End of the Summer: Mayan Ruins and Dollywood and trying to be Reflective

Oops I’m more than a week late in posting this blog.  I’ve had an incredibly busy time at home with nothing to do but relax and spend time with family.  Really it hasn’t been doing nothing, I’ve been going to museums with mom and out to eat with the grandparents and even a day of watersports at the lake with friends from church.  I need to get me a jetski.

Anyways, the last couple days that I didn’t write about from Guate.  On Thursday we took a trip to Tikal.  Take a trip to Google if you don’t know what it is (hint hint Mayan ruins in Peten).  My verb tenses in this blog will be even more wrong than usual cause half of it was written while we were still there.  I finally took some pictures so maybe they’re worth a couple of words but certainly not a thousand.

Me and da ruins.

Me and da ruins.

We saw lots of monkeys up close.  I think this one was a spider monkey.  There were also howlers, which were tiny but quite loud.

We saw lots of monkeys up close. I think this one was a spider monkey. There were also howlers, which were tiny but quite loud.

Looking out on the Grand Plaza.  These temples were BIG

Looking out on the Grand Plaza. These temples were BIG

Peekin through the trees

Peekin through the trees

There were a ton more ruins than I expected.  It makes you wonder if under every hill is a giant Mayan temple.

There were a ton more ruins than I expected. It makes you wonder if under every hill is a giant Mayan temple.

I spy a tiny toucan!

I spy a tiny toucan!

Peeking through the trees again at the biggest temple.

Peeking through the trees again at the biggest temple.

View from the biggest temple.  The top of the Mayan world!  They did some star wars stuff up here.

View from the biggest temple. The top of the Mayan world! They did some star wars stuff up here.  Pictures do not do it justice, you could see for a real long ways.

There’s plenty of tour guides waiting for you when you get there, but we had a special tour from Dave, one of the missionaries there.  He’s the one who has been driving us back and forth, and he’s just a really nice guy.  There’s some people who are just extra special.  Maybe just because he opens my car door for me and turns on the extra light outside so I don’t have to step on the frogs.  Anyways, he and his wife Janice are precious and they’ve taken very good care of us while we’ve been here.

Dave has been to Tikal more than a hundred times and he says he never gets tired of it, and I can see why.  The cool part of the ruins is not seeing what’s left, but imagining what was there.  Picturing the temples as they originally were without crumbles and painted red, peering down from the porch where a ruler might have lived, or imagining the Grand Plaza full of hustle and bustle.  My favorite was climbing Temple IV, the tallest one, taking you to the top of the Mayan world.  You can see for a long ways up there.

Friday was our last day at the hospital.  We looked over a couple more things like the lab and a second run through the exam rooms, and Rick worked magic on his notes before we met with the doctors to talk about their needs.  I tried to do a bit of reflecting.  I guess if I’ve gathered anything it’s that the world needs a lot of help so come quickly, Lord Jesus.  A few people that I’ve met have passed on a saying that they told others interested in the mission field.  If you can picture yourself doing anything else at all, do it, cause you won’t last.  Valuable advice but a little different than what I’d heard before.  I guess until our Lord Jesus does come back, I can’t picture myself doing anything besides helping those who are hurting.  But even with as many ministries as I’ve seen, I still haven’t figured out exactly where I fit into the picture.  I guess I still have another year before He really needs to tell me what’s next, but I sure would like to know.

I have met a lot of special people on this trip.  Dennis McCutcheon could make me cry at the drop of a hat.  He’s working to provide for countless healthcare needs here in Guatemala as well as reach out to people in places that most of us are afraid to go.  His wife Cindy is a treasure too.  Even Joe Leier is a treasure.  I haven’t met anyone else that can think up the things he does, and he’s definitely working in a place that need him.  He put the creativity and problem solving back into technical work that I had missed while working in the States.  I think if anybody worked with him for a few days they’d say wow that’s so cool I wanna do that.  But if anybody worked with him for a few weeks they’d probably die.  Rick and his wife Jennie have been a huge blessing to get to know.  And all the families I stayed with and people that I worked with were just great.  I keep imagining that I’ll see them all together soon but that for sure won’t happen for a long time.

There’ve been a few fresh faces, but there’s also a lot of people working here (especially on the field) that are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning.  I hate to keep sounding like I am calling people old but it’s just a fact of life.  It definitely makes me want to be one of the people that will step up and continue the work that God is doing in other countries.

Also I finally saw a snake at the hospital right when I was walking out with my suitcase.  Good timing.  It was lovely to return home to my bed which felt more comfortable than I have ever imagined, but it’s always hard to come back to America after being burdened with the extreme needs that exist in the rest of the world.  God quickly reminded me that there are lost people in America just the same as other countries and that having a heart for the world shouldn’t come before having a heart for your home.

Anyways, this whole internship experience has helped me to grow.  It’s been challenging in different ways than I thought it would be.  It’s been hard to move around so much, not really knowing what to expect, where I’ll be sleeping, or what my job will be.  It’s been difficult to be the only intern and in a lot of ways on my own throughout this experience.  Not that there weren’t plenty of people around me to support me, but there was no one going through a similar experience like last summer or college or basically my whole life.  And it’s hard for an introverted person to spend eight weeks constantly meeting new people and asking them questions.  But in all the things that were hard, I grew, and I learned from them.  And I got to visit lots of new places and see new people and be reminded that God is bigger than me and my bubble and He is working everywhere and doing very exciting things!

