We woke at 1:30 AM and left retreat at the Teconic Christian Retreat Center in order to make a flight out of Newark at 5:20 AM. The kids were not impressed. The G.W. bridge was closed on the lower level, which we did not find out until after we chose the lower fork and were committed. Thus we were sent scurrying down the west side of Manhattan to the Holland Tunnel. I made my flight, but just barely. My bag was not so lucky.
I had previously advised Courtney Macbraierty (the R.N. the West Islip Church of Christ helped send to Guatemala, and also my super-cool-sister-in-law) to make sure she packed a change of clothes in her carry on in case her luggage got lost. Because I left in haste from the retreat center, I failed to take my own advice. I also packed my toiletries in my checked luggage, which I never do. This irony did not escape Courtney, and as you might suspect, she took gleeful pleasure in pointing it out. Sigh.
The flight to Houston was uneventful, as was the layover and the subsequent flight to Guatemala City. Upon arriving in Guatemala city I discovered that my bag was missing and spent an hour in line at baggage service. The computer found my neglected luggage in some back room at Liberty. It had never left New Jersey. They say I might have it by Tuesday. I have a bodega full of scrubs, so I’ll manage to stay clothed.
Carlos drove the shuttle which picked me up at the Guatemala City airport and took me to Clinic Ezell. I crammed into the front of his Toyota micro bus. The seats were pulled all the way forward. My knees touched the dash. He asked in broken English if I spoke Spanish. I said no. Then I asked him in broken Spanish if he spoke English. He said no. It was a quiet ride.
At one point in heavy traffic in Guatemala City the silence was broken when Carlos’s cell phone went off. He answered it and had a lengthy and animated conversation. I wanted to object to his talking on a cell phone and driving at the same time, but I didn’t know how. I marveled at the way he maneuvered his vehicle and maintained his conversation without a single hiccup in the rapid dialog.
I had not eaten since early in the morning, and we kept driving by eateries, including, I might add, a number of delicious Pollo Campero restaurants. It was torture. I decided I needed to learn the Spanish for “Hey Carlos, how about some fried chicken? My treat!”
We made it to the Clinic in record time. Carlos kept the needle buried and passed on more than one blind curve. At times we were three wide on a two lane highway with no shoulder and a drop of on either side. Riding the roads in Guatemala leaves me breathless. Carlos, like all Guatemalans, is a world class driver. My hat is off to him.
When I arrived I met Courtney in the courtyard who was on her way to begin her nursing shift. She took pity on me and found me a new toothbrush and toothpaste, and let me borrow some of her shampoo. I took a much needed shower and then joined Steve and Lori (an accountant from Nashville) in the sterilization room. Steve, as you can imagine, was elated to see me (I think I occupy a warm spot in his heart, or at least in his sympathies).
You are wondering why I did not join Adam as well in the sterilization room. Let me explain. Adam, as you might know, has been prepping for medical school, and this year his aspirations earned him an HTI promotion. He is now a “circulator” in operating room (O.R.) # 2. Steve and I are somewhat distraught at this turn of events, and more than a little jealous. At one point Adam strode into the sterilization room (drunk on power) and actually handed Steve, Lori, and I a tray of instruments to wash. We swallowed hard and tried not to trip him on his way out.
Of course I jest. We are proud of Adam, and rumor has it (I wasn’t there for the opening get together) that during the group’s introductions, when Adam announced his intentions to go to medical school, the assembled surgical team broke into loud applause. And well they should. Adam is leaving behind the support staff role and taking the bridge to “medical professional.” Got get it Cotter.
Speaking of professionals: Courtney has an R.N. on her name-tag! Today was the first time I saw her in action in her new vocation. She’s a natural. In one candid moment I strolled through the recovery room and saw her kneeling at a bedside and massaging the hand of a tiny boy (cute as a button) who was crying post surgery. It was the kind of “above and beyond care” that makes Courtney a perfect fit for the HTI family.
At the evening devotional we prayed for the surgery patients, sang hymns, and were challenged to offer life giving kindness and service to others whenever the opportunity presented itself. We were reminded that opportunities come and go, and we are not guaranteed more, and we should be good stewards of the ones we were given this week. It was a fitting admonition to end the day.
Oh, and since I always tell you what we ate [I was only there for the supper meal today]: battered and pan fried chicken fingers, alfredo noodles, broccoli, garlic bread, handmade tortillas, hibiscus juice, and marble cake.
I should also report that the New York Giants are now 0-5. Apparently bad news about the demise of my precious and beloved football team has a way of finding me even in the remote regions of the Guatemalan jungle.
Finally (back this year by popular demand) I give you selected transcripts of actual conversations that took place at Clinic Ezell. Here is today’s offering:
Adam: You really going running tomorrow?
Jesse: I don’t know, do you mind me sweating in your underwear?
Adam: You can keep them after.
Jesse: Fine by me, free underwear.
Rick Harper: There is a local custom among the Mayan population that if an avocado tree does not bear fruit they put a skirt around its trunk to embarrass it into bearing fruit.
Jesse: Steve, now you know what to do if Adam strikes out with medical school.
Jesse: Of course if Adam wearing a skirt hasn’t worked by now, I don’t know if doing it more will help.
Well meaning fellow nurse: Oh, are you Mrs. Pettengill?
Courtney: Oh God, no.
Adam (in a tender moment): I miss you, man.
Jesse: What? You expect me to reciprocate?
Well meaning nurse: You must be Jesse, I’ve heard a lot about you.
[wise comments from Adam and Courtney that can’t be remembered at this time]
Well meaning nurse: No, I actually want to interview you.
Jesse: Yea, well you better bring a notebook.
Jesse: You know how Rick told that story about how health talents had only 18 employees when he started on the board of directors and now it has 50 something? I didn’t want to say anything, cause I didn’t want to make him feel bad, but we [pointing to the West Islip crew] are basically the glue that’s held this place together.
JoLee: Oh boy it’s getting deep.
[After counting a deck of cards…]
Adam: Wow, a full deck. Well actually, not quite, it appears there is only one joker [holds up the joker].
Jesse: That’s funny, I see two.