If you have private duty nursing in your home, you already know what an amazing job the nurses do taking care of kiddos. Today in Know the Nurses, we’re introducing you to one of our nurse trainers, Courtney Malikowski, RN, who has been with PHS since March 2012. She recently went to San Cristobal, Guatemala with the organization HELPS International, where she served as a volunteer nurse (and stove installer!) with a group providing medical care for citizens in the community.
Courtney shared some details of her trip with us here in a day-by-day recap of what was done while they were there, and the cultural exploration she had a chance to do. Check out the incredible number of lives touched at the end of this post – we are so proud to have nurses that not only help the kiddos they care for here in Minnesota, but all over the world.
HELPS International’s mission is to provide enduring programs of practical, social and spiritual value to the people in the developing world through a system of partnership and mutual responsibility.
The majority of the group met in Minneapolis and met up with the remaining members in Texas – members of the group came from Oregon, California, New York, Minnesota, Colorado, Texas, Missouri and more that I am forgetting. We stayed overnight in Guatemala City and prepared for the long 6 hour bus ride to San Cristobal the next morning.
Citizens awaiting their arrival
Thanks to Dramamine, we all made it on the long bus ride to San Cristobal without getting sick from all the switchbacks and elevation changes. About ¼ mile before the hospital, a line of hundreds of people began that have been waiting for up to a couple weeks for the HELPS team to arrive – this was such an amazing and emotional site! As soon as we arrived at the San Cristobal Hospital, it was go-time. Each group broke up into small groups to get prepared for the long week of serving the people of the community.
The main groups included; clinic, surgery, recovery, translators, stoves, triage and dental. After preparing the recovery room with my fellow nurses, we settled in to our rooms for a good night’s sleep. At 4 a.m. I woke up to a big BOOM right outside my window, followed by several bangs, another BOOM and then some loud music. No one in my room flinched. My mind started to wander….
Soldiers were continuously guarding us and a fence topped with barbed wire surrounded the entire hospital. Thinking the worst, I thought we were under attack!
Once I started to hear people move around for the day, I realized it was probably safe to get out of bed. I walked straight up to one of the veterans in the group and said, “tell me the truth, what was that shooting last night?” He laughed and said, “Those were fireworks in celebration that the HELPS team is here! Oh, and the song was a birthday song, it must have been someone’s birthday.” I told him next year it would be a good idea to let the new people know that they are fireworks and not gunshots!
Since I was scheduled to work an overnight on the first day, I had the whole day off and decided to go out in the community to install stoves with the stoves team. This was amazing! I did not know the first thing about building one of these, but thankfully the team was more than willing to teach me. All supplies for building the stoves are delivered to the homes before we arrive.
The families are chosen randomly and the stoves used to be free, but there were a few times in the past that the families decided they would rather sell the stove for money before it was assembled by HELPS than have a source of heat/cooking. Currently, the families need to pay $25 dollars; this way they invest their own money and decrease the chance of selling it. Each day the stove team installed about 15 indoor and 15 outdoor stoves.
We had a great opportunity to see the way the people live, cook, sleep and play. The best part was meeting the children and playing ‘futbol’ or coloring with them. The appreciation from the families was an appreciation I have never seen before!
Recovery room at the hospital
After arriving back to the hospital, it was a quick sleep for me then back to work in the recovery room for my first shift. My first night in recovery was a full house; all 16 beds were full along with 2 out in the hallway. The majority of the surgeries consisted of gall bladder, hernias, cleft lip/palate repair, hysterectomies and removal of lumps/bumps.Since I was the only pediatric nurse, I was nominated to be the all-time pediatric nurse, which I was MORE than happy to do It was a pretty uneventful night, mostly helping patients to the bathroom, passing pain medication and changing IV fluids.
After finishing up my overnight shift at 8am, it was another quick sleep before I was back to work for my evening shift at 3pm. Since surgeries start at 7am and can go as late as 9pm, we were busy during my evening shift with admits. One thing that amazed me the most is how fast people from this culture snap back after a major surgery. The main goal for these people was to get back home; they were never in recovery for more than 1.5 days.
Inside the operating room
Interesting fact: about 90% of the patients spoke Spanish, the other 10% either spoke Kekchi/Qeqchi or Pocomchi. This made it interesting to provide patient care. Translation went as follows; Courtney (me) –>Spanish translator –> family member (Spanish to kekchi or Pocomchi) –> patient (whom spoke Kekchi/Pocomchi).
I worked a day shift, which was very busy with discharging patients from the previous day, and providing discharge instructions. We also had to be prepared to admit new patients. I got the opportunity to work in the PACU (Post-Anesthesia Care Unit) during my day shift and be present upon the patients waking from anesthesia.
This was market day! Most people got the morning off to travel to the market (excluding recovery nurses). We were able to leave the hospital for the first time to see the town of San Cristobal. We were told not to eat any food or drink any water because we could get really sick, but we passed through the market where they were selling fresh fruits, veggies, fish, other meats and handmade goods. I finished the day with an evening shift in recovery.
Overlooking San Cristobal
I was scheduled another over night shift which meant I could go out and work on stove installation again before working my shift later that night. It was such a good day to be out in the community as we started at a school. The children were flocking around all of us and put on a dance and celebration for us coming!
We were able to take a tour of their school before going out to the homes to install the stoves for the day. At the homes I was in on this second stove trip, their current way of cooking was three big rocks surrounding an open wood fire and a large pot of soup resting on the rocks.
On top of taking care of the patient during my evening shift, I worked on packing all supplies as this was our last day at the hospital.
We were able to travel to Antigua for a few days of rest and relaxation. The days were spent touring the beautiful churches, purchasing cultural souvenirs, laying by the pool and soaking in as much sun as possible. The joke was on me; I forgot that my white Minnesota skin was not ready for more than 30 minutes in the hot Guatemalan sun. Our last night was an appreciation banquet.
While in San Cristobal we touched many lives:
The Dental group cleaned 535 mouths
Surgeons performed 148 surgeries
The clinic saw 841 patients
Stoves team installed 72 stoves
Outreach referred 110 patients
We touched 1706 lives in just 5 days during our time in Guatemala!