We went to pick up my sister Emmy this weekend from Pigeon Forge, Tennessee!  She was doing a summer program with the Navigators where they work at Dollywood and do Bible studies and evangelism and in general have a lot of fun.  We got to go to Dollywood and there was an amazing bubble show and a tornado.  But anyways it is so nice to have the whole family back together eating leftovers and watching Bear Grylls try to kill Zac Efron on tv.  This is probably the end of the blog for a while, my last year at Vanderbilt promises to be a little too busy for blogging and a little too normal to warrant all of you reading about it.  Actually it’s not normal at all and I am SO EXCITED to get back there with all the friends.  Also it seems like each blog I write gets more and more sentimental and we need to nip that in the bud.  Who knows what will be up next after graduation, but I’ll just keep living each day for the Lord till we find out the rest of the plan!  Ta ta for now!


Giant Toads and Seal Nebulizers

Finished with our third day of working at Hospital Shalom.  I’ve killed more spiders in these three days than I had in my entire twenty-one years of living.  Usually I’m not the girl who screams at bugs so it’s not a huge deal.  They’ve told me stories about finding tarantulas and big snakes and lizards, but I luckily haven’t run into any of those yet.  The real problem comes at night when the frogs and giant toads come out to play.  I don’t know what my problem is with them, but there’s no animal I hate more than frogs.  I know they are harmless but they are terrifying.  There’s always little ones hopping around at night, but two nights ago we saw the monster of all frogs outside the door of the hospital.  I’d rather fight a snake than that thing.  Horrid.

Anyways, I can put up with the critters here for a week, no problem.  Sometimes I think we have the perception that people who live here (missionaries) can survive here because they don’t really have a problem with snakes and they’re not afraid of bugs.  So that’s probably why God sent them to the mission field, cause they’re tough that way, right?  Wrong.  The ladies here have a major problem with the critters here too, hate the geckos and the lizards and are grossed out by it and bothered all the same.  I just thought we might need to stop making so many excuses when God asks us to go, even on short term mission trips.

In these past three days we’ve worked through all the equipment in the hospital, touched over 100 pieces of equipment.  Quick run down.  Lubricated a really noisy exam table and showed maintenance guy how to oil and grease em up in the future.  Cleaned out the spiders from a fleet of aspirators hiding under the stairs.  Checked pulse oximeters, most of which are basically dead and should be replaced with vital signs monitors.  Replaced a blown fuse in an otoscope/oscilloscope.  Fiddled with patient beds.  Checked oxygen concentrators, incubators, infant radiant warmers, phototherapy lights, nebulizers shaped like seals and penguins, defibrillators, probably some other stuff too.  Cut up some cantelope with an ESU, inventoried the fancy stuff in the OR, found broken lightbulbs in light sources.  Saw another HP pagewriter that needs a magic floppy disk.  Also repaired a blender and failed to fix a toaster.

That makes it sound like we’ve been really busy but it hasn’t felt that bad.  Most problems that we run into are problems that I’ve seen before, and Rick says it’s not really that different around the rest of the world.  It’s a little bit hot, enough that you get really smelly, but not so bad that you can’t breathe.  Aka Chinandega.

We’ve interacted with two of the doctors here.  They both speak very highly of Tim and Doris and seem dedicated to the cause of the hospital.  Chinita was perhaps the most energetic person I’ve ever seen.  She drove for eight hours on Monday, worked a night shift at the national hospital, and greeted us bright eyed and chipper on Tuesday morning for a day of work.  I don’t know how you stay awake for all of that.  Dr. Pablo says he enjoys how you never know what your day will be like, if you’ll have an easy day or a day filled with surgeries from top to bottom.

The hospital has two operating rooms, the smaller one seems to be used for deliveries when they need it.  Baby deliveries, that is.  The post op and pre op and icu are all kind of in the same room.  There’s a men’s ward and a women’s ward, but not really any equipment in them as far as monitoring the patients.  There are several doctor’s offices with otoscopes and exam tables.  There’s a small emergency area.  And there’s a ton of space upstairs almost done with construction.  They’re opening a new prosthetics lab on the missionary campus.  That part is super cool to me.  They have a team that comes in I think once or twice a year to fit patients with prosthetic limbs.  They are working on manufacturing their own knee joints to cut down on the cost.

We’re headed to Tikal tomorrow, finish up at the hospital on Friday, and I’ll be back at home on Saturday.  Here’s some pics from the week that Rick took.

"This is Mary Kate just before we put her under and did brain surgery to find out why she only drinks water." -- Rick

“This is Mary Kate just before we put her under and did brain surgery to find out why she only drinks water.” — Rick

Why isn't every nebulizer in the shape of a cute animal with power cords coming out of their butts?

Why isn’t every nebulizer in the shape of a cute animal with power cords coming out of their butts?

Off to Peten, Some Pictures

Updates from DJMK now coming to you from Peten, the jungley northern part of Guatemala.  It is hot, sticky, and buggy here.  Also rains buckets at strange intervals in the afternoon.  Everyone’s dream location.

On Friday, we had an unexpected change in plans when Dennis woke up very sick.  I went with him and Cindy to a hospital near their house, and they immediately ran a whole bunch of tests to try and find out what was wrong with him.  They found a large area of cellulitis on his calf, and are treating him with IV antibiotics.  I haven’t much since we left, but Cindy posted that he made it home from the hospital today!  I’m sure he and Cindy would much appreciate your prayers.  I’m very glad that God put me at their house that day; he used me to translate in the hospital and take a load off of Cindy’s shoulders.

