Mercer On Mission

2015 Blog

Monday-Returning to U.S.: Tatum

Tucked away far in the mountains of Honduras is the little city of Copan. Known for its ruins left by the Mayans, it was quite a charming place to end our trip. The cobblestone streets and authentic food gave the city character. Our hotel was amazing to say the least. Each time we ate there it was a five-course meal. I loved sitting out by the pool and enjoying the exotic plants that encompassed it. Exploring the city was by far one of my best memories from this trip. A group of us took two motor taxis to the top a mountain that overlooked the city to a place called San Lucas. The view was breathtaking, and it was nice to chat with friends while sipping coffee by the gorgeous view of Copan. The people that I have traveled here with have made the trip memorable. Our group bonded so well and made the seemingly, difficult task of treating people go so smoothly. I will always remember Copan as a place of celebration from a hard two weeks of clinic and of lasting relationships that I made on this fun adventure.

Sunday-Weekend 2: Jenny

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, and to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”

When I signed up for the Mercer on Mission Honduras medical trip, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Sure it would be “cool” to go to another country and, yeah, it would probably look good on my resume one day, but what I didn’t know when I signed up for the trip was how the people of Honduras would touch my heart, how much I could learn in such a short amount of time, and how sleeping in rooms without air conditioning and riding in beat up, circa 1960’s Land Rovers up and down treacherous mountains could make total strangers into the best of friends.

The patients we saw in Honduras lived in secluded villages in the Agalta Valley – many of the villages were hours away and took us a long time to reach even though we took cars there. Their houses were tiny, didn’t have air conditioning, and most of them didn’t have electricity or even plumbing. Patients would get up at 5 am and walk 3+ hours just to come to our clinic and see us. There were a lot of patients we could help, but there were also a lot of patients we couldn’t help– with heavy hearts we had to tell people they most likely had cancer and we had to tell young mothers that if they didn’t get their heart murmurs evaluated by a cardiologist they were facing the possibility of heart failure. However, no matter how little or how much care we were able to deliver, the patients all had one thing in common – they were so THANKFUL for us. The gratitude and kindness they showed us, despite our lack of resources to care for some of their health problems, was truly moving and something that we don’t see much of in developed countries that take their access to healthcare for granted.

Throughout our time in Honduras, my teammates continuously amazed me with their compassion for their patients and their knowledge related to health care. In the beginning no one really knew where they stood and what their “roles” were – we had undergraduates, translators, nurses, medical students, and pharmacists on the trip. However, we quickly learned how to successfully work together, and we built on each other’s strengths to become an efficient team that respected and encouraged one another. Besides working well together as a team, we also all became close friends that really care about each other.

Even though it was a long 2.5 weeks and I am glad to be back home where I have air conditioning, don’t have to worry about constantly applying bug spray, and have easy access to Chick-Fil-A, I wouldn’t trade my experience in Honduras for anything. I was able to truly live in the moment by immersing myself in a new and different culture, learning a lot from the people of Honduras and my teammates, and I making some lifelong friends. I will forever be thankful for the opportunities this trip has given me and for the experience I had.

Saturday-Weekend 2: Trent

4:45 am came early.  My tired body was not ready to be awakened.  In all honesty, like most of the group, I was ready to head home to the land of freedom – the U.S. of A.  We had been beaten by Honduras and were in need of the comforts of America and our own homes.  However, one last voyage remained – a two night trip to the lazy pueblito of Copan, a little mountain village in western Honduras that was home to one of the great Mayan empires.  Before seeing the ruins on Sunday, a 45 minute 7am flight from Tegucigalpa to San Pedro Sula awaited our exhausted group.  Red-eyed with bed-head, our group entered the white and green Honduras Outreach Inc. bus for the last time.  The streets were barely lit by the morning sun as we made the 20 minute bus ride from Hotel Maya to Tegucigalpa International Airport.  Upon arrival, a wrench was thrown into our plans: the previously agreed to checked baggage weight of 40 pounds had been changed to 35 pounds and no carry-ons other than book bags and purses were allowed.  The resulting chaos was comical at best – bags lay open, contents falling to the white tile, as the tired minds struggled with calculating the best manner to move objects from one bag to the next in order to be under the weight limit.  Fortunately, Mercer covered the mishap and we proceeded through security without incident.  Our group, plus one unlucky Honduran woman, boarded the small, prop plane on time and landed in San Pedro Sula around 8am.  After arriving in San Pedro Sula, Dunkin Donuts was the choice for a quick bite and a much needed cup of coffee.  Waiting for us at pickup was the nicest vehicle we had ridden during our time in Honduras: a slightly smaller version of a Greyhound bus with pleather seats and all the air conditioning an American could ask for.

