Friday, February 10, 2017

Wrapping up and More Craziness

So Thursday morning, Adele had to leave us for a flight out and back to work in Wilmington-- boo!  We will totally miss her, but Chris and I were able to round on the patients and discharge most of them.  All of them were doing well, even (sort of to our surprise) the lady who had retained over a liter of urine the night before :-/

We were able to discharge all of the patients Wednesday that we operated on Monday, and then able to discharge all but the surgeries from Wednesday before Chris and I left Thursday afternoon to head out here to Canillá.  Canillá, as many of our longer-term readers know, is one of my favorite places on Earth~  mostly because of the missionaries who live there full-time, who are some of my favorite and most wonderful people on Earth!

The Ficker (extended) family, and the other missionaries who have joined them now in the ministry, are an amazing group.  Tony has been out here working on installing WiFi as well as a camera security system at the hospital all week, so it was a happy reunion for him and Chris!

And speaking of the hospital~  holy moly!  It's amazing how close to finished it is physically.  We are still working on training up nurses and other staff~  and still wondering how we are going to fully staff it with doctors (could really use a pediatrician, an OB/Gyn, a surgeon, and an anesthesiologist!)~  but we know that God is in control of all of that even though He chooses not to reveal the full plan yet.

So we are just sitting around the table now chatting it up and telling stories... and oh, the stories we have to tell!  So many memories in this place, but we'll try to stick to the medical stories~

Today we saw several handfuls of patients in clinic, which is always fun since there are usually some patients here specifically for a gynecology consult.  The most interesting (and sad) one today was a young lady who delivered a stillborn infant last year.  She believes that she herself is lucky to be alive, as the doctors told her that in two more hours, she would get cancer that she would die from when the baby was delivered!  Usually when I hear a crazy "what the doctor said" story, I'm able to at least formulate a guess as to something the doctor might have said that maybe, somehow, could have been interpreted that way by the patient.  But this time, I've got nothing.  Any ideas?  At least the patient was happy and grateful, though.

Another first I had the other day was a patient's family member asking us if we were going to use mesh for her mom's vaginal surgery!  I forget that people here don't see the US daytime TV commercials that all are recruiting folks for lawsuits over vaginal mesh... I was so baffled by the question at first that it took me a second to answer.

I do also have to brag on the local gynecologist at the Hospital Buen Samaritano, though-- we actually had a patient that had been to see him with a small vaginal cyst and he had told her she DIDN'T need surgery for!!!!!  I've rarely been so excited.  Really.  (see previous "me have mass; me operate" post if you don't understand this)  Score one for Dr. Gil!

Those of you who are inclined, PLEASE, please, PLEase, please, PlEaSe be in prayer for our sweet friend Rosa here-- she used to translate for us in clinics, but is now married with one child and has been quite happy with her sweet husband.  They have one little boy, but miscarried a set of twins last year.  She was so excited to be pregnant again, but we were all a little mortified to diagnose her with...  TRIPLETS?!??!!  Really?!  Two of them are sharing a placenta, and they are already showing signs of having unequal blood supply pretty early in the pregnancy.  This is likely a situation where the only treatment available in the states is fetal surgery-- only offered at a few hospitals nationwide.  Clearly here, the only treatment available is prayer.  So let's pray it up, friends!  Please?

You can also continue to pray for our patients~  especially Gilberta and Magdalena, who have had some urinary issues post-op.  I'm trying now to upload some more pictures, but the cord I'm using may not work... I'll try to do so soon though!

I'll be back the first week in May, so please read and pray with us again then...


Monday, February 06, 2017

Pictures as promised, finally

For some reason, these uploaded in relatively random order, but here goes!

Adele helping a patient to put her socks on-- we buy these slipper socks and bring them down with us for several reasons (to help protect and pad patient's feet in the OR, as a nice gift for them from us, and-- importantly-- to help us during the surgery with the patients whose feet sometimes smell a little bad ;-))


Adele giving a gift bag to a patient-- we fill these with toothbrushes and toothpaste, combs, chapstick, and other things we hope the patients will enjoy having to help with their post-op recovery and hopefully make them feel cared for a little more than usual.


