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Bay Area clinicians Guatemala

Touristclick Guatemala Travel News

Bay Area clinicians Guatemala

by Daily Review Online

The comforts of a standard operating room left behind, a team of American clinicians found themselves adjusting to a remote and dusty Guatemalan town where the need had kicked up the pace.

"I work best when I'm under pressure, and boy, was I under pressure," said Sandy Martinez, a 44-year-old instrument technician at San Leandro Hospital who served in the town of Nuevo Progreso in early November.

She joined six other clinicians from San Leandro Hospital and Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley in being a part of the 39-member U.S. and Canadian Team McGlynn, named after the founding doctor, that goes to Nuevo Progreso's Hospital de la Familia every two years.

Included in this group were 20 clinicians from the Bay Area, including one from ValleyCare in Pleasanton, three from Kaiser Oakland, two from Alameda Hospital and two from Children's Hospital in Oakland.

For that week, San Leandro Hospital's Martinez was also the "lone ranger," the one person responsible for turning over and sterilizing instruments to keep three operating tables in motion at once. A standard American operating room has just one operating table for one procedure at a time. In Hospital de la Familia, one patient could turn to his or her neighbor and have a conversation, said nurse manager Edward Laris, who coordinated the trip.

The volunteers saw 1,100 patients that week and performed 200 procedures, said Laris, 50.

Malcolm Ganjia, an operating room



technician at San Leandro Hospital, was one of the newbies on the trip.

"Appreciation goes a long way there," Ganjia said. "It works both ways. We finally appreciate what we have up here, and they appreciate what they're receiving."

Each day, the group awoke to roosters crowing, warm air and the smells of burning trash, and headed to the gym for a work-out. People would already be lining up to sign in for medical treatment. Some had traveled to the 7,000-foot elevation Nuevo Progreso from Mexico and faraway Guatemalan towns, and would have to be turned away for lack of time.

"That was one of the saddest things," said Ganjia, who added that the next group of physicians will not return until February.

By 7:30 a.m., the clinicians were at work and organized into their four departments — the eye team, general surgery, gynecology and plastic surgery.

Laris said that because many residents worked lifting in the coffee industry, the operating room repaired a lot of hernias and varicose veins, as well as gall bladders.

Plastic surgery mended cleft lips, gynecology performed abdominal hysterectomies, and the eye team removed cataracts.

The volunteers staggered lunch and dinner breaks to keep the work continuous until 9 p.m., giving the group plenty of time to acclimate to the different work conditions.

"The surgical techniques change because of the situation," Laris said.

He added that clinicians had to be flexible on reusing certain disposable items and to work without the luxuries of one's favorite tool that had to be left behind.

The team packed all the supplies needed for the week in their check-in luggage. Only their carry-ons contained personal items.

Martinez and Ganjia were lucky to get a spot on Team McGlynn. Laris said most of the group has been together for at least three tours.

"We don't like to mess with chemistry," he said.

He added that in the past, team members were not able to deal with the mental exhaustion.

"The poverty alone will get to you," Laris said. "You set that aside and remember what you are there for."

Planning for the November trip began two years ago, and the team is already assessing how members will better plan for the next trip. After six days of straight work, the team took a break to tour Atitlan and Antigua. But for all of the team members, the entire trip was personal time.

"It was the pure adrenaline that keeps you going," Martinez said. "Sometimes you're so exhausted, I'll say, 'I had a Guatemala day at work.'"


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