        The ride to Copan was around 3 hours and fortunately the ride was scenic.  Our bus hugged the winding roads surrounded by coffee plantations.  Eventually the bus came to a stop because it was physically unable to enter the city of Copan – there was a low lying height restriction on the bridge into the city, so the group climbed into two church vans and continued.  Our destination was the Hotel Marina Copan.  The hotel was Spanish hacienda styled with a Mediterranean tile roof, white stucco walls, darkly stained wood paneled ceilings, and terracotta tile.  In the middle of the hotel was a dark blue tiled pool filled with refreshing cold water.  The hotel was an oasis and I planned on taking advantage of all of the amenities.  Shortly after arrival, a three course lunch was served at the hotel restaurant.  Warm, tasty rolls were served with delightful garlic butter then followed by a fresh vegetable soup.  The main course was a Tilapia filet accompanied by an acidic vegetable puree.  The entre was followed by a light flan that pushed my body closer to a food coma.  However, time was of the essence and a group of us wanted to explore the quiet city of Copan.  After lunch, a group that included Erika, Kevin, Emma, Tori, Jackie, Jenna, and myself set out to mindlessly wander the cobblestone streets.

As we set out to explore, our new found freedom coursed through our veins and a sparkle returned to our eyes.  For the first time in two weeks, we were not surrounded by armed security guards, the walls of a hotel, or the barbed wire fence of the Rancho Paraiso.  The first objective was to shop, but we quickly lost interest and returned to exploring the city.  We decided to search for the best vantage point in the city from which to view the lush mountains and flat farmland surrounding Copan.  We started to ascend the steepest hill we could find, caravan intact.  As we neared the top, the soft melody of a recorder met our ears.  After determining the point of origin of the beautiful music, Jackie knocked on the house door in search of the responsible party.  To our surprise, a 13 year old boy exited the house, recorder in hand, and agreed to play a song for us.  Initially, his notes were shaky, but eventually his nerves left him and the young guy produced 5 minutes of soft, melodious recorder play.  The trance produced by the boy ended and we gave him a few dollars for his time.  The group continued in search of the next adventure.

Finally reaching the top of Copan, we found a piece of the view we were searching for.  The farm land lay below, gracefully following the bend of the river and the base of the mountains.  The mountains reached for the heavens, tall and dark, with a few homes breaking up the vast sea of green.  The view was quickly interrupted by booms and rat-tat-tats.  Puzzled, we now turned our direction to the new sounds of the day.  We trekked down the opposite side of the highest point of the city with our excitement growing as the sounds of cannon fire and machine guns penetrated the silence of the slow Saturday afternoon.  At the bottom, we discovered the source of the commotion.  There was no military clash; however, we stumbled upon the championship match of Copan’s Neighborhood Men’s Soccer League.  From the outside, the stadium was electric.  Firecrackers were going off left and right.  Music was blaring.  The entire town was present.  We purchased tickets for $1 and entered the stadium, all eyes focused on us: the outsiders, sticking out like sore thumbs.  We finally settled in an opening two thirds down the pitch – it was half time.  After some investigation, it was discovered that the score was 2-0 in favor of the Jaguars, who were dressed in all white.  Throughout the match, firecrackers and cannon fire pierced the already noisy sporting event.  We adjusted to the random explosions, except for Tori, who was startled with each bang and was expertly captured on video by Emma.  The final whistle sounded and the score stood 2-1 in favor of Los Jaguares.  The victory was their first league title.  Fans rushed the field.  Drums were pounded on.  The coach received his much deserved Gatorade bath.  Jackie pulled one of the victors aside and discovered that the after party would be held at Toño’s Bar and Grill, wherever that was.

Satisfied with our adventure, we strolled back to the hotel for a quick dip in the pool.  As the sun’s rays disappeared, we retreated to our respective quarters to freshen up and to get ready for dinner.  We had previously agreed to eat at Jim’s Pizzeria.  Clean and refreshed, our happy team sat at Jim’s reliving the day, hoping we had found the best pizza in Honduras.  Each bite of the Hawaiian and Con Todos pleased each taste bud.  We laughed.  We joked.  We were even visited briefly by Jim himself.  We were merry.  With full bellies, the squad hit the streets.  Guess what sight found our happy eyes?  Toño’s Bar and Grill!  From the street we could hear the sounds of victory, yells of jubilation, and enough dance music to keep the entire town of Copan dancing into the wee hours of Sunday morning.  The championship trophy sparkled in the street light as it was lifted and kissed over and over again.  We had found the Jaguars after party.  After a quick poll, we decided to join the celebration.  Again outsiders, we broke the cultural barrier as only Gringos know how – we danced.  And it paid off.  We were invited by the team mascot to join the festivities.  As the salsa and techno music blared, we entered a dance trance.  The smiles on my friends’ faces were the look of pure ecstasy.  Nothing could take this moment from us.  Out of left field came the greatest idea yet – we would introduce them to the wobble.  The gang wobbled and we received a round of applause as the song faded out: victory for the Gringos!  The party eventually came to an end, and the tight group of explorers slowly marched the quiet, deserted streets of Copan back to the Hotel Marina Copan.  We reconvened on the cool Mediterranean roof of the hotel for a night cap.  Below us the city was alive with music and laughter while the darkness of the mountains encompassed the tiny town.