Our exam table in the clinic!  Complete with a sheet that needs to be straightened here... You can also "appreciate" our elegant speculum system-- clean ones on the left, dirty ones on the right in the red bucket for washing and bleaching later!  Oh, the glamorous life we lead, right?


Heidi offering the different sock colors to the patient to choose from...


Adele and Chris goofing off in clinic~  a rare moment, let me tell you!


Chris in front of the street with market going on in Chichicastenango.


Heidi and Adele operating!  (Also known as, "Chris totally busting Heidi for stealing a surgical step from Adele"!)  Yep-- busted.  But I PROMISE I gave it back to her as soon as we got those stinking' high uterosacrals identified!



Heidi's turn to touch feet!  Putting socks on our second patient from the day.


Dr. Iris Gamez, our awesome anesthesiologist, likely answering a text from someone else wanting her services...


Half of our nursing staff!  On their morning rounds...


The anesthesia machine in the OR, with Iris's tackle box of meds and supplies with it.


Chris busting me taking photos of our OR schedule which is taped to the OR door, so that I can remember what cases we are doing (and maybe also which cases we DID when we go to do morning rounds!)


The available sutures in the OR...


Chris and I playing tourists in Guatemala City on Saturday~


Our ultrasound machine is not bad at all, but it's not exactly great, either...


"Me have mass; Me OPERATE!"

It's so funny how many times I think of Dr. Bob Maier, one of my professors in residency, down here~  he used to really drive us hard during our pre-op conferences where we discussed our patients that were coming up on the surgical schedule.  He would make us really "defend" our decisions to operate, give a credible differential diagnosis, and tell him what we expected to find.  If we couldn't do so, he would usually resort to saying he didn't want to graduate a lot of surgeons that would go out "like monkeys" and just say "me have mass, me operate" (and thus take out every cyst or fibroid that we saw!)

Like everyone who has ever been pushed hard as a learner, we all hated it at the time.  But as I see the effects of some surgeons who apparently DID grow up with a lower level of training, I am eternally grateful.

We often spend more times in a clinic day explaining to patients why they DON'T need surgery (that another doc here has told them is necessary-- and expensive!) than we do setting folks up for surgeries!  Our latest example today was a real gem...

"Naomi" came in with an ultrasound result in hand stating that she needed a hysterectomy.  We reviewed her results, saw a single fibroid less than 2 cm way up high in the uterus where it rarely bothers anything, and clearly asked for a little more information.  It turns out, she has had long-standing complaints of pain in her legs and feet-- especially her left foot.  Apparently at some point, someone figured this must be her gallbladder and ordered an ultrasound of that.  Turns out she did, indeed, have gallstones (which were asymptomatic), and she was prescribed some type of natural herbal medicine to dissolve those (which, to our knowledge, doesn't exist).

So when that treatment didn't work, they figured it must be her uterus or kidneys, and thus ordered a lower abdominal ultrasound.  They saw the small fibroid and went with, "me have mass, me operate".  For a mere $1,000.00 or so!  Which she clearly didn't have, so now was in our office asking for a more discounted surgery.  This is usually where us Southerners throw in a "bless her heart"!

So after hearing the sad news that removing her post-menopausal uterus would NOT help with her foot pain, she went away with some ibuprofen and likely a bit of disappointment.  With low levels of professional accountability, however, this is unfortunately quite common here.  And not even the worst we've seen.

But on to happier news~  Things went quite well in the OR today!  Four cases (one was a minor case, but still!)- all went well, Adele got some great experience, Heidi even got to get some blood on her gloves once or twice (It's more and more exciting when you get to do it less and less, it seems...), and Chris just loves to operate so she pretty much rocked the whole thing out while I sat one or two cases out to finish up in clinic.  It's a great team effort, as usual.

