Belize: 1997 Travel Journal: Wednesday, February 19: One of the pharmacists in the group got up at about 3:30 a.m. and wandered from the sanctuary bunkhouse across the compound to the toilet building. Quite inadvertently he awakened the stupid rooster who rules the entire west side of the river during the daylight hours. In my opinion, a Campbell’s soup can would be too good of a final resting place for that cocky, noisy bird. But the rooster’s annoyance, to say nothing of his annoying cock-a-doodle-do, was way too big to fit into a Campbell’s soup can. At any rate, once awakened, he decided to wreak vengeance on all who were still asleep. It was like he began crowing, “Cock-a doodle-do, if I have to wake up, then so will you!” At 3:30 in the morning, it only served as a frustration to him that he could not get the sun to come up like it usually does twenty minutes after he starts his routine. So he crowed louder and more often from sheer desperation. I think he panicked because he began to believe the rumors from the hen house that he has lost his former machismo.
The crowing also caused the women in their building to not be able to sleep. So by the time I sneaked out of the sanctuary and headed toward the shower building, I was way at the back of a long line. Stupid rooster!
After we finished eating, Bill Ruth asked me to share about Project C.U.R.E. and its ministry for the devotional time. I told the team about Project C.U.R.E. and its mission around the world. Next, I bragged on them for being in Belize and allowing Jesus to extend his love through their healing hands and warm smiles. Then I spent the rest of my time just bragging on Jesus.
The medical team was scheduled for a day of rest and relaxation. They were to take an old church bus to the Caribbean seashore and out to an island on the barrier reef where they could swim and snorkel in the crystal-clear water and view God’s magnificent aquarium from the inside.
I did not choose the option to go to the beach. Dr. Joe Ferguson and I had made appointments that would take at least all day to fulfill. I am going to leave for home almost a full week before the rest of the medical team will fly back to Colorado. There are many things I need to do to finish my Needs Assessment Studies in Belize.
Our first appointment was with Mary Lee Ellis, head of the Red Cross in Belize. She is a native-born Belizean and probably has a better grasp on the chaotic state of affairs of the Belize health-care system than even the minister of health does. Our meeting lasted for two hours and was extremely timely and enlightening. We discussed Project C.U.R.E.’s potential role in the country’s health-care future and also discussed in great detail how Dr. Joe Ferguson’s being in Belize for the next year could bring about historic results as he works as a liaison and resource person. Mary Lee and Dr. Joe decided to work closely together to influence the direction of the present system, with Project C.U.R.E. coming alongside the situation and donating the desperately needed medical supplies and equipment.
Before we left, Mary Lee and one of her assistants began telling Dr. Joe some of the challenges of jungle medicine he will encounter when he arrives for his year-long assignment. She told him about the centuries-old remedies used in curing centuries-old maladies of the rain-forest river country. Herbs and potions have been found to be far more effective against some of the jungle diseases than the most modern of medicines.
Mary Lee and her assistant Rosa then described how to extract a beef worm from a human body. The worm hatches from an egg laid under the skin. After the egg hatches, the worm burrows into the flesh and around the bones. If doctors try to operate and cut out the worm, they will simply mutilate the patient’s flesh while trying to follow the worm’s pathway through the tissue. Even then the chances are great that they will not have gotten out the whole worm.
Mary Lee and Rosa gave us the secrets of beef-worm extraction in the jungle. They simply cake over the external hole with Colgate toothpaste. That cuts off the air supply to the worm. But there is also something in the Colgate that attracts the worm to burrow out through the Colgate instead of going deeper into the flesh or exiting somewhere else to get oxygen. Mary Lee told us that she must wait patiently until the worm sticks its head out of the flesh long enough to ensure that she is able to catch its head firmly with a pair of forceps. Then, Mary Lee told us, she needs someone like Rosa with strong thumbs to get on either side of the worm deep beneath the surface of the flesh and begin to systematically squeeze upward on the worm while Mary Lee forcefully pulls the worm out of the resident body. The worms can be very long, and great care must to be taken not to pull the worm apart during the procedure, lest the residual is left to burrow its way even deeper into the host body. The process can be quite fatiguing, but both Rose and Mary Lee instructed Dr. Joe to never back off the intensity once the procedure is underway.
With that tidbit of valuable jungle medical advice, Dr. Joe and I made our way to our next appointment with Dr. Jesus Ken at the Western Regional Hospital. Dr. Ken is officially responsible for overseeing the administration of the hospital, but with the new health plan in Belize, he was also made director of the regional health-care services. That has left him hardly any time to do his medical practice, to say nothing of the oversight responsibility of the hospital in Belmopan.
Dr. Ken was still at a meeting when we arrived, so we took the time to get acquainted with Matron III Palacio, who actually runs the hospital. Her first name is not Matron; that is her position. The III that follows her position signifies her rank. So Matron III signifies the highest rank around the place. She has been in Belmopan for eighteen years.
The matron showed us around the hospital, and when Dr. Ken returned, I began going through the questions for the Needs Assessment Study. I could see that my summary was going to be very simple: “Belmopan hospital needs everything.” The hospital has almost no supplies. Their X-ray machine does not work. They have no modern surgical instruments, and when they try to use the big light in the operating room, it shorts out.
I set my notebook on the table, took off my glasses, and asked Dr. Ken, “If we were making out a Christmas wish list for your hospital, what would be the three most-needed items on the list?”
He didn’t hesitate a split second. “Number one, an incinerator to burn our hazardous medical waste, the placentas, and the removed body parts. Right now we are trying to bury them around here. Number two, a commercial stove. We have nothing but a small burner to heat or cook anything here. Number three, a new light for the operating theater. It is so difficult to do emergency surgery when the light shorts out and we are left in the dark. Then if you were to ask about item number four on our wish list, it would be a small refrigerator.”
While I was writing down his answers, I reflected on all the things people had requested from Project C.U.R.E. In Russia they were demanding I bring them a brand-new lithotripter with a price tag of over one million dollars. Lots of hospitals were begging for the newest model of CAT scan. But three of the four top items Dr. Ken requested for the Belmopan Hospital had nothing to do with new, highly sophisticated pieces of medical equipment—an incinerator, a stove, and a refrigerator. By the way, let me remind you one more time, Belmopan is the capital city of Belize. My heart really hurts for those people in medical communities around the world who have to do without the simplest pieces of equipment or have had to watch their patients die for lack of some inexpensive supplies.
Oh yes … speaking of medical subjects, I suppose by now you have heard about the woman in Colorado who took her dog, Butch, to the veterinarian. She was certain the dog had fallen into a deep sleep or had experienced some sort of seizure or coma. The vet told her that he was very certain her dog was not asleep but rather was dead. He said, “However, if you want to pay for the clinical tests to see if Butch is indeed dead or alive, I will be happy to perform the procedure.”
She agreed, whereupon he laid Butch on the floor, went to the back room, and took out of one of the cages a huge tomcat with an attitude problem. The doctor set the tomcat down next to Butch. The cat arched his back and proceeded to hiss and spit at limp old Butch. Finally he walked right up to Butch’s head, extended his sharp claws, and swiped a mean stroke across Butch’s dry nose. Absolutely no response. The vet picked up the tomcat and returned him to his cage in the other room; then he came out and presented the lady with a bill for his services.
“Three hundred dollars,” she screamed. “For what?”
“Five dollars for the examination and office call and $295 for the cat scan!”
Next Week: First Trip to Belize, (continued )