Dec 2, 2007 - Life, Wanderlust    No Comments

HOPE in Punta Gorda

There are moments in time that at the time you have no idea what effect it will have on the future. My decision to go to Honduras instead of back to the USA was one of those. I broke up with Mr. Bad News, and I got my first taste in working in health care. It’s hard to imagine my life now had I not made those two monumental decisions.  Here’s a post transcribed from my old travel journals circa somewhere around 2000.

I have always kept a record of my travels.  It used to be with a pen and paper and 35 mm film.  Now it’s all digital. Occasionally, I reflect back my past travels and travel mishaps before I started this blog.

HOPE

I have spent the last 10 days or so checking out the Copan Ruins in Honduras. It’s odd how I ended up in Honduras of all places, but the Maya had  a rather large territory, and I want to explore as much of it as I possibly can. In some ways, the Copan ruins are quite similar to the Mayan ruins of Mexico, but in other ways they are completely different.  They are much less touristy, but then again I have only been to Chichen Itza and it’s “baby brother’ Uxmal and Palenque, and  Chichen Itza is world-famous.

I even stumbled upon some Mayan ruins in southern Belize–Lubaantun Ruins

I have drastically changed the scope of my trip, and hopefully it will allow me to get some things in my life settled. Instead of  heading home I am staying in Mexico.  For how long?  I’m not sure.  I finally told the (now ex) boyfriend that I “wasn’t ready to get married, that I would not be coming home as planned, and there would be no wedding with me in it” [I mean there will be  weddings somewhere, just not one with ME in it any time soon.]  Once I made that decision, I also made the decision to stay here a bit longer, and in staying here longer, I can see more ruins–not just Tulum, Chichen Itza, and Palenque as originally planned.

After visiting Chichen Itza, I ended up in Campeche.  Campeche is where I made my life changing decision–staring out into the Gulf of Mexico.  Then I found a guest house [although it won’t be ready until October 15 and it is really just an apartment over an office], and not one, but 3 jobs!  The first is teaching English and tutoring.  That one pays the room and board [2 meals a day].  I can travel whenever I want [I just have to let the guy know in advance] and the second job is working in the health clinic  in Campeche.  I’m not exactly sure what I will be doing since the only health training I have ever had is First Aid and CPR, but who care.  It pays actual pesos–so not only will I not be spending all of my savings, I’ll be making money too.  Anyway–back to HOPE.

HOPE stands for Helping Older People Equally.  It is a non-profit organization in Punta Gorda, Belize. [Belize is an English-speaking country for the most part] HOPE is an active organization and for the second time they are hosting a special week in conjunction with the International Day of the Elderly [October 1 in case you’re curious].  The week is a joint project between a group of nuns in Punta Gorta and the HOPE foundation with help from the Hillside Medical Clinic. [This was not planned at all in advance.  I was just taking the bus/boat combo from Copan to Belize and stopped in PG when I heard about the program].

The week-long health fair takes a pre-selected group of people [typically individuals  over the age of 65] and offers them a medical screening, including diabetes testing, an EKG, consultation with a doctor, physical therapy, and foot care.  For many of these people, this is there only access to medical care.

I am staying about five miles outside of town at a Catholic retreat center [FREE!] .  A small group of nuns lives here, operating the church and organizing community service projects, including the HOPE project. The retreat center is really nice, and the nuns have been super helpful in providing lodging and great meals.  There is one interesting feature here though–it is the security system.  The nuns have two dogs.  The dogs are big, mean and vicious.  During the day, they’re locked away in their dog houses.  But after we finish dinner, the cook leaves, and the dogs are set loose.  From that point, nobody can leave the building, unless they want to be attacked!  Somewhere around 5:30am, when it gets light again, the dogs are locked back up and all is safe.  It’s an interesting system, but it seems to work!

The group of volunteers includes Nurse Patricia [the main organizer], a doctor, and 5 physical therapists, as well as myself.  At the clinic, there are also a few medical students [who are working at the Hillside Clinic], another nurse, a pharmacy student and a few other volunteers.   The clinic that I am working at is set up inside the parish hall in a church “downtown.”   Originally they created little cubicles [examination rooms] by hanging sheets from string, but those flew around too much though so now we have a used a tarp donated by the Red Cross.

The PT Team

When we dumped the tarp out and started to unroll it, it quickly became apparent that the tarp was too large to unroll completely within the hall — we had to start cutting it before we could finish unrolling it!  So set up within the clinic, divided by 4 heavy pieces of tarp are the 4 cubicles — one for the EKG, two for the doctors, and one for the PTs.  Each patient goes through the process of checking in, weight and blood pressure, diabetes testing, EKG, doctor visit, and some physical therapy.  To wrap it off, they can have a foot treatment and a pedicure if they’d like, and a gift on the way out.

I hadn’t been sure what to expect from the clinic.  They assured me there would be something for me to do, and I figured I’d be helping with registration or something like that.  However, that job seems to have fallen to the nuns.  I was quite surprised on Monday morning, therefore, when they told me that I would be trained on the EKG and working there for the day.  It seems to be working out ok, so that’s my station — I’m running the EKG machine for the week.  [For those who aren’t familiar with an EKG, it’s basically an instrument for checking your heart.  My job involves sticking 12 stickers on a person, connecting some wires to the stickers, and hitting start.]  It’s been interesting, but occasionally I feel a little guilty — a woman asked me today:  “How long did you have to train to do this? Ten years?” I didn’t have the heart to tell her I just finished  college, and I only learned how to do this two days ago.

The Hillside Medical Clinic, one of the partners for the HOPE clinic this week, goes twice a week to the more remote villages around Punta Gorda. They take a mobile clinic, complete with a doctor, a few medical students, a pharmacy student, and medicines and other supplies. This Thursday we went to Barranco. As Nurse Patricia explained, Belize is the poorest country in Central America, and the Toledo district is the poorest area in Belize.

The Clinic in Barranco

The Clinic in Barranco

And Barranco? It’s the poorest town in the Toledo district. The village consists almost entirely of elderly persons. As the fishing industry [the original industry here] died off, young people moved away, particularly to the USA in search of better work. The population has been getting smaller and smaller and older and older in the recent years. The town itself is at the end of a dirt road in the middle of the jungle, and consists of very basic houses [huts, really] scattered along a variety of grass roads.

Downtown punta gorda

It was very interesting to see this aspect of life.  Health care is not a field I ever really considered [other than wanting to be a doctor or vet when I was a kid], and while doing only EKGs for a living would bore me to tears, the idea of providing health care to people who need it most is intriguing to me.  At this point in life, I wouldn’t even know how to get involved in health care in the US [I don’t have the grades or background for a medical degree, and I don’t want to be a nurse].  I guess that is something I can think about in the coming weeks [months/years?]

**2016 Michelle here, checking in.  Oh the irony of that last paragraph. I have spent most of my adult life working in healthcare. I almost went to medical school in 2014, and currently hold dual credentials as a RN and RRT.  My current career goal:  become a nurse practitioner and provide care to those who need it most.  That is some irony. 

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