We saw another 11 patients in clinic, and 2 will likely be surgical cases for May (my next trip)-- who wants to come with me?!  The rest were a usual mix of infertility, menstrual complaints, and incontinence or other concerns.

We are now at dinner tonight, and one patient that I operated on in 2013 or so just came in a recognized me~  #feelingfamous -- Good thing she looks like she is doing well...

I'll try to get some pictures up in a little bit-- Chris was nice enough to take some today since I usually forget anymore!

Until then, good night to all~


Sunday, February 05, 2017

Fiesta en su Vagina

You probably don't want to ask about the title; Chris made me do it based on some counseling/teaching that I did for one patient today ;-)  She may have been somewhere around the 23rd or so of 27 total patients, and I "may or may not" have been a little loopy by that point.

So yes, 27 patients today~  We are tired.  We scheduled ten surgeries, though, which is awesome-- especially for Adele, who will get some amazing surgical experience this week!  I'm just hoping that maybe she'll get tired enough to share after a while ;-)

So we have scheduled 6 "vag-a-thons" (our affectionate term for repair of severe vaginal prolapse-- or for our more medically inclined, a TVH with anterior plus-or-minus posterior repair, high uterosacral ligament suspension, and perineoplasty), 2 vaginal hysterectomies without other repairs, 1 abdominal hysterectomy, and a D and C for a suspected endometrial polyp.  Not a bad haul for our efforts on the day.

Let's see about some stories from the day... Every time I come down here, I experience another "first"-- just when I thought I had seen it all, today there was:


  • the young lady who was recording me on video while I was giving my little welcome talk to everyone waiting-- letting them know they didn't have to be fasting all day for anything, and also that we would see them all as long as they were willing to wait their turn (often clinics here will close before seeing the last patients...)
  • A patient's family that brought us all cold Gatorades to drink towards the middle of the day-- this has happened once or twice before but it's always awesome!  And I think this is the first time they were cold...
  • A father who was very worried about his 18 year old having appendicitis-- or a kidney stone-- or a gallbladder problem-- because the left side of her back had been hurting for two days.  (A pain which, by the way, we were unable to illicit on exam... but hey!  At least he cared about her, right?)
We are now thankfully enjoying a nice dinner before retiring for the night~  Sure to be a long day tomorrow, with four surgeries to do and likely plenty more patients in clinic.  Wish us luck and let us know who won the Super Bowl!

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Meet the Team

Ah, the ever-creative title of the week's first blog... as the long-time readers (both of them) yawn.  But let's face it~  not much has happened yet.  We just got here this evening after the several hour ride up through the mountains from Guatemala City.  After a quick run to the grocery store, we now have our beds made and rooms moved in to for the week.  Now it's time to sit back, relax, fix a cup of tea, and light the pilot light for the hot water.

Oh wait~  we also have to spend half an hour trying to get Chris's phone to recognize the Guatemalan network so she can talk to her baby!  It's funny, though-- we were pretty tempted to get irritated about that, and then I remembered that on pretty much every single trip, there is some kind of internet or phone technology that needs troubleshooting-- but every single trip, we have all the phone and internet service we need!  I have called in to plenty of conference calls or over-internet meetings from here, I've stayed up to date on email, and I've caught up on patient charts in the EMR.  All pretty amazing technology making the world smaller and smaller -- and taking away our excuses not to travel it!

Anyway, I promised to introduce you to the team so here goes:  I'm Heidi, the arguably craziest of us as this is somewhere around my 33rd trip back down here for a week after moving back to the US in 2008 (my husband Matt and I lived here in Guatemala from 2006-08).  I'm an OB/GYN, and it's kind of a long story, but this is the only place I actually practice clinical medicine anymore.  I'm starting to miss it more and more, so these trips are an amazing privilege and blessing every. single. time.