As I reflect on the adventurous Saturday spent wandering and discovering Copan with friends, I cannot help but be grateful for the liberty, safety, and freedom we experience daily in the United States.  I am thankful for the ability to move about freely, at any time, without the security of an armed guard or walls of a hotel entrapping me physically, mentally, and spiritually in order to protect me from the dangers waiting for my first mistake.  Maybe I am naïve in regards to safety both at home and abroad; however, I firmly believe it is impossible to fully experience a culture when we place walls and boundaries between people.  Our weekend in Copan was the first time in two weeks we were free to make our own decisions about the things we experienced.  With our new found liberty, we explored with no expectations other than to find the unexpected.  And that we did.  As a result, we embraced the thriving culture in Copan hand in hand, and I believe we are all better people because of it.  With this new found knowledge, I hope to continue exploring upon my return to the United States of America.  I know there are sights, sounds, experiences, and people in my own back yard of Macon, Georgia waiting to be explored, enjoyed, and cherished.  In order for this desire to come to fruition, I must explore with safety, security, and comfort as after thoughts.

Friday-Weekend 2: Chris

In reflecting back on this amazing two week experience, several things have become clear. Although I have been on several previous medical trips and mission trips to various parts of the world before, this trip opened my eyes towards health disparities in ways that the others have not. My previous medical mission trip was to Romania, working alongside a Romanian doctor serving the Roma people. Although these people, too, face health disparities, working in Honduras resonated with me on a deeper level. For one, the situations that many of the Hondurans are living in seem to have less access to health care than in comparison to the Roma people. In one case, one patient in Honduras had to be told and explained what it meant to take a medication because he had literally never taken a medication ever in his life. At least in my experiences in other places, this has not been an issue that we have had to deal with before, and it just shows how high the degree of disparity is between healthcare in various parts of the globe.

Not only did the worse healthcare opportunities in Honduras resonate with me, but the role that I had on this trip allowed for me to have a deeper connection to the people and problems here. In being an interpreter, the relationship that was built between patients was much more natural and easy than in my other medical trips. In Romania, I am unable to speak the language, so it is much more difficult to build the same level of relationship with the people here. Interpreting also provides a unique opportunity to connect, as you serve not only as the voice of the health care providers, but as the voice of the patient as well. When the patients knew that there was someone there who could help them communicate and would understand their problems, they immediately seemed more calm and confident that they would receive proper care. This opens up the door for that relationship to be built. Being the person who directly tells the patient what he or she needs to do, and explaining to them the conditions that they have is also a unique connection that I made with the Honduran patients in being an interpreter. One of the most touching moments of interpreting that I had while on the trip was explaining to one patient that it is possible that her cancer had returned. She had not finished her chemotherapy treatment because it was too costly, and because she was afraid that it would continue to make her sick. In being the interpreter, I was the one who had to directly tell this patient the bad news, and find the right words to tell her. I have never faced a situation like this before and it will not be one that I soon forget.

Looking back on the trip as a whole, the health disparities that I thought that I had understood before coming on this trip through my previous mission experiences have been reshaped into a deeper understanding of the global issue of health disparities. So often living in the United States we take for granted the healthcare opportunities we have so readily available to us. In other places, like Honduras, the patients were much more appreciative of the care that they received, even when there was little to nothing that we could do for them. As someone who hopes to someday work in the medical field, this challenged me to understand how important it was for these people to be heard and understood. For many of these patients, even when we could do nothing for them, just being talked to and knowing that they were important to us was enough for them to leave with not only a smile on their face, but with many kind words. This exemplifies the importance of the patient - doctor relationship, as opposed to solely the medicinal side of medicine that a doctor can offer. In many cases, it is not the medication alone that can have the biggest outcome on a patient’s health and well-being, but it is the relationship that is built with them that is the most important to their health. This trip has been a wonderful experience and I cannot wait to share all the amazing stories and things that I have learned while on this trip with my friends and family, and I look forward to using the things that I have learned as I continue on my path to becoming a physician.

