Last week we had quite the special day at El Porvenir. A medical team from Connecticut Children’s Medical Center travelled down to Guatemala to give medical check-ups to our children for the second year in a row. The experience was at the same time uplifting and jarring.
The appointments for each child consisted of triage (basic questions about the child’s medical history and living situation) and an examination. As a translator for the doctors, I was able to witness both phases.
Each child entered our makeshift doctors office (just a classroom repurposed for the day) with a relative—usually a parent, grandparent, or older sibling. One little girl was even accompanied by her great grandmother! For the younger children, their guardians spoke almost exclusively on their behalf.
During triage, the doctors asked a variety of questions, including the child’s name, age, birthday, and personal hygiene habits, who lived at home with them, any recent illnesses, which local doctor they saw in the case of illness, any allergies the children suffers, etc. All in all, it took about 10 minutes. Then, the doctor took the child’s pulse, and measured his or her height and weight.
After completing the initial screening, the doctors sent the children and their guardians to a more private examination area, where a second doctor more closely examined any symptoms the children complained of, checked their heart and lungs, and did several other tests.
In many senses, the day was truly inspiring. Seven doctors took multiple days out of their busy schedules to travel to a faraway country where they didn’t speak the language and would not be paid, in order to help children in need. They gave checkups that could not have happened otherwise, prescribed needed medicines, and gave valuable advice related to hygiene, nutrition, and medical care. Moreover, the children and their families who came to the clinic recognized and appreciated the sacrifice the doctors were making, paying close attention to the doctors’ advice and following instructions carefully. Through the combined efforts of the doctors, the families, and the Niños de Guatemala staff, the day went smoothly and efficiently, allowing every child at the school to receive attention from the doctors.
At the same time, there were parts of the experience that were quite disturbing. Being there for the checkups allowed me to see the results of eating a sugary diet and not brushing your teeth nearly enough—a mouth full of black teeth that all need to be pulled. Some children came in with chronic coughing and wheezing, who had not received medical attention in weeks. For two others, heart murmurs, a symptom of potentially serious heart problems, were diagnosed. What’s more, seeing the proper specialists, be they cardiologists or dentists, is generally prohibitively expensive.
However, despite some frustrating or disheartening aspects of the day, a lot of good was done, and more than 75 children will have their health improved in some way, big or small.