Saturday night was our flight to Peten, so Rick and I hitched a ride to a barbecue at an orphanage so that some other friends could drive us to the airport afterwards.  It was sad to leave Cindy behind, but the time at the orphanage was really fun.  We got there early with Oscar, who was setting up the giant grill.  Apparently that’s how they do it in Pennsylvania.  After a bit of standing around, some girls close to my age took me on a behind the scenes tour of the whole place.  Knowing Spanish was also a great help here.  I hung out with two girls most of the time, they told me they came to the orphanage when they were one and five.  Now they are nineteen and twenty-two, and they still live there but help take care of the little ones and clean.  I gathered that you are free to leave if you want, but this is the only home that most of them have known, and they seem quite content to stay there.  Some of them get married after growing up together, and their are smaller apartments on the campus where they live, but the guys usually find work elsewhere while the girls stay on campus.  I would have expected that the goal would be to have the grown kids living out on their own.  Nevertheless they seemed happy and it was a nice place.

The older girls lived in a large room with bunk beds and a dorm style bathroom.  They showed me a picture album of themselves growing up and people who had visited.  The two girls I hung out with were learning to play the violin and the cello.  They had a huge cafeteria and a school building, as well as a space for church services.  The little kids had a playground, and there was a space for volleyball/basketball or soccer.  They all seemed to get along well.  There were several people with special needs, and they all had huge smiles on their faces while hanging out with the team that was there.

Oh right, the team.  That was the reason that there was a big barbecue, a team from the states was there and this was part of their week-long mission trip.  They’re from Pennsylvania, and were a mix of families with teenagers and younger kids.  The girls I was with were really interested in finding out who was related to who, they seemed to enjoy seeing the family units.  I did my best to figure it out and ask people, but had to keep reminding them I had no idea who these people were either.  I think the kids at the orphanage will remember the visit from that team for a while, they showed them a lot of love.  And the chicken was good stuff.

Flew to Peten that night in a tiny little plane.  The flight is labeled to Flores, but Flores is actually a teeny tiny island that takes about five minutes to drive around.  San Benito is the larger city next to the lake.  There were a lot of tourists on the plane, probably going to visit Tikal, the Mayan ruins that we will get to see this Thursday.  Maybe I’ll take one picture then.

We had “welcome soup” at the campus where the missionaries live, near the hospital.  From what I understand, the campus was given to them by a group that decided to leave the area.  There are a few apartments there as well as storage areas and a large office building that will be used for prosthetics.  The missionaries are involved in a number of different projects in the area, including a nutrition project involving the merengue tree.

We are staying and working at Hospital Shalom, a mission hospital that has been here from quite some time.  Rick has been here a couple times before, and each time it has changed and grown.  We’re staying in apartments in the upstairs of the hospital.  Mine has two bathrooms which is great because I really need more than one toilet and also got to kill double the spiders that were hiding in the corners.  Those are some sneaky little buggers.  But the rooms really are very nice, air conditioner, hot water, spacious, great.  Not much wifi though, but I’ll post blogs about my time here when I get back to the States.

This morning (Sunday) we had a small worship service on the top level of their office building.  It was a very relaxing and refreshing time.  We went on a mini tour of the campus and then to lunch at Pizza Hut.  The finals of the world cup was on, and reception was going in and out so the restaurant was kind of chaotic.  But man that pizza is good.  I’ve also found that I like tea!  Only rosa de Jamaica with lots of sugar, which is tea from the hibiscus flower.

So we’ll have four days of work at the hospital here and one day at Tikal, the Mayan ruins.  After that our plan has changed to come home a week early to give Dennis time to rest and recover.  Even though another week here would have been nice, God’s timing is more perfect than ours and I think I saw more things in the first three days I was here than most people do in three weeks.

Thanks for reading all these words, here’s some pictures that Dennis took from the first week.

From L to R, Rick, Carlos, me, and Joe at Clinica Ezell.

From L to R, Rick, Carlos, me, and Joe at Clinica Ezell.


OR table getting a makeover at Clinica Ezell.  Even the cinderblocks came out to play.

OR table getting a makeover at Clinica Ezell. Even the cinderblocks came out to play.


The back of my head is ridiculous.

The back of my head is ridiculous.  In Chichi.

Vendors in Antigua.

Vendors in Antigua.

Getting my nickname "Mary Cake" at Stephanie's house outside Antigua.

Getting my nickname “Mary Cake” at Stephanie’s house outside Antigua.

Joe causing the car accident.

Joe causing the car accident.

Even the bananas participate in Maroon Monday!

Even the bananas participate in Maroon Monday!

Kids that we bought the bananas from.

Kids that we bought the bananas from.

Operating room.  I think at Hilario Galindo but I could be wrong.

Operating room. I think at Hilario Galindo but I could be wrong.

Joe putting a muffler on the aspirator.  Notice the syringe on the air outlet.  It really works.

Joe putting a muffler on the aspirator. Notice the syringe on the air outlet. It really works.  Despite me calling him crazy, he knows a lot of things and is very creative and fun to work with.

First grade at DAR, the children's center.  Don't miss Rick in the back or me in the middle.

First grade at DAR, the children’s center. Don’t miss Rick in the back or me in the middle.

Rick, Joe, and me outside DAR.  Why are we being so awkward?

Rick, Joe, and me outside DAR. Why are we being so awkward?

If this man isn't crazy then I don't know who is.

If this man isn’t crazy then I don’t know who is.


There’s a lot more great pictures, you’ll just have to ask me to see them.  I can’t be telling all my stories on the blog or no one will talk to me when I get back.


Hospitals, Lasagnas, Tacos.

On Wednesday we did indeed visit the Moore Pediatric Surgery Center, where I had visited before when we came on the Vandy Spring Break trip.  As I remembered it, it was clean with maintained equipment and knowledgable staff.  As nice as the Moore Center is, we still encountered some of the same problems we have been seeing at all the hospitals around here, and problems I encountered last summer in Nicaragua.