Thursday-Week 2: Emily

Today was our last day of clinic, which was definitely bittersweet. As I was reflecting on the past 2 weeks and all of the memories, I think the most special memories have been those of the patients I have been able to pray with while seeing them in clinic. So many times I’ve encountered patients who physically were fine, but spiritually really needed some encouragement. Several times I was able to pray with them and hopefully give them a little of that encouragement that they needed. I think that as a physician it’s important to realize what an opportunity we are given in that people are readily very open and vulnerable with you, and it’s important to look beyond just physical complaints in trying to help patients. I know without a doubt that God had me come on this trip because it was His will, not mine - I only hope I was able to accomplish what I was supposed to, and that the patients lives were hopefully improved in some small way. My own faith has been strengthened by the people I’ve met here, and I’m very thankful for the opportunity I was given to go on this trip!

Thursday-Week 2: Meryssah

All of the clinics ares officially over and it feels like it has gone by too fast. Each day presented our group with new patients, new challenges, and new strengths. Two main themes I focused on during the two weeks I was in clinic was gratitud and vocational callings. I experienced a great deal of both on this trip. It continued to amaze me how thankful these people could be even when sometimes all we can do for them was send them home with some Tylenol and multivitamins. One of the patients I saw during the first week of clinics came in with a chief complaint of a headache and body aches. While the med student and I were questioning her, she began to tear up and mentioned that it her pain started after her mother passed away three months ago. We called in our family therapist Dr. Meyer and I began to translate for her while she consulted the patient about these feelings. During this conversation, we discovered a few things. One, we learned new things about her culture and deceased people. Second, we asked her if she had any family members that she could talk to about her mom’s death, like her dad or her sister. Her response was that she didn’t trust anyone as much as she felt she could trust us. The patient told us that after meeting us, she knew she could share her story with us and that she could trust us to understand her without judgement. At the end of her consult, she left feeling much better after being able to simply talk to us and know that we are listening to her and that we cared. Before she left, this woman gave us all a big hug and a kiss on the cheek showing her extreme gratitude towards us. It was a very good feeling knowing that we put that smile on her face as she left our clinic, even though all we did was give her some pain reliever and listen to her story.

        The second recurring theme that I focused on this trip was vocational calling. Since I was young I always knew I wanted to go into the health care business. I was never sure exactly why that was, perhaps because I took more trips to the doctor than any other 5 year old because of my growth hormone deficiency or maybe just because I thought band-aids were a fashion accessory. But on this trip, I was reminded that the gut feeling I had when I was younger was the right one. Erika, one of the medical students I worked with, showed me how to perform a physical exam on a patient the first week of clinics. Sounds pretty standard, I know. But it was the feeling I got when I heard the first stomach gurgle through my stethoscope as I listened to the patient's’ stomach. It was the excitement I felt when I heard the first shortened breath sound from an asthmatic patient. And today, it was that feeling I got when I heard my first heart murmur. You know, that feeling when you are so excited you can’t stop smiling because the human body is so incredibly amazing and complex that it amazes you. It was the little things like that that reminded me why I chose this arduous career path. I could not be more thankful for Mercer on Mission and all the amazing experiences they have provided me with over these past two weeks.

Thursday-Week 2: Kait

And that’s a wrap- Today was our last day of clinical experience. Our group headed out in the vans after an early breakfast to our last clinic past Pacura. Our entire group radiated energy of enthusiasm and excitement. I have been so proud of the work ethic and diligence of our team over the past two days. We drove through what seemed like the middle of nowhere and I was doubtful that we would see more than 10 patients.  Clinic today was set up in a church. This was just a beautiful image of merging our cultures with theirs in attempt to provide healing for their bodies in a sacred place where many venture to receive healing for their souls. To my surprise, we saw over 90 patients and had a constant influx of people. The opportunity to provide medicine, comfort, health advice, or even solace in some instances was a very valuable opportunity.

Today made me realize and reflect upon this trip and the various aspects of service. Working with the medical students today really reiterated what has been discussed this past week. Sometimes healing occurs through stopping up runny noses or refilling prescriptions. However, other times, it is through listening, loving, sympathizing, and caring that the best aid is provided. Trips such as this reinforce that fact that love and service are human traits that expand far beyond the borders of a profession. Everyone was able to explore the various facets of our healthcare operations throughout this week. We have adapted to a wide array of challenges in each clinic and managed to operate efficiently and help a ton of people throughout the Agalta Valley.

