Thanksgiving Dash


I was in Guatemala for a lightning trip over Thanksgiving, November 22-25. There was a lot of work to be done.

I was picked up at 6 am as I arrived in the airport by Ernesto, whom Anne and I feel is perhaps Guatemala’s best driver-for-hire. We went straight to the San Antonio Suchitepéquez-Chocolá region, where we spent the day seeing patients in our Socorro project. As we are now entering the summer, we were able to work all day without dashing around avoiding the rain. I took advantage of having a vehicle and driver to visit some friends and collaborators from some of San Antonio’s eastern aldeas, which are Kaqchikel speaking. We were not able to do this without providing some medical care of course, but it was mostly just sitting around, talking about life and plans for future collaborations. I immensely enjoy San Antonio’s Kaqchikel dialect, which has taken on something of the neighboring K’iche’s crisp delivery while still remaining pure Kaqchikel.

Also in Socorro, we held a community meeting to finalize plans for the visit from the Engineer without Borders group (University of Illinois chapter), who will be down in January to make a preliminary site assessment for a drinking water system. After finishing up in Socorro, we ran up the hill to Chocolá, where Anne (our board member currently living in Chocolá) had arranged for us to see a few patients as well. We do not have a project in Chocolá strictly speaking, but we have been asked to provide advisement and oversight for a medical project being developed by one of our collaborating NGO partners, Semillas Para El Futuro. Consequently, I have been spending some time there when able, trying to get to know midwifes and other community leaders.

One of the most difficult cases we saw this day was a young boy with type I diabetes. This is an extraordinarily difficult thing to take care of in Guatemala, as access to blood-testing equipment, insulin, and the like is limited and these supplies, even if available, are very expensive. The mother is currently spending about 14,000 Q yearly on medicines, which is a huge amount. We will try to help her simplify and optimize his medication regimen and will arrange an appointment with our pediatrician in January.

We spent the night with Anne, and were up at 4:30 am Friday morning in order to make it over to Comalapa before 9 am. In Comalapa, we gave a half-day training session to the assembled midwives which was a continuation of the sessions we gave in October. In the afternoon we had a planning meeting with their Board of Directors, Magda (our Comalapa field manager), and myself to plan the clinic week in January. We also finalized arrangements for our maternal-child health survey, which Magda will begin working on this month. Friday night I was back to Antigua for a dinner meeting with Earl and Susanne, board members from Semillas Para El Futuro to discuss our collaborative efforts in the Chocolá region.

Saturday, the final working day of the trip, saw us in Santiago, where we saw mostly established patients and reviewed the diabetes management program with Wicha, our field manager who is running this project. Most of our diabetics are doing very well and feeling great. There are a few however, who have not been taking their medicine nor watching their diet very well. This is, in part, why we have brought Wicha on board, to keep an eye on them, and she is doing an excellent job. Already a few patients who were previously not very adherent to their regimens are showing marked improvements, because of the weekly visits she makes to check in on them.

Sunday I flew back to Chicago. When I landed, the immigration agent remarked, referring to my passport, “Looks like you’ve got a few miles on this thing!” Which is the truth.