They were working on a broken OR table, which they were struggling to fix without a manual.  Getting manuals is pretty difficult, especially finding them in your own language.  Manufacturers buy out other manufacturers and discontinue equipment and manuals and create big problems.  If you can’t find a manual and you can’t get parts, there’s not a lot of hope for fixing things.

Next problem: broken patient bed.  They loved it they loved it it was working beautifully, then a power surge destroyed the controller and they can’t change the position of the bed anymore.  They have some surge protection at the hospital, but it’s not enough to protect against the tremendous fluctuations in power and frequent outages.  One solution would be to run all the power in the hospital off of rechargeable batteries, essentially a big bank that is charged by the incoming power and provides constant power to the hospital, the fluctuations not a problem because the batteries take the hit.  But expensive.  Blown fuses can be repaired but messed up electronics are harder to deal with.

Also the water goes out every other day and their cistern isn’t big enough to supply everything when they’re working at full capacity.

They recently received an anesthesia machine from the states to replace one they were having some problems with in the OR.  But, there were no modules for the monitor or patient cables or gas canisters.  Cannot use it.  Also no manual.  The machine looks really new and really nice, but the donors sent it without essential parts that renders it useless to the hospital.  It was really disappointing to me that these mistakes are still being made even with well-run places like the Moore Center.

One really exciting part about the visit was that they said they are starting an inventory for medical equipment!  They had a group from Belmont come down, and one student made them a neat program in excel where they can keep track of what they have in the pharmacy, even implementing a scanner and barcodes.  They like it a lot and want to expand to medical equipment.  Rick was able to help them out with some other approaches to making the inventory more applicable to equipment, not drugs, as well as some tips on how to organize and expand with notes about repairs or accessories.  Also encourage them on the benefits on maintaining an inventory.  Litrally no one does this in Guatemala, so it was very exciting to see them being proactive in this way.  I gave them my email in case they need me to hunt the excel genius down at Belmont.

We ate lunch at a place that Dennis claims has the best lasagna in Central America.  It was very tasty.  And the salad was very delicious.  We (me Rick Dennis) talked about a few things related to the different ways that ministries provide medical care here and the challenges associated with that.  There’s also a whole other set of challenges when considering how to send aid from the US.  I already filled half a blog with problems like that so I won’t continue to bore you with details.  Well maybe just for a minute.  Sometimes you’d think that in a perfect world, we could up the standard of care here to mimic a hospital in America.  But that probably wouldn’t work either, because Guatemala is not America and there are different cultural norms and practices here than what we have in the States.  Improving Guatemala does not equal a mini United States.  Transcends to other countries as well, each with it’s own differences.

The important part of our lunch conversation came when Dennis pulled out his serious face and a piece of paper with some circles on it.  The top half was a circle with a cross outside.  The circle is our work.  Sometimes we can be doing good things, but they’re our things, our work, and we try and put God into the picture but it’s too late.  We pray when we’re in trouble, not before we get started.  The bottom half is a circle with a cross in the center.  This shows when we are doing God’s work, the cross is at the center of the circle.  You pray before you begin and go where God leads you.  And when you do that you can’t go wrong.  Even though I say I’m searching for where God wants me to go and find out what He wants me to do, sometimes I think that can be a convenient mask for deciding what I want to do with my life and where I want to go.  Anyhow, it was a good reminder to put all my eggs in one basket and trust God completely.

Another thing he said that made me cry was about how God changes the desires of our heart.  He used to desire a big red pickup truck, that was a motivation to work and get money so he could go buy the car that he wanted.  But now, even if somebody gave that truck to him, he would sell it to help the people here that he is ministering to.  I think it made me cry cause he was serious and it’s a beautiful thing to see such a giving heart motivated by God’s love and grace, but also because this is a prayer I pray often for myself and for my friends.  That God would change our hearts to desire what He desires, and that we would give anything and everything away for Him and follow Him to the ends of the earth.

I don’t know how this blog is already so long.  I’ve only covered like five hours of one day.  That evening we went to Bible study at a friend’s house down the road, which was a very beautiful house.  The guy owns a hydroponic tomato farm and right now they are harvesting 16,000 pounds of tomatoes a week.  His dad is from Germany, so he may be the only guy in the country who is happy about that soccer game.  I helped translate some which was an adventure.  The group was a little small because the world cup was on earlier, but one of the guys there expressed how grateful he was to Dennis and Cindy for meeting with them and leading them to a deeper understanding of the Bible.  Afterwards we had pizza yum yum.

Next morning (Thursday) we (Dennis Cindy Rick me) took the day off and went to Antigua for some yummy sandwiches and shopping.  We drove by the hotel we stayed at over Spring Break, and I attempted to get some sweet deals in the markets.  On the way home we had some delicious tacos.  I think we need to up our pineapple game in the States.  It is just so much better here.

Also I’m sorry Mom that I’m so bad at pictures.  Dennis has a nice fancy camera and I’m fixing to shamelessly steal his photos.


Oops I slept through a giant earthquake.

Woke up too early on Monday morning from a strange dream where I was running and shaking, then a knock on the door told me that the dream was in fact a 7.1 (that’s the Richter scale not the Bristol scale) earthquake just across the border in Mexico.  Check out the map, we were in Quetzaltenango (Xela).

After our lost hour of sleep, on the road again we went.  We stopped at good ole McDonald’s for breakfast.  A famous statue was across the round in the middle of a roundabout, so Joe led us across the busy street for a photo op.  On the way back his traffic directing skills caused an accident (just a fender bender) so we evacuated the area.

First stop was Hospital Hilario Galindo, where I made a new friend.  Joe also demonstrated his makeshift muffler for suction machines, which you probably have to see to believe.