Chris (DeLuca) Schwering many of you also know~  she was a resident at ECU when I was an attending there, and this is now at least her 8th trip back since going with me as a resident!  So very cool to now be taught by my former student many surgical skills she has picked up since then... never stop learning, right?  Her husband Tony flew down with us but rode out to Canillá this morning to install some WiFi, security cameras, and other generally tech-y stuff for the new hospital there.  They left their 3 year old sweetie, Caitlyn, and an 11 month old foster baby, nicknamed "Bubbles" for privacy, in very capable hands at home~  but still, it's hard to be away from each other and the tiny ones, so please pray for comfort for them this week!  (I should also mention they have a beautiful 21 year-old daughter also-- but they're pretty used to her being away at college ;-))

Adele Moser is a third-year OB/GYN resident in the Wilmington, NC program.  She is actually the fourth resident to come down from that program in the last couple of years, but the first one that I actually knew before traveling together!  We met when she was a third year student, and I have adored her ever since.  I'm really looking forward to seeing the amazing amounts she has learned in the last four years and hopefully getting her some great operative experience.

It's only about 8:00 here, but a group picture will have to wait until tomorrow-- some of us (i.e., Adele) had been up since before 2 am local time and thus didn't make it far in to the evening!

Tomorrow we will spend just a bit of time in the market, then set up and run clinic all day.  We will have a better idea of what's in store for us once we get through usually 20 patients or so tomorrow, so clearly we will keep you posted and try to get some pictures up.

Thanks for following along with us and praying for health, wisdom, and safety this week for us all.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Another Day in Paradise!

Anyone who has ever been to Guatemala with me or even knows much about me knows how much I love visiting the Ficker family (and extended "family" of friends and co-workers in The Gospel) in Canillá!  This trip is pretty cool since I am out here the whole time, although a little disappointing to not be operating.

When we planned this trip late last year, we knew that there was a pretty slight chance (kinda like a snowball's, if you know what I mean...) that the ORs here at the new hospital would be open for business... but honestly, we are super excited and in awe of all of the work that God has done so far here at the hospital!  The ORs have floors, finished walls, ceilings, and overhead OR lights-- and the second story over them is nearly finished as well!  So now it is time to start sorting through the "piles" of surgical equipment that has been sent-- to organize it and figure out what we might still need.

Luckily, I'll have several other physicians/surgeons to share that responsibility with next week, and I'm looking so forward to it!  Everyone who knows a surgeon knows we love to play with surgical tools, so it should be plenty of fun.  And I fully expect that we will be continually awed by the completeness and quality of what God has sent for the hospital before the doors even open...

And speaking of opening the doors, WE HAD OUR FIRST INPATIENT THIS WEEK!  The grandson of one of the long-time workers here came in with pneumonia on Wednesday with pretty horrible breathing and oxygen levels.  We were blessed that the family agreed to stay here at the hospital, and Leslie stayed with him most of the night watching his oxygen levels, adjusting his medications, and watching God heal him.  Then Dr. Jack from Docs For Hope took the night shift last night, and today he was ready to go home!  It just so happened that today was also his third birthday, so you can imagine what a fun party we had-- all the hospital medical providers and many spouses, all the translators, plus the child Isaias (Isaiah)'s family.

So we literally got to celebrate his birthday with cupcakes for him and his family (thanks to Naomi!), a couple of gifts grabbed quickly from town this morning, the singing of "happy birthday", and getting dad to help him blow out his candle since he is just recently off of oxygen ;-)  I'll try to post pictures tomorrow or to Facebook-- or you can see Dr. Luis's post that I shared there also.

God continues to amaze with His provision and love for us all, despite a very challenging year for many of the boots on the ground here as well as Matt and I.  From illnesses to closing down projects that were begun and deeply poured in to, to losing family members and the supporting doctors committed to the hospital losing practice partners, and from weather woes (too little rain again) to attempts at extortion from the government to injured workers and livestock... God is still in control and shows it in mighty ways as we continue to trust.