Wednesday-Week 2: Carson

Today was another very long day at clinic.  Our morning was started by a 2+ hour Land Cruiser ride.  It was nauseating to say the least.  It is so crazy to me that the people here live like this.  They see no rush or importance for paving their roads.  IT is sad from a medical perspective because in the event of an MI or any emergency, there is no real help within 2 hours.  Honestly, paved roads might not make that much of a difference.  Most people still travel via foot, horse or motorcycles.  All not safe methods of transportation in an emergency.  It is so sad to be, but their lives are very primitive.  Almost ‘survival of the fittest.’  I had a patient today that embodied the lack of care.  She was a very small 15 y.o. female with an extremely large head.  Her mom had just brought her for a good physical because of their very limited ability to seek care.  It turns out that this child had hydrocephalus, but her mother chose not to have a V-P shunt placed.  I did not ask the reason, but I can imagine that it was secondary to lack of understanding about her condition or lack of money.  Most likely both.  This would NEVER happen at home.  We have funds to correct these things on our babies.  Or, we would have at least done our best to educate mom and work with her for payment.  Upon further exam of this child, she had 2 rows of teeth, lordosis, scoliosis, no thumb on one hand, and a hypoplastic thumb on the other hand.  This clearly appears as some syndrome.  A syndrome that I have never seen in the US, im sure because of our preventative care.  We test pregnant ladies for everything under the sun, but they do not have that luxury here.  I have thought about this patient all the way home.  All of the things that I would have like to seen done differently in both pregnancy and neonatal care. I had to stop myself.  The patient was HAPPY.  SHe thought she had a great life.  She was satisfied and fulfilled in every aspect of her life.  Isn;t that what we want most for our patients? For them to be happy?  I think so.  It is about them and what they want, NOT what I want.  This is a very hard lesson to learn, but one that this trip is forcing me to learn over and over again.

Tuesday-Week 2: Tori

Sunday night, I came down with some sort of sickness that took me out of commission Monday and Tuesday (today). I wasn’t able to go to clinics--or really even move out of my bed--and had to stay back at the Ranch. It was so very frustrating--I’d come so far to try and help serve in some small way, and there I was sick and unable to contribute to clinics. In my two days at the Ranch, I did a lot of writing and a lot of thinking. I realized that the people of the Agalta Valley didn’t even have the luxury to have a sick day (or two)--even when they really need it. They don’t have a group of pharmacists with them who have Cipro on stock and can freely give it to help quickly recuperate. I was ‘stuck’ in bed with a fever, nonstop nausea, and--well, I won’t elaborate any more--but I was still so lucky. I had so many resources at my disposal: medications, clean water to stay hydrated, the time and ability to sleep when I really couldn’t do anything else, and a group of people who could pick up some of the slack when I couldn’t work.

Mission trips reveal the small things that are so easily taken for granted--but we don’t usually think of sickness as one of those. When we’re in the clinics, we see how little access many of the people have to medications or treatments, but actually experiencing being sick adds a completely different dimension. With that being said--I’m certainly not recommending it to anyone going on a Mercer on Mission trip in the future. One of my Global Health professors last semester made a statement one time that was something along the lines of “Diseases affect you regardless of who you are. How diseases affect you is completely dependent on who you are.” She wasn’t talking about the pathogenicity of diseases or sicknesses--the statement was all about disease experience.

Monday-Week 2: Erika

You know, it’s so easy to go through life convinced you don’t matter--that you don’t make a difference.  It’s easy to believe that interactions you have with other people will soon be forgotten. Because, what if what you did or said truly does matter? What if some small thing you could say or do did in fact help someone? That’s a lot of pressure when you think about it.

        I often find myself thinking about this as a future physician. We are often under the impression that we can’t change our patients. If they want to smoke, they’ll smoke. If they want to drink, they’ll drink, and if they want to have hypertension and not treat it, they’ll do that too. It can be depressing. Sometimes we convince ourselves that it’s just easier to not talk to patients about health issues that we “have no influence over.”

        Last week in clinic I had a patient, Jose, who was so full of life and energy—he had charisma, he was jovial and he was special. The only problem was that he was slowly killing himself with high blood pressure and diabetes.  I decided to have a talk with Jose even though I knew what I would say to him probably would have no influence. I asked him if he wanted to talk about exercise—he did. He was curious. I told him to try to do laps around his house or anywhere for 30 minutes per day. I asked him if he could cut his portions in half. He said he would. Of course, I was skeptical.

        Then today, nearly a week later, one of the students saw him walking around the soccer field at the ranch where we are staying. She was curious as to what he was doing and asked him. He said, “One of the doctors told me I needed to do laps and exercise, so I am”.  That “doctor” was me. I could hardly believe it—a patient was doing something I had suggested? Did I actually make a difference? Much to my surprise, I think I did.

        So, this is a small little thing, but it sure means a lot to me.  It changes the way I will interact with my patients in the U.S. I will choose to believe that some small thing I say to a patient will matter. In fact, I believe that the interactions we have with each person on a day to day has the potential to be more than just a “hello” and “goodbye”. We have a chance to connect with each other, and what we do/say really does matter.

Sunday-Weekend 1: Kevin

Who knew $1.50 could buy so much fun? Our group was hanging out on the beach during a fun and relaxing weekend in Trujillo, when, of all things, a banana boat ride appeared on the horizon. I was skeptical as I saw it approach. I was thinking it would cost at least $15 and be a little sketchy to say the least. However, when I learned it would cost only $1.50, any concerns of safety vanished and I, along with a group of other people, were all in. The banana boat ride was a blast! We all got flipped off the raft, but returned safely to shore. To me, that silly ride sums up the trip. Much of the trip exceeded my expectations, I had more fun than I could have imagined, and I made some great friends along the way.