We drove over to DAR, a center for children that provides for their educational, health, psychological, and nutrition needs.  I remember these details because I tried to translate for the our tour.  They tutor the kids by grade level after they go to school, and also teach them things like recycling or how to clean their house.  They feed them and involve some of the moms in the kitchen, teaching them how to cook a well balanced nutritional meal.  They teach carpentry and are setting up a room to teach the girls how to sew.  They also have a computer lab in the works.  They have a small health clinic where we discovered an autoclave that they thought was broken.  They hope to use it for a dental clinic they are planning.  The guys tested it and it worked with no problem.  The nurse said she wanted us to teach her how to use it; the instructions were on the top but were in English which was no help to her.  Dennis very patiently taught her how to use it through demonstrations and having her practice on her own.  I helped to translate that with the help of the lady who gave us our tour, who understands a lot of English but didn’t seem to want to speak any.  They were doing a lot of great work there and seemed to be thriving with plans for expansion and over 100 kids attending their programs.  However, the original vision for this project was to be serving orphans, but through fences in regulations and such they were not permitted to do that.  I’ve never seen a more apt example of making lemons out of lemonade.  They aren’t serving the group they hoped to provide for, but they are still serving the community and meeting needs in a major way.

Next stop: Clinica Ezell.  They have a really nice facility where they host teams (where we get to stay, since I’m the only girl I have a GIANT bathroom all to myself wow so fun), a dental clinic, three operating rooms, and a sort of mobile clinic.  They have a team of three local doctors that travel around to provide medical care to surrounding villages, up to an hour and forty-five minutes away.  I think he said they visit up to eighteen villages a week.  We started working on an OR table.  There was a problem with the hydraulic pump, which meant the table would slowly drift down during surgery.  This is especially a problem because they have an eye surgery team coming in next week.  The tiniest shift in height can throw the surgical microscope out of focus, which can be super frustrating for the surgeon.  Replacing a couple of seals involved a lot of cinderblocks and wrenches and oil everywhere, but of course the three amigos had it working again.

We had a fun pizza dinner with main man Carlos and his family.  He is originally from Nicaragua and was able to sympathize with how hot Chinandega was.  We spent the night there, and it was a leetle bit hotter than it was up in the mountains.  My lizard friends sang me to sleep and really loud birds woke me up instead of an earthquake.  The road we were on supposedly goes through 23 of the world’s 28 ecosystems.  I’m not sure if I remembered those numbers right.  We’ve also reached a height of 10,000 feet.  My water bottle keeps getting all smushed from all the mountains we keep going up and down.  Dennis pulled out a map and showed us all the places we’ve been and are going.  Basically making a really weird figure eight around all of Guatemala.

Breakfast with Carlos and good conversations, then on the road again.  I think we were driving for a long time, but it didn’t seem as long because there are such pretty views all around you.  Might have counted five volcanoes.  We stopped for fresh fruit on the roadside.  Yellow bananas, tiny bananas, red bananas, any kind of bananas.

We had lunch with a missionary named Stephanie who lives just outside of Antigua.  Her house smelled just like my great grandmother’s, and she even had the same hummingbird feeders outside.  Though her hummingbirds were quite a bit bigger.  She used to be a chef in Texas, but God brought her to the mission field in Guatemala in the 80s and He has been working through her in big ways ever since.  She had some neat stories, one about the current house she was living in.  She went to look at it without a penny in her pocket, but by the end of the week she had enough funds to purchase the entire thing.  God has given her a new task of building a surgery center that can host teams.  Without doing any fundraising, God has already provided $65,000 for the project.  Which is huge.  The project that she is undertaking is also huge, but she says she’s excited to see how God gets this one done.  The three amigos were able to provide some insight on things to consider and will be able to help in future planning.  I had some good laughs with the local people that will be helping out with the project.  They decided it was a great idea to call me Mary Cake, and insisted that I return to Guatemala when I get done with school.  No commitments yet.

Returned to Dennis and Cindy’s house after dark and plopped into bed exhausted.  Today we are visiting the Moore Pediatric Surgery Center, or at least that’s the current plan.  I’ve even been there before.  WOW sew experienced.


Tumulos and Full Bladders

Dennis thought this was a nice blog title and I hate making titles so there you go.  We have encountered both of these things on the trip already but luckily not at the same time.  Tumulos are speed bumps, and full bladders happen when you drink lots of orange juice and then drive through the mountains of Guatemala.  I have barely been here a day and a half but already have done almost too many things to remember.

When we arrived, Dennis whisked us away to his lovely house where they had these real real delicious jalepeño poppers.  Jalepeños filled with cream cheese and other goodness then fried is so tasty.  SEW tasty.  The few poppers that were left were brought with us to a friend’s birthday celebration, which consisted of watching the Costa Rica v Netherlands game and eating more delicious food such as ribs.  And my oh my the world cup is a big deal.

Sleep while you can, cause we were out the door at 5:15 the next morning to pick up Joe Leier, who I kept hearing scary things and warnings about and was expecting someone who was probably insane.  Well.  Maybe so.  Just kidding.  A little.  He’s from Canada.  So there’s that.  But you know me, I’m always inclined to think everyone is very nice and I think I am sharing excellent company.