Please pray that those encouragements continue to be noticed and cherished by all of us~  and medically, please pray for Martina and her family.  She has 4 children, a loving spouse, and now a 14 week pregnancy with a placenta previa.  That's usually not an issue at 14 weeks, but we diagnosed it because she had some bleeding today!   For the non-medicals out there, basically she is at high risk for blood loss (that could even be fatal quickly!), preterm delivery (with unlikely baby survival here, generally...), and hysterectomy.  We counseled her extensively then prayed with the family (they are in an evangelical church family here) and will continue to do so.

Again, I'll try to be near my phone cord tomorrow to post some pics, but until then~  good night and God bless you all!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Thoughts over Ramen Noodles

Finished up in the OR today at a decent hour (?Five or so?), giving me time to visit with all the post-op patients, discharge one to her home, and get things mostly packed up in the clinic.  Now I'm sitting in the apartment, gloriously by myself enjoying a cup of ramen noodles for a late supper!

That thought reminds me about how God always knows and always sends us exactly what we need, when we need it.  This week was busy and tough-- but not too tough or so busy that I can't get out to my beloved Canillá "family" and spiritual retreat tomorrow!  We had enough surgeries to fill busy days but not so many that we had to turn people away.  And only God realized how much more I could rest without having others traveling with me.

Don't get me wrong-- it's also more fun when others are with me!  But right now I would be out to dinner with them or worrying about what they needed to find in the market tomorrow and making coffee for the morning and talking til all hours of the night.  Instead, I am sitting here with no need to apologize for my stinky feet and getting ready to go to bed!

If ever I needed a week that was a little less emotionally and mentally taxing, this was it.  Funny how that always work out, right?

The even cooler part is the way that God sent so many precious patients exactly what they needed this week!  At least two surgeries that Tom and I did together (along with excellent help still from Cesy and Lindsey...) were significantly challenging-- to the point where I would really worry whether a less conscientious and well-trained Guatemalan surgeon would have really made a mess!  This is not to brag on my abilities or training, mind you, but God has given Tom and I the gift of excellent training (him definitely more than me!) for this purpose.  Just another reminder how all things work together for the good of those who love Him.

I did snap a few more pictures today to share-- Lindsey and Cesy each operating, them both with a family we operated on today, and probably my favorite in quite a while-- Sweet Sebastiana when I saw her this morning before her surgery, with her Bible open beside her on the bed to Psalms (her favorite is Psalm 67).  I don't think there is a more welcome sight for a Christian surgeon on pre-op rounds!  (Hate that her eyes are closed, but didn't notice until later :-/)

God bless her and all of you~  Please keep praying for fast recoveries; the patients all look great so far!








There is always something new under the sun...

Really.  I think that every time something completely new happens here in Guatemala, my mind truly tries to believe that it will be the last new thing that could possibly come up!  After living here for two years and this being (I'm pretty sure) my THIRTIETH trip since, what could possibly surprise me anymore?

So here's my list (so far) of "firsts" for this week:

1.  We've had two patients come see us from Guatemala City!  This is roughly equivalent to someone who lived in Raleigh deciding to go to Ahoskie to ask for a surgery.  While I would love to think it's because they've heard such awesome things about ME, I'm truly grateful that GOD continues to look out for us and the reputation of HIS hospital here.  And I truly hope that it's not just because they've heard they can tell us they are poor and get a steep discount... :-/

2.  I had my patient's daughter scrubbed in as first assistant on a vaginal hysterectomy.  Last trip we had a grandson observing the surgery (he was a medical student), but this time it was Dra. Lindsey's MOM as the patient!  What a privilege...

3.  I've now "taught" at least two hysterectomies completely in Spanish.  Which means I'm even more exhausted mentally than usual tonight...

4.  I transfused O negative blood (universal donor)-- almost everyone is a positive blood type here, but Sally York, another missionary that brought the patient in that we were operating on, gave us a bag of her O negative and I think it was transfused before it was even cold!