Friday-Week 1: Nicole

Today we were at a two classroom school, with one room used for pharmacy and the other used for patient visits. This is a set-up for clinic we have grown accustomed to over this last week, However, there was one difference between today’s clinic and other 2 classroom clinics. Today’s classroom where we saw patients had sheets hanging from the ceiling to the floor, separating the room into 5 separate sections. Even though the “walls” were merely thin bed sheets that were far from soundproof, it created a semblance of privacy, which had been lacking from previous clinics set up in classrooms.

Today’s settings made me consider how different our Honduran patients’ expectations of healthcare delivery are from our American patients. In the US, patients expect privacy in every aspect of medical care. There are laws in place like HIPAA and MISPA, not to mention the ongoing discussions on how to protect patient data in the age of electronic medical records. There are groups and organizations who fight to ensure patient privacy rights. In Honduras, attitudes towards and expectations of privacy cannot be more different. In other clinics set up in classrooms, we usually have one large room with 4-5 providers and teams seeing their patients at the same time, without any partitions in the room. In this open setting, patient’s visits, histories, and physical exams are overheard and seen by family members accompanying them, other patients being seen in the clinic, and people waiting outside of the classroom who poke their heads through the bars on the classroom to get a peek at what is happening inside. Our patients in Honduras are more exposed and have very little privacy compared to patients in the US.

I feel as though patients deserve to have the information they share with healthcare providers stay private and not be overheard or shared with other people. I get nervous that some patients may feel they cannot discuss certain things (which might be important to diagnose or treat them) because their personal information would be overhead in a crowded, public room. In a culture that places such great importance and relies heavily on family, friends, and community members, patient privacy is essential; I believe providing privacy for patients to discuss matters related to health lends itself to more informative conversations that can improve our ability to diagnose and treat the patients. With today’s clinic set-up, I was really pleased that the patients I saw could have a sense of privacy. I feel as though I was able to better serve them and connect with them even more.

Even though there is not much privacy given to them, I want to note that these patients in Honduras are still so grateful and appreciative of everything; they do not complain about the lack of privacy or the crowded, public clinics. They are some of the happiest people I have had to opportunity to meet. Though most on the trip would agree that they have been dealt a tough hand in life, this thought never seems to cross their minds. The Honduran people we have had the pleasure to interact with have shown us love, happiness, and perseverance, in addition to the fantastic bear hugs they have given us. I  will never forget their wonderful outlook on life and I hope it rubs off on me as I continue with my career in medicine.

Thursday-Week 1: Emma

Today, my worst fear about participating in Mercer on Mission was realized in full force. We awoke at 5am on Thursday morning to embark on the two-hour drive to El Pedrero, a tiny town nestled deep in the mountains of the Agalta Valley. Upon arrival, everyone was a little tired and jostled from the pothole-filled ride. Assigned to interpret for Carson for the day, we began setting up in a back room. We didn’t have too much trouble with our first few patients—they were children who all presented with similar, flu-like symptoms, and we had a good flow going. However, after our first few successes, we both faced stumbling blocks. For me, it was with interpretation; two middle-aged women presented, both who talked very rapidly and had very few teeth left, which caused them to slur. Despite my attempts to differentiate one word from the next, I eventually had to acknowledge that I was missing the majority of their dialogue and didn’t want to jeopardize their treatment by missing crucial symptoms. Hence, I had to fetch Dr. Pino to interpret for me.

Carson also appeared somewhat frustrated after these first two cases—one woman was a severe alcoholic with a bad liver disease, and although we gave her a couple months worth of medication, we knew that she would be unable to pay for more once she ran out. The woman was grateful, but left disappointed. Next, we saw a woman who had a hole in her aortic valve and needed a replacement. She was only 49, had 9 children, and said there was absolutely no way she could afford the surgery, or even the bus ride to Tegucigalpa for that matter. She had already been to the ranch twice and received the same diagnosis and advice, but she had to come to us with the hope that “the Americans” could do more for her. Sadly, we could not.