The three amigos that I am currently traveling with, I won’t call them old but they are indeed a bit older than me, are probably some of the most experienced and knowledgeable people in the field of biomedical missions type stuff.  I tried to get them to give themselves alliterative titles describing their complementing strengths, but they fell a little short.  They do not fall short in technical skills, creativity, experience, or caring about others.  I’m a little flabbergasted as to how I ended up in a van traipsing around in the mountains of Guatemala with them but I am confident that I will learn a lot if I can wake up enough to ask questions and if they take a breath to let me get a word in edgewise 🙂

Anyways, we started out the day at Hope Haven, a ministry that focuses on wheelchairs and building them and fitting them to patients, and is expanding to include medical facilities next to their warehouse.  We were there because they wanted the three amigos’ opinion on a couple of decisions before moving forward.  Hint hint, these guys are bigshots in this field.  Another side note, the nifty wheelchairs made out of plastic lawnchairs and bicycle tires that made me look twice in Nicaragua are indeed kind of a crummy solution as to be expected with a cheap and uncomfortable component like a lawn chair.  Fitting the patient to the chair can prevent sores and other problems, another example as to why cheap is not always better and quality counts.  Great job, Hope Haven.

Next stop, Salud y Paz, means health and peace, which also had expansion plans as well as a dental clinic.  On the way there were some incredible views of the mountains, volcanoes, and the city below.  Of course I’m horrible at taking pictures but good thing Rick got this one:

Me and the three amigos.

Me and the three amigos.

On to Chichicasatenango, maybe that’s how you spell it, at a private hospital that was having problems with their wall suction.  Turns out there were problems both with the electronics and with gunk inside the wall ports.  Gross.  Again, these guys are fixing in a couple of hours what would have taken us ages and ages to figure out last summer.  It was market day so we got to walk through there a couple of times.  Reminds me a lot of Nicaragua except there were more gringos and less sweat.

Last stop Quetzaltenango, where we meet one of Dennis’s board members and his wife for dinner.  One interesting conversation tidbit was about post op care after surgical teams doing stuff like cleft lip come in.  It’s an aspect that I hadn’t considered, but keeping infection away and recovering well is an essential part of the surgery.  It lends itself to the point that having teams come in and do stuff is not a comprehensive solution; there must be in country support to make things effective and lasting.

There’s a lot of stuff to take in, and I’m glad that I had traveled before or I might be more overwhelmed.  Pray that I can do my best to be confident in my Spanish and use it more, and that I can be alert and engaged so that I can get the most out of this experience.  Three weeks will fly by and I want to learn all I can.  I also don’t want to have diarrhea so I guess you can pray for that while you’re at it.

I almost forgot one of the most important events.  I had a giant cup of pinkberry in the Atlanta airport.  Everything is right.

Endless Equipment and Whirlwind Weekends

And Amazing Alliteration.  Last night I made it back to home sweet home after a grand ole time in the mountains.  On my last day of work I went on a tour of all the different operations of Samaritan’s Purse which it turns out is a whole lot more than Operation Christmas Child.  It is a very nice place that does an incredible amount of work.  I definitely feel that many local missionaries and churches could not do what they do without support from SP and that they are making a huge difference by equipping these people.  Very cool to see.

On Saturday I got to meet up with boyfriend Alex in Asheville for a day of fun.  This is most likely the only time I will see him all summer so we tried to fit in all our favorite things like chocolate and cars.  On Sunday I found myself in a van of older folks who took me to the Ashe Little Theatre to see Les Miserables.  They ended up knowing Rick and Jennie Wood (remember he set up my internship), and one lovely lady’s husband was a co-founder of World Medical Mission (branch of Samaritan’s Purse I’m interning with) and she had some cool stories about being a nurse anesthetist on some of their first trips.  Turns out ether is used on people and not just on fruit flies in biology lab.  Also turns out they have a building named after them so she is a big deal (but very very sweet it was a blessing to meet her).  Oh the places I get myself into.

equipment, equipment everywhere

equipment, equipment everywhere

They let me work on a lot of equipment.  IV pumps, endoscopes, infant warmers, ESUs, vital sign monitors, sterilizers, ventilators, defibrillators, aspirators, wound pumps, and probably a couple more that I’m forgetting.  I’m now a pro at removing stickers from equipment.  I’ve also gotten to hear about a couple of trips that the biomeds have taken and see pictures which are always fun.  It makes me want to travel immediately and then I remember that I’m leaving for Guatemala on Saturday and get excited.  Hopefully all the equipment I’ve seen thus far will help me out a little bit while I’m there.

Working in a setting like Samaritan’s Purse or International Aid means that the technicians see many many different types of equipment, not just the same stuff like when working in a hospital.  It’s a continuous learning process, looking for manuals and figuring out what makes each machine tick.  And more often than not what makes it not tick.  And although they are relieved from many of the rules and regulations and piles of paperwork, inventory and finding things can still be super difficult when you have massive quantities of equipment and donations.    I have really enjoyed working with the equipment; it’s fun to learn to be handy and work with a screwdriver instead of a computer.  But I also miss some of the possibilities of creativity.  You have a piece of equipment.  You test it, fix it, outfit it for the country it’s going to.  I have seen that this can be complex and a lot of work, and I might be crazy, but I think after a while I might be looking for more problems to solve.  Maybe what I’m trying to say is that being a technician is not the ultimate career for me, which I guess is a good thing since I’m going to school to be an engineer.

One of my other favorite parts of this leg of the summer (besides lunch) was staying with the Foulkes who served as medical missionaries in Zambia for a pretty long time.  Someone at work gave me the book that Jim wrote, and it was especially powerful to read it while getting to know them.  Sometimes I wouldn’t be sure if I was rereading a chapter in the book or if I had just heard Jim tell the story that I was reading.  Their commitment to following God was very inspiring, and I see that they have lived lives with much hardship but also much joy.  As I’m struggling to figure out what I want to do in the future, I’m reminded that as long as I am following the Lord, I’m going the right way.  I’m not supposed to be able to figure it out, He is.

