Guatemala Trip Reflection
An ATI MissionWorks therapist reflects on a recent trip to Guatemala...
My mission trip to Guatemala in April of 2015 was an incredible experience. It was a pleasure to work for HIM, an organization that enhances and supports life of many in small villages. I was especially impressed with all the medical and community enriching services that they provide as an organization. HIM’s staff was great in guiding, directing and translating. They made us feel safe and part of the team. The 10 days were action-packed, and full of new information. There were moments of joy in serving others, and moments of frustration when we were not able to do enough with every interaction. My favorite day was in Esquipulas to see what Quique has done for his town. His life is an inspiration to many, including myself.
As a physical therapist treating outside of the U.S. for the first time, I was innovative. Atypical to the U.S., I appreciated the wide span of services that are still being utilized under physical therapy. I observed use of casts, assistive devices, modalities, lymphedema management, exercises and manual work all under one roof. Practicing under a physiotherapy title in Guatemala (and perhaps around the world) means you are also a speech therapist, occupational therapist, psychotherapist, podiatrist, possibly a prosthetist, and much more. Working in the U.S., one forgets the realm of the profession. Despite this enlightening difference, the thing that interested me the most were the patients. Our patients in Techlutan were very similar to patients in Barrington, IL. Their needs, their complaints, their goals and attitude toward PT were comparable. For example, a middle-aged active farm woman with back pain wanted to learn techniques to protect her back while working in the farm just like a middle-aged woman in Barrington who works in IT wants to learn optimal sitting posture for her 8-hour work day.
One experience that stood out during the trip was treating a 16-year-old boy. He presented with leg length discrepancy, weakness, altered gait, inflexibility from spinal cord/nerve infection at a younger age. The information I received regarding this patient was that he makes a lot of excuses, complains and doesn’t follow through with treatment. After gathering brief subjective information from the patient, I started to work on his hip flexors while talking about his school, family, likes and dislikes. While experiencing pain from manual therapy, he started to ask questions about his condition, for example, why he is being treated and how is it going to help him. By simply taking time to explain, educate and teach him about his condition, he instantly became more complaint. He wanted to do more – including more exercises and more walking to get better. Half-way into his treatment, we finally came to the core of his world and the core of his problem. He said, “How do I become strong so that I don’t fall down when my friends push me while we are playing?” Just like any other teen, he wanted to be cool among his friends. Walking, running, and no amount of therapy was worth it unless it was going to help him belong amongst his peer. We explained to him that balance exercises will make him stronger, he was so motivated. Although his balance and gait improved, more impactful was the fact that he was hopeful and saw value in therapy toward the end of the two-hour session. He was so excited about his improvements, that he started asking what he should eat that will help him get stronger. This has become one of my favorite patient success stories.
As I verbalize my experience to people, I find my self saying, “I got more out of it than I gave.” It is hard to put it in writing, but I was certainly humbled by the experience. I would like to continue this work in future. Perhaps I will be more prepared the second time around for Guatemala, or learn a different culture from another part of the world. Finally, I would like to say thank you to Efosa Guobadia, ATI and HIM for this wonderful opportunity.