After these two encounters, both Carson and I felt somewhat defeated. And then came our next patient: a 30-year-old pregnant woman who was dressed sloppily, smelled a little rancid, and appeared very self-conscious. Right from the get-go, we could tell that this would be a challenge for both of us. When she spoke, the woman slurred her words and talked rapidly, making translation difficult for me. She was also very indirect and far from forthcoming with us. When we asked her how far along she was in her pregnancy, she said only one month, which clearly was not the case. Carson believed her to be at least 4-5 months pregnant. When we pressed her for more information regarding her pregnancy, she became very bashful and looked away, giggling nervously. I interpreted this aversion to the topic of pregnancy as cultural stigma, so we moved on to the seemingly benign topic of her swollen feet. However, we got the same tepid response, and Carson left the room to speak with Dr. Shelley, leaving me alone with our patient. I attempted to make casual conversation with her—I asked about how long she had been waiting outside, how far she lived from the clinic, and about her family. My first two questions were met with a blank stare, but the inquiry into her family got her going—I found that she had a husband and two children. She then began talking faster and faster, and a fearful expression spread across her face. She asked me a question that I didn’t understand, and I attempted to redirect the conversation. She looked confused and withdrew into herself. This interaction reminded me of my vast limitations as an interpreter, and left me with an overwhelming feeling of self-doubt.

        Carson returned with Dr. Pino, but the woman immediately shut herself off and refused to answer his questions.  He was then called to another room. Carson also left the room, and I was again left with the woman. This time she commenced babbling even faster at me, and I was taking nothing away from her panicky soliloquy. Frustrated by my inability to understand her, I called Dr. Pino back in, at which point she promptly stopped talking.

        After over half an hour of this confusion, Dr. Hernandez, her normal doctor at the clinic, popped his head around the door to inform us that she had a severe mental handicap, and usually her sister accompanied her everywhere to avoid such situations. A wave of both relief and deep sadness hit me in that moment—relief that my inadequacies and inexperience as an interpreter weren’t what had resulted in this difficult interaction, and sadness at seeing this woman in such a state. In the States, this woman could have a decent life, with psychiatric therapy and a group home. Here, she was forced to bear children that she could not properly care for, and they would also be subjected to a life of hardship and stigmatization as a result.

In our two weeks in Honduras, we have seen immense suffering, but what keeps us going is the persistence of hope. This woman has no hope. No program exists that will help manage her illness, and the stigma surrounding mental handicaps in her rural village will endure, degrading the quality and meaning of her life and relationships. Her inability to hope for a brighter future sets her apart from the rest of her community. Diabetes, infection, and even life-threatening wounds can be cured, and faith in a better, happier, and more prosperous future survives in these instances. But mental handicap is a curse that no medicine can treat in such a remote location.

Wednesday-Week 1: Susan

Today was awesome! The patients seen today were way more complicated that the previous days, but still compassionate and extremely appreciative for all we’re doing. I am interested in compounding pharmacy and feel it is a lost art. Not many people know that pharmacist can compound medications into different things. Today I got to practice what I want to do and make ranitidine syrup for a baby! Normally I would have a mortar and pestle as well as other compounding equipment. Here, at the ranch, all I had was a hammer! I was able to crush up some tablets, do a little math, and finish with a suspension for the baby’s GERD. It was awesome being able to show others what pharmacist can do, and even cooler being able to help the infant that otherwise would have been turned away. I learned a lot about myself through this experience. I need to have more confidence in myself and know I am knowledgeable in what I do.

"Suffering and Resilience" Monday-Week 1: Dr. Andrea Meyer

Where to start...today was long and rewarding. We had our first clinic day in the villages. We started the day with a devotional with all the ranch staff and Mercer group. We met the people who run HOI and who make our trip possible. I couldn’t help but wonder, what do they think of us? Do they see us as helpful or are we viewed as foreigners trying to “save the world”? Over and over again today I felt the gratitude and appreciation of the Honduran people. Even with my limited language ability, I felt the connection with each patient and child. I met a woman today who gave her only pair of shoes to another elderly villager. She did this so the woman could come into the clinic with shoes on her feet. Although she had so little, she was willing to give to another person to improve her daily life. This sentiment reminds me of my roles here on the trip and at home. It shows me how important human relationships are to our health and well-being. I spent much of my time today greeting and welcoming the patients, and helping all of the team members. I was asked to join several medical stations when patients reported anxiety, depression, stress, and even suicidal thoughts. When I first decided to come on this trip, I wondered what my purpose would be. It became evident very early today, even with our first patient, that human suffering is global; as well as human resilience. The patients honored me with their stories of trauma, loss, and pain. Although I couldn’t provide “medicina”, a kind look, a simple supportive touch, and a prayer or hug was often enough to help. I am so grateful for my experiences today and hopeful for the healing we can all provide while we visit Honduras.

2015 Summary of first week: Shannon

Coming in as an undergrad I didn’t know what to expect with regards to my role in clinic.  We were told we’d work with every discipline, but I was unsure where we’d fit in with each.  This of course made me a bit anxious about the flow of clinics.  What made me more anxious, though, was that I had never been on a mission trip before, nor had I been out of the United States before.  Therefore, I knew the experience would completely push me out of my comfort zone and force me to grow as a person and future physician.    