Anyways, next up is the three week venture to Guatemala with Rick!  I’m very thankful to Jennie (who I miss so dearly) for letting him leave for such a long time.  I should have many more interesting stories so I’ll try and share some of them.  Can’t wait to be back in Central America again!

Yum yum lunch

The rumors are true…the cafeteria at Samaritan’s Purse has incredibly delicious food.  Like really good.  Really really good.  Best spaghetti I’ve had in a long time.  And garlic knots.  And tater tots.  They gave me these cards so I can get whatever I want.  “Will work for food” is too applicable to my lifestyle.

Samaritan’s Purse is also really really big.  One thing that helps with the bigness is morning devotionals.  All the staff gather in the eating area at all the tables and someone prays and someone shares a quick devo.  Today’s was about waiting on the Lord, and how sometimes He uses those situations to show us how we don’t actually trust him completely and to strengthen our trust in Him.  After that, you pair up with a person near you and pray for staff members serving in other countries.  They’ve got these fancy papers with their names and pictures and countries at each seat.  You can also pray for each other, something I wish we did more often.  So even though it’s a big organization with people all over the world, there’s a daily reminder that you are united with one purpose: to serve and glorify God.

Anyways, I had an uneventful drive up to Boone on Monday morning, which I guess was good.  There were a lot of clouds so I pretended I was a storm chaser evading the thunderheads.  In the past day and a half of work, I have tested monitors of various types, added a breaker to Dr Kilowatt, chatted about solar panels, and had an overall lovely time.  They have some cool test equipment for the monitors, and a lot of it is small cause the biomeds travel often (sometimes four times a year for two weeks at a time) to the places equipment is donated or other hospitals the Purse is supporting.  I used the yellow jacket to test ECG cables today.  So tiny.  That link also has the simcube they use for blood pressure as well.  Dr. Kilowatt was designed a few years ago by a biomed there to try and combat the intermittent power so often found in the developing world.  The iffy power was sucking the life out of the machines, so Dr Kilowatt is designed to cut off power when it surges above or below and acceptable range.  Today we added timers to the circuit so that if the power reaches the acceptable range, it must remain in the range for a certain amount of time before powering on again, keeping equipment from switching on and off too rapidly.  That involved a lot of wire stripping and clamping and referring to circuit diagrams.

In addition to chatting about solar panels, I talked to the field electrician about the hospital in Bangladesh that he is helping to design the electrical system for.  That was bad English.  Anyways, he showed me this video about the head doctor, who he said has been there for seventeen years.  My favorite part is when he says that serving on the mission field is not a sacrifice like many people make it out to be, but a high and holy commitment.  Just watch the video it will make you want to be a doctor on the mission field.  Or maybe just me if med school wasn’t such an ordeal.

I’ll try and update more often cause the last blog really got to be disjointed and hard for me to put all my thoughts together.  It’s hard enough after two days.  Or one day.  I’m staying with an absolutely wonderful couple who served as medical missionaries in Africa for a very long time.  Off to have dinner with them now!  But really can’t wait for lunch tomorrow.

To West Michigan: International Aid

Wow another week has flown by.  Sorry it’s been so long I was out of wifi.  I just arrived home after spending a week in Spring Lake, Michigan at International Aid.  I also made a great pit stop in Chicago (what was supposed to be a three hour layover turned into lyke eight hours thanks thunder and united airlines) and had deep dish pizza and garrett’s popcorn and pretended like I was on the Amazing Race while I rushed through the airport rescheduling cancelled flights.  But anyways a lot of things have happened since dee last blog.

International Aid is a non profit centered in Christ that provides disaster relief, health products, and reconditioned medical equipment around the world.  Anyways I hope that was a good description.  There are about 25 people that work there now and they are all so nice; I wish I could have stayed longer than a week.  Well I didn’t quite talk to all of them but I do feel that I got a good idea of how the organization works and I was impressed!  It’s really cool that it’s a Christian based organization so they can have fun stuff like staff devotion time and pray before meetings.  But it’s also cool that they are all very proud of the work they are doing because they know they are doing high quality work that is making an impact.  Every person’s job meant a lot to them and it was just a great environment to be in.  I mean come on they had chocolate stashes in all the offices.  Each department seems to be under the illusion that they are the only office with a chocolate stash.  Sorry to burst your bubbles, International Aid, but everyone’s got the goods.

I ended up staying with another girl who worked there which was a huge blessing cause she’s 25 and likes mint chocolate chip ice cream and playing Just Dance on the wii.  Staying with her was so fun and definitely one of the highlights so far.  I also got to go to Grand Haven a couple of times and walk downtown and on the pier.  They have a cute little pretend beach and some icy cold water.  I get the feeling they think it’s a really big beach but it’s not.  They do have a really big lake though.  I got to see lil Nikki on Friday which was SO GREAT, I missed that little pumpkin.  She’s doing exciting things next semester in Chile so I was extra glad I got to see her before she leaves.  We’ll all miss her at school next semester, especially Little Lamb Cake.

