This Voyage is Made of Awesome... (Part 1)

Part VII in a multi-part series about Operation Continuing Promise
(Parts I, II, III, IV, V, & VI)
Regularly Updated Photostream Here (Network glitch is fixed! New photos from the past five days will be posted late tonight. Check back tomorrow for the most current compilation.)

The great experience of positive human interaction and sharing a moment of good will cannot but leave all involved a little better than before. Sure this mission has a significant political motivation — Partnership of the Americas, projecting “soft power,” building better relations among nations, etc. — but none of that would happen without the one-on-one personal interactions happening here, now, in this country.

A woman came and spoke to one of the locals who has been helping us as a translator. She had witnessed some of the medical treatments and asked the translator, a weathered older man named Truman, if she could simply touch one of the doctors. To her, these doctors had brought healing like Christ had brought. She believed that if she could just touch one of the doctors, as the woman with the 12-year hemorrhage had touched Christ’s cloak, she would be healed.

Truman speaks English, Spanish, and the two local dialects that are prominent in Puerta Cabezas. He’s a weathered older man — though he is likely younger than he looks, like most people around here. He has “USA” tattooed on his left forearm above an angel. That left forearm has an irregular bump in it from having been broken and not properly set. He was a Contra rebel in the ’80s and broke the arm while in the jungle fighting the Sandinistas — no proper medical treatment was available in the jungle. He told us how he led the fight to expel the Sandinistas from Puerta Cabezas and from the town’s airstrip where our Seabees are now set up. Truman came to the medical clinic of his own volition and not in search of medical treatment for himself. He volunteers for hours a day translating and helping us with the locals. He’s a bit of a celebrity. At the end of the day he walks about 2-3 hours back to his village from Puerta Cabezas.

One of the nurse educators in country with Project HOPE who has been on multiple humanitarian missions shared her remarkble story about why she is here. She described herself as an anti-war protestors during Vietnam — someone who would have given the returning troops a very poor welcome indeed. Now she cites the incredible camaraderie she has seen and has herself felt among our military men and women.

She spoke of the incredible can-do attitude prevalent among the military doctors. When they look out the door after hours of treating patients and see that there are a dozen more patients before they can close for the day they don’t grumble or moan, they buckle down and forge ahead, with a placid determination to see all the patients. She says she was a teacher in her twenties and spent time living in a hut in a Central American village where the local women would teach her things like how to make tamales. She noted how a woman who had lost four babies to dysentery would change the baby’s diaper and then return to making tamale without washing her hands. She told the woman about the importance of washing one’s hands to prevent things like dysentery and taught her how to do it. The next morning, a line of women were outside her hut, asking for “the healer.” The doctor, they said, could dispense medicine, but she healed them.

She spoke of a child who was brought to the clinic with a ring on her finger that was too small and was cutting off circulation. The finger was purple and in danger of being lost. A sergeant helping out, a mountain of a man, came over and said, “I have a daughter about her age, let me help.” And she related that he took the metal scissors and got into position to cut off the ring. She was very afraid that he would accidentally cut off the finger, but was so gentle in assuring the screaming child and so careful in his movements as his huge hands easily cut the metal band away without hurting the child at all.

She is especially pleased with the exposure the young sailors are getting in this mission to another culture and another way of life. These sailors usually do not have the opportunity to leave the ship. To do so on this sort of a deployment where they see people who live in such rough conditions and they have the opportunity to interact with the locals and help them out. It is an invaluable and eye-opening experience for them.

She and other nurse educators from Project HOPE will conduct classes for the townspeople this week in community health, basic life saving skills, child abuse prevention, and women’s issues including OB/GYN, midwifery, and domestic violence. Project HOPE is full of doctors and nurses like her who have volunteered two or three weeks of their time to come out and help.

And the work they are helping with? After three days the medical clinic in Puerta Cabezas had seen 200 optometric patients, 700 general medical check-ups, 100 dental patients for cleanings and extractions, and 240 de-wormings, with a max of 50 people turned away each day due to time constraints. Saturday, the day began with 220 people in line. By 1:30 PM the line was gone. The sum total for the five days of the Puerta Cabezas clinic by Saturday evening: 409 de-worming doses, 1,470 prescriptions filled, and 4 repairs of biomedical technology at the hospitals (in addition to the equipment donated). (My notes lack dental and optometric totals for some reason)

That’s a taste of the awesome stuff going on and people involved. I’m actually behind in updates. Wait until you hear about the Betania clinic, the engineering projects, and the veterinarians (there’s a monkey and a cute little girls carrying piglets and chickens involved) …