And that it did!  I have learned so much through this experience.  I’ve been taught how to conduct questions with patients, do physical exams, take blood pressure and glucose, and interact with patients on a much deeper level than I’ve ever been able to do while shadowing healthcare providers in the past.  Through all of this, I have gained a confidence with patients and a deeper passion for interaction among people.  I have also gain an appreciation for a field that allows me to interact with so many people daily, while helping them.  I completely fell in love with the patients and their gratitude and demeanor towards all of us.  The appreciation the patients shared for each of us was different than anything I have ever experienced here in the United States.  There were of course some extremely sad cases, in which there really was nothing we could do for them, yet they were still thankful.  One particular patient, an older woman with a late stage cancer and no way to pay for treatment, even said, “If it’s God’s will…” Instances like these forced me to grow in my own faith as I was hearing someone with so much less still praise Him and leave it all up to His will.  It was inspiring to experience.    

Overall, I could go on and on about the benefits of my experience.  In summary, though, it was truly the most meaningful thing I’ve ever been a part of and I could not have picked a better group of people to do it with.  I already wish I was back there laughing with the people who couldn’t understand my Spanish and smiling with those who didn’t need to.  Thank you Honduras.


2015 Summary of first week: Bristal

The first week of clinics was filled with adjustments. The adjustment to having no Wifi pretty much devastated our group, which was sad because these people live without that and other luxuries all the time, but you would never think they are missing out on anything. They carry joy with them wherever they go, and they are so grateful for everything they receive. That was a common theme and observation in our nightly debriefing meetings. We were all impacted by how kind and thankful all of the patients were, even the ones that we couldn’t really help because of either the lack of resources or the severity of their condition. It was truly humbling for me personally. One patient in particular that impacted me was a little girl about six years old, presenting with a seizure disorder and aspiration pneumonia. As soon as I saw her in her mother’s arms, I thought of little Lia Lee, from the book that we were all required to read before the trip. The story was almost identical, except in this case, the family didn’t have easy access to a hospital like the Lees did every time Lia had a seizure. The little girl was on medicine, but it obviously was not helping, and she was already listless from brain damage. She aspirated everything she ate, and was on a liquid only diet. Although she was 6 years old, she was only the size of a 2 year old, and very frail. It was really heartbreaking to witness, and she was only the second patient I saw on the first day of clinic. It snapped me into reality quickly. The only thing we were able to do for her was treat the pneumonia, and it is sad to think about what will become of her once we go back home. It did make me realize, however, that for the rest of this trip, it’s not the times that we can’t do a lot to help that I want to focus on, but rather I want to focus on all the good that we can do, and strive to do as much as we can while we are here. Her mother, just like all the other patients we’ve seen so far, was extremely grateful for what we did. Some of them just want to be heard, and appreciate us simply taking our time to hear about their lives and communicate with them. For that reason, I have been trying to love on them as much as I can, because if I can’t do much for their medical condition, I can at least show them love and compassion. I think that is our goal with Mercer on Mission: to take what we have been given and share it with the rest of the world, so that all may experience the blessings and love of Christ.

2015 Summary of first week: Kaitlyn

**The Internet was not cooperating at the ranch, so each of the undergrad students will summarize the first week in country, followed by blog posts for the second week from different students. We apologize for the inconvenience.

        The first week in Honduras was an exciting one. I soon fell in love with relaxing in the hammocks after a long day of clinics, followed by a friendly game of pick up soccer with the HOI staff. A typical day begins with breakfast at 6:15, devotional at 7:00 on Mondays and Fridays, and then leaving for clinics at 7:30. Each day of clinic had its own challenges. I was able to work at both the intake station and with a couple providers this week. Next week I hope to spend some time in the pharmacy as well.

        One patient who particularly stands out for me after this week of clinics was an older diabetic man who came in. He had a cut on his leg and wanted it clean, but after smelling the odor coming from his other leg, we knew there was something much worse going on. Ultimately, he had an ulcer for 14 years, and due to infection we were sure he had to get to a hospital quickly. He was probably going to lose his leg, but that was better than losing his life. It was so frustrating to hear that he could not make it to a hospital any time soon. We felt like he did not understand the severity of the situation, but in reality we did not understand that he was in poverty and could not afford the trip. It was more important to him to eat meals than to receive medical care.

        This situation is not uncommon here. Many people have told us about having to choose between taking themselves to the clinic or receiving care for their children. I cannot imagine having to make such a difficult decision, and so far, this week has taught me to be thankful for what I have in the United States. We have a much better quality of life than they do here, but that does not mean we are happier. I have seen several children mesmerized by bubbles, and young boys playing soccer with a beat up ball. These kids have never seen an iPad or iPod, and they are more than content. After this week of clinics, I’m excited to see what new experiences I will have next week.

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