Belize: 1997 Travel Journal: Wednesday, February 19: It was after 1:00 p.m. when we left Dr. Ken’s office at the Belmopan hospital. Dr. Joe and I decided to grab a bit of lunch from the locals before starting out on the journey to our next appointment. I really enjoyed getting better acquainted with Dr. Joe. Last year he brought his wife and family to Belize and felt that God was calling them to give at least one year of their lives to doing medical missions here. In my opinion, Dr. Joe Ferguson will play an extremely important role in Belize’s health-care system as the government tries to decentralize their system and help the local and district representatives have more influence in the design and implementation of the national health-care plan.
Dr. Joe and I talked at length about how he can go about changing the system through influence rather than authority. I encouraged him, pledging Project C.U.R.E.’s support for his efforts. Because the country is so small, everyone was abuzz about how Project C.U.R.E. could be invited to bring a new dimension of quality and quantity to the Belize health-care system.
From lunch Dr. Joe and I jumped into an old black Ford pickup and headed toward the Guatemalan border town of San Ignacio. We wanted to do a needs assessment of the hospital there, but we also felt it very important to meet another key player in the health-care system, Dr. Armando Betancourt, the chief medical officer at the San Ignacio government hospital.
To get to San Ignacio, we passed through some of the prettiest country on God’s green earth. We gently climbed toward the Guatemalan border and passed through a lot of land that had been cleared of jungle and planted with citrus groves. The Mennonites have done an extraordinary job of developing and cultivating a lot of Belize, especially the area around Spanish Lookout.
Dr. Joe and I passed from undeveloped Third World landscape to beautifully maintained ranches and farms where every imaginable crop was being grown and with cattle that would surely have won prizes at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Their houses were modern, and their farm machinery and transportation vehicles were the latest models.
We kept traveling parallel to the river and eventually drove into the quaint town of San Ignacio. I guess the best way to describe how the town affected me is to say that San Ignacio is to Belize what Estes Park is to Colorado. It is a fun town with lots to do and lots to see. Hotels are fifteen to twenty dollars per night, and there are lots of excursion outfitters who will take you for river rides, jungle adventures, or treks to see the ancient ruins of the Mayan civilization. With the town being so close to the Guatemalan border, I understand that San Ignacio also has quite a dark side, with drugs being smuggled over the mountains and down the rivers to the seacoast.
Mrs. Patten is the matron we found to be in charge of the San Ignacio Hospital. The building structure was very similar to what I had witnessed in Haiti. It was a two-story, wood-sided building with large, screened-in verandahs extending from both levels of the building’s front side. The outside was painted a goldenrod color and trimmed in dark brown and white. The center had been fitted with a copula that rose another level to a third story, and in the back were covered walkways and a large steel water tank perched upon concrete columns. The people who ran the hospital were as characteristically quaint as the building itself.
After we had waited for about thirty minutes, Dr. Armando Betancourt arrived. He said he had heard a lot about Project C.U.R.E. and was eager to work with us. It was very difficult to categorize the San Ignacio facility as a hospital, unless I wanted to shoot a movie depicting an early 1800s scene. In the maternity ward, the wrought-iron beds still had the original bassinets, which were designed to swing between the iron bedposts at the foot of the beds. The whole place put us into a wonderful time warp, but it really was not very functional.
There is no lab facility at all in San Ignacio. The diagnoses are all done by guesswork. So the tendency is to over prescribe medications. The matron told us that people are not satisfied to go home from the hospital or even the clinic until they have received some kind of a shot. When they come just wanting a shot, she said that many times the doctors give them a series of placebo shots that are so painful, the people will be discouraged from coming back unless they are really sick. But, I asked myself, Without a lab, how do they know when a patient is really sick?
The San Ignacio Hospital also does not have an x-ray machine. Dr. Betancourt literally begged for an X-ray machine, some surgical supplies and instruments, and an autoclave machine for sterilization. I told Dr. Betancourt that Project C.U.R.E. would be pleased to work with him. I instructed him to work directly with Dr. Joe Ferguson, who will be able to coordinate filling their basic needs.
After the meeting, Dr. Joe and I stopped at one of San Ignacio’s picturesque watering holes and had a Coca-Cola. We accomplished more today than we had set out to accomplish. I had been able to meet all the people I felt necessary and had viewed all the main hospitals in the Belize health-care system. Dr. Joe was extremely pleased that he had been able to meet so many of the important health-care players with whom he will be associating over the next year.
The jungle rains continued. The black Ford pickup truck we were driving punched holes in several of the low-hanging clouds, and we got thoroughly drenched on our return trip to Roaring Creek. The ground was totally saturated, and the surface water was running freely toward the river as we approached the swinging footbridge.
The iguana that had been out earlier in the tops of the bamboo trees were now seeking safer and dryer shelter in rain forest below.
I was glad that I had set aside the time to travel to Belize for the assessment trip. I have a feeling that Project C.U.R.E. will continue to be involved with Belize for a long time in the future. The medical team was remaining for a few more days. But I felt I really needed to get back to Denver, catch up on my homework and prepare for my upcoming trip to Africa. Things just kept getting increasingly busier and busier . . . I like it that way!