5.  I used "What's App"... but still don't really know how.  It's really popular here.

6.  I've had pathology results sent to me via email (via Duane Ficker's "What's App" account first... no idea how she even found that!) from a patient the day after her appointment because she didn't bring them to her appointment.

7.  I've watched a US Presidential debate in Guatemala, thanks to Tom's cable TV... That one I could have lived without, to be honest.

8.  Used a new private "staff bathroom" they just built here at the hospital.  Still had to bring my own toilet paper, though...

And that's all I can think of right now!  Not bad for my second day here, though...  I guess I'll never stop being surprised.  Hope not, anyway...

Here are some pics:  Lindsey with her mom, Cesy and Lindsey in clinic with a patient for surgery tomorrow, and Tom's new adopted puppy that stole his heart Saturday!




Monday, September 26, 2016

Yep, clinic is longer when you start a day late!

So today was the first day of clinic for this week, which is weird since usually I do clinic on Sunday and start operating on Monday with more patients in between.  Having gotten off to a late start made for a long clinic day today, but was certainly well worth it.  (For those of you who don't know, I came down a day late because my father passed away last Monday and we held his funeral on Saturday...)

I think the final total today was 26 patients, which was about four more than I have seen in a single day in this setting previously... Thank goodness for the amazing help of Dra. Lindsey Rodriguez (yes, the same Dra. Lindsey that was in medical school when Matt and I lived here!  Now practicing and incredibly smart...) and a local health promoter who works with Health Talents Intl., Cesy.  Cesy was especially helpful since she speaks the local Mayan language as well.

I'll try to get a better picture of them tomorrow-- this is the best I did today!

Some of the clinic highlights and prayer requests from today:

1. Please pray for Manuela, our third patient today-- who has inoperable cervical cancer!  Always a hard way to start a clinic day, but definitely a joy to be able to embrace the family, pray with them, and hear how she knows the Lord and has security in her salvation.  She is currently without pain or bleeding, but that is unlikely to last for long.

2.  We scheduled four surgeries (yes, only four out of 26!)-- which is weird, but at least we were able to give a lot of reassuring reports and options to patients today.  Giving good news or palatable options to patients is always a joy.

3.  Three of the four surgeries we scheduled are abdominal cases-- which are much easier to do with less experienced help (such as Dra. Lindsey and Cesy), and also MUCH better for teaching those new to the OR since they will be able to see so much better.  How cool is God to arrange that?! ;-)

4.  Another highlight for today was seeing a patient that Dr. Tom Hoak (the North American general surgeon who works here more often than I do) and I have been basically working up over the internet for the last couple of months, asking the local missionary Sally York to get the labs and studies we felt we needed and reviewing the results.  I even got several radiologists who I met on physician mom groups on facebook to look at her CT scan for me.  We will take her to the OR tomorrow to remove two very large ovarian cysts (20 cm each or so...) and continue to try to figure out what the problem is with her blood and spleen as time goes on.

5.  I'll leave you with an uplifting story from The Church, which we hear far too few of these days!  There was a sweet, very old, "little old lady" brought in today by the wife of the pastor of the Methodist church in their town.  The lady is not a Christian, but this pastor's wife has been evangelizing to her and became aware of her health complaints.  She turned out not to have anything horribly wrong with her, but this lady from the church-- which the patient doesn't even attend!-- sat with her all day long waiting on her consult to help translate and make sure she got the care she needed.  This is what we are called to do, fellow brothers and sisters in Christ!  So it was fun to see it done correctly today, another small gift that God sent us to get us through a busy day.

Tomorrow we will start in the OR, with a vaginal hysterectomy, the removal of the two large cysts, and an abdominal hysterectomy.  Wednesday so far we have an abdominal cystectomy planned for a teratoma.  We'll see what else shows up in clinic tomorrow, which we will run between surgeries.