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Monday, January 15th 2007


I traveled on my first mission trip. It was supposed to be a screening mission to look for congenital heart defects, and it was in part, however most clinics turned into general pediatric clinics.

Protecting Privacy Even In The Jungle
This Little Boy Wasn’t A Patient, He Just Wanted A Balloon

I was concerned heading down there what I could contribute and in some ways that was well founded, I was a better member of the “non-medical” volunteers than running with the physicians.

I can certainly make much better balloon animals since the trip. I also can find the pulses on infants much better.

The poverty was impressive. Still, you can imagine worse third world conditions. No doubt parts of Africa and India. What made this so striking was the opulence of the coastal resorts compared to the status of the Native Americans in the central portion of the peninsula.

We Traveled From Tulum Past Coba Into The Central Part Of The Yucatan

Its pretty amazing these Mayan descendants have been able to maintain their language. So many patients required dual translators – from English to Spanish then from Spanish to Mayan. Specifically – I suppose although I didn’t know it at the time – we were listening to Yucatec Maya (which Apocalypto was filmed in). The speakers simply referred to it as “Maya.”

Me: ¿Habla Español?
Patient: No. Maya.

That is just as well; for growing up in south Texas my Spanish is horrific:

“¿cuántos ano? …whoops, I mean… ¿cuántos años?”

In anycase it gives you a stark appreciation for how blessed we are I am, at least. I swear I think all the attention, toys and kind gestures we handed out contributed as much as the couple of surgically repairable ASDs found.

A Concrete Building?! This Is One Of The Better Streets!

Plenty of people still lived in “huts” constructed of uncut timber and thatched roofs. In the long single room they would stack their pounds of bagged corn meal, have an open fire at one end, and perhaps a small television at the other. They would sleep on cots, which during the day they would throw up over the rafters to keep out of the way.

Pretty industrious, although I’m sure none of those huts were happy to have gone through Hurricane Wilma. There were still piles of sand in many lots in these towns – a gift (along with cinder blocks) from the Mexican government to help those who had lost homes rebuild sturdier ones.

So many of these kids were happy go lucky (and plenty cute…makes you want to consider Pediatrics) and they were all incredibly well behaved. Well, except when we started handing out soccer balls. Hard to blame them for being grabby though.

There was a knock on the backdoor of the clinic the first day. I was standing around watching an echo and I went to answer it. Big Mistake! Before I knew it dozens of kids (all apparently having gotten word we had soccer balls to deliver) rushed inside. There were probably thirty of them pushing for the trash bags holding the balls. I’m sure no one trying to listen to hearts was pleased with the ruckus I had let in.

While I contributed almost nothing medically (I sure can take those vitals though!), I did hear a lot of normal heart sounds and a lot of benign murmurs. I can now listen for the vibratory quality of a Still’s murmur like nobody’s business!

This mission trip was a little haphazard. As I said, it was planned as a cardiac screening mission but turned into a general pediatric clinic (but without equipment or antibiotics…so, they could tell the parents something was wrong but not offer a lot of help). Despite that, I really do think there was a lot of good that was done. International medicine is fascinating and rewarding. When I can contribute more (or even now – I can make a mean balloon animal) I would love to get out to the corners of the world.

Indeed, flying home I wondered if a desire to be involved in this type of work might even shape my selection of a specialty. Certainly there’s contributions to be made across the board, but this type of mission work is something I might like to be involved with (including long term commitments) and obviously some specialties offer ‘larger’ contributions to these types of communities than others.