Patricia teaches a medical technique to translator Jose (left) and clinic worker Marvin.
Canadian Nurse Patricia Foster reflects on her experience at Project Ix-canaan:
“I am at Ix-Canaan because of a chance encounter on a Mexican bus — a doctor who recruited me in less than 15 minutes. I was intrigued and the website and Anne’s warm and enthusiastic welcome did the rest.
I arrived in November 2014 hoping to stay 5 or 6 weeks. I was nervouus about my limited Spanish and despite 40 years of nursing experience, nervous about what I would find and how little I knew about tropical diseases.
Yes, there are only simple diagnostic tools and limted medications but it is still about listening intently to the patient’s story, taking a good history and as Florence Nightingale knew, basic public health practices. I appreciated having a few good books on hand: The Merck Manual, Bates Guide to Physical Assessment, WhereThere Is No Doctor: A Village Health Care Handbook! and my trusty well thumbed Spanish-English dictionary. I also had to be reminded about humility — I was not responsible for holding up the world of health care in Peten. I could only be responsible for doing my best, within the scope of my knowledge and skills. I was thankful for years of community nursing in Canada’s north and the skills of assessment that I learned as a northern nurse. I was also thankful that years ago I had learned to say ” I don’t know” and tell patients what I did know and my best hunches.
The first week in the clinic was a dynamic start – a possible undiagnosed hypertension, a breast lesion that may be cancer and a young woman with tachycardia and a bounding pulsation in her abdomen. Well baby checks and feverish toddlers, and sore joints round out the clinic visits. Lots of skins conditions to keep me guessing and searching on line, includng cutaneous leishmaniasis, or chiklera as it is known here. Sent two photos to docs I know in Canada for their input and their suggestions were much appreciated. But the clinic helpers who are here long after I go, keep me grounded in the everyday experiences of this village and its people. Marvin, who is brilliant at suturing, is so keen to help and to learn. Zaudy and Jose help through translation. Compassion and even humour help “our team” find the moments of grace when it is especially difficult.
The villagers who come to see us are so appreciative. We are given gifts of fruit and even one day, lunch was served to us by a patient and her teenage kids. I like the hugs, warm handshakes and even a kiss on the cheek, the most. They donate a few quetzales to the project when they can.
A tour of two local hospitals in St Elena reminded me how privileged we are in North America, and yet staff took the time to talk with us about their challenges and also about their hopes.
And now it is week 5 and the children call out “Hello” as I ride by on the old bike that was loaned to me. I can now recognize faces of folks I have seen at the clinic. I feel part of this community…. even in a small way. I have appreciated all the support of colleagues and friends at home and from the folks here at El Remate. It has been a joy working along side other volunteers — Margo in the children’s centre and library, Cory when we helped a local contractor pour a cement floor for a family, a visiting German doctor, Katarina, newly graduated who landed here for a day, a day when I really wanted a second opinion. And of course Anne’s support, wise counsel and great brown bread and bran muffins all keep me “on track”.
This volunteer opportunity has been a privilege and a gift, and I will be back next year. Care to join me? Health care workers, lab tecs, you name it, get in touch with Anne Lossing.”
Patricia talks to patients about their symptoms.
Patricia invites biochemist to visit and advise in our laboratory.
Patricia (very back middle) volunteers In the library for the Friday afternoon class.
Patricia works with Globe Aware volunteer Corey (left) and cement worker Edgar to install a cement floor in the home of a local family.