Thursday, 19 February 2015
Hello to all. All well here in Villa Vasquez, Dominican Republic. We’ve almost completed our first week and with no mishaps. The team (Hancock County Medical Mission) left Maine ahead of a major snowstorm and arrived smoothly. I came to the DR three days earlier with wife Jeri’s team, caught up with old friends in San Pedro de Macorís and saw how much the school Colegio Moriah and the Haitian Baptist church had grown since I was last there. On Saturday I met my own team members as they arrived at the airport.
We’re working in two medical groups as usual: the surgical team, which works every day in the local hospital and hardly sees the tropical sun, and the clinic team which goes by bus each day out to small farming villages and shamefully gets sunburned while doing general family medicine and occasional referrals to the surgical team or to Dominican specialists. Teo and Frida, the MMI directors, are also MDs and are treating patients. I’m translating for an MD named Ron from Saskatchewan, Canada.
Most of the days we set up clinic in school buildings, usually a kind of sprawling affair of long rooms separated by courtyards, secure for kids and also for a medical team. We’ve seen some beautiful places along the way, one of them about 1000 feet up with a view of the sea. Not too hot here, mid-eighties, and comfortable nights sleeping. Good hotel, concrete and tile with running water (usually) but no hot showers and no wi-fi. We eat in a rented house about four blocks away, meals cooked by MMI staff (that’s Medical Ministry International, our hosts) and the hospital is a few blocks from there, so it’s easy to walk around. Small town, easy to walk from one side to another, and friendly. We’ve gotten to know a few people in town—Andrea, the lady who owns the pizza place (best wi-fi AND best pizza around) and she speaks good English because she comes and goes from New Jersey. Antonio, the security guard here at the hotel is also very friendly and we aren’t at all intimidated by the stockless shotgun that he carries around like a cane. Very talkative, and these people are great to learn from. Besides ourselves I don’t think we’ve seen anybody from the United States except for a woman with the Peace Corps. Villa Vasquez NOT a tourist destination.
Farming country nearby, lots of bananas, rice fields, and on today’s trip some tobacco. Sugar, but not so much in this area. Saw a few kinds of cactus on the ride today, and that area was very dry¸ many buildings with gutters and pipes set up to collect rainwater in cisterns. Old fashioned outhouses at the school where we worked today, and in some ways this is a step up from the proper flush toilets at the hospital—I’m told that there was no water at all there today and they had to lug buckets when the toilets got too foul.
Typical surgeries include hernia repair, gall bladder removal, lumpectomies. Probably other major surgeries like hysterectomies and tubal ligation but I’m not with that team this year [update: Charlie just confirmed all of the above, but said “lots of hernias”]. The hospital in Villa Vasquez has an OB unit so there have been two or three childbirths each day. Sarra, one of our scholarship students, has been with the surgical team, working pre-op and post-op, and has seen a few newborns, although not the births themselves. Taylor, our other student, has been with the clinic team and working with integrated health, which works as a waiting area after patients have seen the doctors and while prescriptions are being filled. During that time they receive a lesson in health care and hygiene and a gospel message, then instructions about taking their medications when the meds are ready. Taylor has been translating and assisting and she clearly loves kids. Also, there are three other teenage girls on the trip from Virginia. All are rooming together with an adult, an OB surgeon, to keep things on the level.
Food great, by the way. The MMI cooks have been doing this a long time. No chance of losing weight, especially with the pizza place as the wi-fi hot spot. Breakfasts include eggs, maybe bacon or sausage, fruit, choice of cereals and the best granola except for Jeri’s. We start breakfast with a praise song and close it with a short devotional by whoever had volunteered. My turn was this morning, and it was on Psalm 100. We also start the work day with an introduction to the people we’ll be treating, with a “circle time” that includes the song “Alabaré” (I will praise) and a prayer. The key is to be brief because it can be a long day.
I’ll close now, go over to the pizza place to connect and (try) to send this. Charlie and the gang are already over there. This time of evening I’ll walk past a bunch of older men playing dominoes on card tables on the sidewalk. You’d think it was a world-class chess match. Maybe it is, or better.
Thanks for praying. Keep it up for us, would you? See you next week in the snowdrifts.
PS—Also check out our Facebook page, Hancock County Medical Mission. Charlie has been posting photos and videos of the OR team. I’ll try to put this up on my blog, https://fromoffshore.wordpress.com and may include a few of my own photos in a few days.