Me and lil Nikki by the iconic Grand Haven lighthouse.  It's been my dream for a while to be instagrammed and hash tagged by Nikki and she did it twice wow so honored #blessed

Me and lil Nikki by the iconic Grand Haven lighthouse. It’s been my dream for a while to be instagrammed and hash tagged by Nikki and she did it twice wow so honored #blessed


Back to work.  They have two biomeds and a bunch of volunteers who do most of the technical work, and peeps who manage and find partners/donors and order parts and things of that sort.  I’m amazed that they do what they do with so few staff.  I got to have a lot of hands on time with the equipment which was fun.  Thank you Brian and Jason for being patient with my questions and helping me to learn as much as I could in a week!  Blowing out eight incubators with compressed air and retubing an anesthesia machine are not things they let me do on my own at the hospital.  They also have a lot of bubble wrap.  They also have so much medical equipment it was overwhelming to me the first couple of days.  Like a row of the warehouse with a bunch of anesthesia machines lined up and boxes full of defibs and cables galore!  Amazing!  From what I understood from my brief stay, it seems they’ve really settled into a role of partnering with other organizations and working together to get the job done right.  They make sure their partners know what’s up too, asking plenty of questions before working with them.  Having appropriate equipment that the hospital staff can use and the power grid can support, affordability, including the necessary cables and tubing to operate the equipment, service manuals, tested equipment…there’s a lot of things to think about and the more questions I asked of them the more excellent answers they gave me.  The major gap I’m still seeing is technical support in the developing world.  But International Aid is doing a great job filling their niche.

Check out this link for fabulous pictures of me at work.

Definitely a whirlwind week.  It can be hard to sleep in three different beds that are not your own over three weeks and try not to feel totally out of place.  I don’t go a day without being reminded that God is with me wherever I go.  In staff devotion time we watched a sermon on Daniel and his buddies Shadrach, Meshach, and Tobedwego (Poppy I’ll never be able to remember his real name after you ingrained that into me as a child).  The pastor made an interesting point that these men chose to glorify and follow God in small things first (ie not eating the kings food, Daniel keeping his name) which led them to be faithful in big things (ie walking into a fiery furnace).  Through talking to one of the technicians, I heard about how his commitment to spend a summer in Guatemala led to him serving there for three years, something he never would have dreamed of if he had not trusted God in the smaller steps first.  All that to say, I’m doing my best to trust God on this journey now and I’m excited to see where he will lead me.  I’m glad that I don’t know the whole plan cause it would probably be scary.  I mean if these are the small decisions then there must be some crazy stuff coming up.

After washing all my clothes I’m packing up and driving to Boone, NC in the morning for almost two weeks at Samaritan’s Purse.  Time for the big dogs, I guess.


Anotha Summa: Michigan Style

Dis blog ain’t over yet.  I figured I’d continue this summer’s travels on this blog from last summer.  My destinations are a little different this time around and hopefully dengue will not be involved.

This summer I will not be gallivanting around Nicaragua.  Instead I will be gallivanting around Michigan, North Carolina, and Guatemala.  It’s sort of a custom made internship just for me by the wonderful Rick Wood and WCBS.  Obviously I’m incredibly special.  First I’m working at MidMichigan Medical Center to shadow the biomedical technicians and see what the process is supposed to look like, seeing as all my impressions have come from the developing world.  Next off to International Aid to see how they are providing medical equipment to hospitals all over the world.  Final American stop at Samaritan’s Purse to check out their medical missions stuff.  After I’ve seen the US side of things, there’s no better place to go than straight out on the field to Guatemala for three weeks.  I won’t spoil all the surprises there.  And again a bazillion thanks to Rick Wood of WCBS for setting up this internship.  I’ve gathered that there’s not many people who want to do what I’m doing but there’s a whole lot of need.

I’m thinking I won’t update this as much as last summer since I’m not having cross country adventures every other day, but feel free to ask me any questions or call and hangout (Samantha Orland  I’m looking at you.  Call me, busy woman.).  My internet and electricity situation is currently excellent as I am in America.

So, I’m through my first week of work in the Biomed department at the hospital.  Each day my schedule varies, usually I follow around a different person and sometimes they let me get my fingers in whatever they’re doing.  This has allowed me to learn about a variety of equipment and procedures, and also get to know everyone in the department.

Demo on a Pulmonary Function Tester.  All that tidal volume and gas exchange stuff we learned in Systems Phys magically came to life.  And why don't I use this nose plug when I'm swimming.

Demo on a Pulmonary Function Tester. All that tidal volume and gas exchange stuff we learned in Systems Phys magically came to life. And why don’t I use this nose plug when I’m swimming.


At the hospital I’ve seen equipment from smart IV pumps to 4D ultrasounds which has been very interesting, but I’ve been trying to pay special attention to the procedures and documentation done when repairing or checking equipment.  The whole preventative maintenance system is new to me since technicians in the developing world are just trying to stay afloat, not comply with the extensive rules and regulations imposed on equipment in America.  On a day to day basis medical companies are contacted for technical support and parts, something I never saw in Nicaragua.  The software for keeping track of the work done on equipment far surpasses the hospitals in Chinandega– they didn’t even have an inventory.  Also the amount of test equipment they have is unreal.  I guess it’s normal but to me it seems unreal.

The techs in the department brought a lot of different experiences to the table so I tried to ask as many questions as I could think of.  I learned about the equipment that the army uses in field hospitals, special training that companies will give to biomeds on things like x-rays so they can get out of a service contract ($30,000 for two weeks in some cases), how great vacation in Hawaii is, and that fixing equipment is not the ultimate answer.  Maintaining and managing the equipment are the jobs that take the most time, fixing equipment is done as needed.

This post is already long and I’m sure I’ll do another one about my time at the hospital when I finish at the end of the week, but my favorite part as usual has been getting to know the people.  I’ve felt so welcomed by Rick and Jennie Wood who are letting me stay at their house.  Not only welcomed into their house but into their family…I’ve met two of their daughters and they’ve taken me to a baseball game and canoeing!  And to a grandson’s graduation tomorrow.  I’ve also had fun getting to know the people at work.  There are some interesting characters and some interesting stories.  One told me that the only reason he was a biomed was because he stole a pop machine.  Good life decisions.  But really they’re charming even if I have to pry the stories out of them.