, to ensure those pregnant mothers are safe and healthy. Then, after lunch, we will present on the Mama Natalie Birthing Simulator. In each of these visits, I will see what I have seen during the entirety of my trip here: the level of work and commitment the health care workers give to the community.

The nursing staff wakes up early every morning, and remains on call through the transition of these, their mountains. They do not have the luxury of short shifts, or a two-day weekend. The women here, by deciding to be nurses, are committing to a 24-hour-a-day work week, in which their passion is to provide education, and health promotion services to the community. They breathe for their township. On those days when their resources exhaust them, they are tethered with the task of relaying to the family that they will need to make the five-hour journey into the city, to go to the nearest hospital. A trip which Curamericas has helped make less frequent, with the dedication of supplies and volunteers like us.

Today, five of us will make a trip into the town of Calhuitz, and watch as the Head Nurse of the Casa Materna, boards her motorcycle and flies down this treacherous road, to pay a visit to two suffering souls in the town below: one little niño with a fungal infection, and one woman who is 26-weeks pregnant and has an infection on her leg. I stand on the roof to prepare myself for the knowledge that distance, one innocuous little word, could stand between these poor villagers and life.

Despite the truth in this statement, the director is full of positive energy. When she flies down the mountain, her boots strapped into the pedals of her motorcycle, she looks glorious to me, determined and fervent in her knowledge that her presence has the capacity to save lives. Inspired by her continuous desire to promote health despite the complications inherent in this little town, I board the truck and follow her down the bumpy road.

When we arrive, the boy is sitting on a step, the fungus clear on his feet. The director is prepared though. First, she teaches the family about proper hygiene, explaining the importance of keeping the wound clean and safe. She explains about how quickly a fungus can spread on a playground, and instructs the family on how to avoid this outcome. Then, she opens a pack, takes out some gloves that Curamericas Global donated, carefully cleans and dresses the boy’s wound, and assures the family she will return the following day. Without this seemingly simple intervention, the boy could have died. With limited resources and access to healthcare, there is nothing simple about their work.

The pregnant lady is a more difficult operation, the necrotic tissue having spread up her legs. Sensing the fear in the household, the director kneels by her bedside, and strokes the woman’s back, cooing words of sensitivity and support. She deftly instructs the family the necessity to take the trip into the ciudad, as the risks to this lady and her unborn child are higher than the cost of the trip.

A veces,” she says, “sometimes, we know that all we can do is advise, but that advice can still save lives.”

When we arrive back at the house, ready to give our presentation, I look around at all the clinic staff, busying themselves by making us food. In addition to their work with the city, here they are, doing their best to make us comfortable and happy, showing their gratitude through beautiful tortilla’s and rice. I glance at our presentation, and although the words seem small and somewhat trite, like the fog of the morning, I know that some of these words will deliver new skills to bring to the town. After all, in the mountains, all the words and teachings of the city have to labor their way up the roads, pressed and held between lips, safeguarded like a child’s favorite toy, waiting to be expressed and delivered. And sometimes, these words, can cut through the treacherous distance, and shift lives.

Article by Lucy Frank, Volunteer from Duke University School of Nursing

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