On January 12th, I boarded a plane for my journey to Guatemala for a community medical mission trip. Although this was my 4th time to this mountainous country, this was my first time to the municipality that goes by the name “Camotán.” Never heard of it? That’s because Camotán is located 122 miles (or approximately a 5 hour car ride on the twisty roads that would even make those with a stomach of steel queasy) northeast of Guatemala City along the Honduran border. We were headed into one of the most rural parts of Guatemala to treat people that have never had any access to basic medical care.
After arriving in Camotán, we drove up the mountain that had a single, very bumpy dirt road that you can tell had been washed out by the mud slides during the rainy season. The people in the villages were given word that we were coming and gathered outside the school that was turned into a make shift medical clinic. The crowd of people seeking health care was daunting. We knew we had our work cut out for us.
As we settled into a rhythm of seeing people, a pattern emerged. Most of the patients we were seeing were parents with children. The abdomens of the children protruded over the waist bands of their pants indicating not obesity, but severe protein deficiency from a diet of only tortillas and rice. Severe malnutrition is still one of the leading causes of death in this remote village. Parents longed for vitamins to nourish their children, Tylenol to lower a fever, or antibiotics to treat an ear infection that has been keeping their baby up at night. Parents weren’t asking for much, just the basic necessities to give comfort and keep their children alive.
As the week came to a close, it is impossible not to reflect upon our experiences and feel a deep sense of appreciation for what we have. We live in country where we have access to not only basic health care, but preventative medicine, which is medical treatments and screenings intended to prevent disease before it happens. Statistics show only 45% of insured Americans get an annual preventative exam, and of those, only 67% of age patients get their screening colonoscopy. Annual check-ups are critical to our personal health. They provide us with an opportunity to check on our most important health numbers such as Body Mass Index, cholesterol, glucose, and blood pressure. And guess what? There is no cost with insurance. So the next time we find ourselves putting off that annual exam, remember how blessed we are to even have the access to what we consider basic medical care.
Miranda Bellantoni, FNP-C