July 6, 2008

I’m not sure where to begin so I’ll try my best to give a recap of our week serving with Operation Mobilization.

Last Friday we met up with 14 other Americans (and one Canadian) in San Jose. We spent the evening getting to know each other and resting. Saturday morning we all had to be up at 2:30am to load onto a bus and join about 15 Costa Rican volunteers for our long trip down to the Talamanca region of southern Costa Rica (very near to the Panama border). We spent 5 hours in the bus before unloading all of our luggage, medicine and supplies for the week onto several “canoes” and taking the river about 20 minutes. Once we arrived on the other side we then loaded everyone and everything onto a truck and school bus for another 20 minute drive that took us (driving) through another river.

Eventually and finally, we made it to our base camp.

Our American medical team consisted of one doctor, a nurse practitioner, a physician’s assistant, two nurses, a physical therapist, a medic and several other non-medical helpers. The Costa Rican team members worked as translators, they organized and led a children’s program and helped with almost everything else imaginable from cooking to unclogging toilets. They taught us much about service and humility.

Our first step was to set up a “pharmacy” that we could use for the week. Meagan and I (the two nurses) were in charge of organizing and supervising. We turned 6 bags full of supplies and medicine into a functional pharmacy in an abandoned 2 room building without window screens, running water or electrivity.

From the very first day we began to treat patients. We trained some of the non-medical team members to triage and get blood pressures, weights and temperatures. The patients would be seen by a doctor and then proceed to the pharmacy to receive the medications/treatments the doctors had recommended.

The area we were working in was very primitive. The villagers had no electricity and were completely reliant on one bus that drove up and down the road a few times a day or walking (although several families did use horses). Most of our patients walked many miles to receive medical care. Most of them carried one or two children. Near the end of the week we treated a man who had walked for 24 hours to receive medical care and to take medications back home to his family.

The climate was incredibly hot and humid. Although we were blessed during the week to have relatively sparse rain (it is rainy season), every day did have little rain showers. Don’t be fooled if you see us wearing pants or long sleeves.  We would have walked around in our underwear carrying ice cubes if it wouldn’t have been distracting.

Insects, various wild animals, lizards and snakes are very common. We encountered them all.

Our base camp was actually much nicer than we had expected. There was a large, one-room cabin for the single girls, another for the single guys and another cabin/home with a couple of rooms that were designated for married couples. All had windows and none had screens, so mosquitoes and other bugs became a problem. We also were blessed to have flush toilets and running water. There was one shower each for the girls and guys. There was only cold water which, for the most part, was delightful.

So each morning we would wake with the sun, have breakfast and group devotionals before we began to see patients. Most days we would see and treat patients throughout the morning and into the early afternoon but because the weather was so hot and the walk for most villagers was so long, we typically did not have many patients in the middle of the afternoon.

Some of the main medical problems we treated were GI illnesses such as infections and parasites, skin conditions such as scabies, insect bites and fungal infections, several wounds (mainly due to the use of a machete in the fields) as well as headaches, fevers, allergies and ear problems. Over half of the population we treated were children. We distributed 3 months worth of vitamins to every patient we treated.

During the week we also made time for some fun.  Mid-week there was a USA vs. Costa Rica soccer match in the field across the road.

Costa Rica won 4-1.

We also sampled many of the exotic fruits growing on the surrounding trees!

Josh and I both felt extremely blessed to work with such a hard-working and gracious team. The Costa Rican pastor of the indigenous tribe we worked with (Pastor Jose) as well as the ex-soccer star and BriBris advocate, Benjamin, were both an incredible encouragement to us in their tremendous faith and earnest prayer lives. They taught us much about the struggles the BriBris people face and gave us a better picture of the spiritual battles taking place.

In addition to the medical care, we were able to pray with and for many of the patients as well as share with them the message of the love of Jesus. We trust that many people were encouraged and hope that seeds were planted.

At the end of the week the villagers and local church prepared a traditional dinner to thank us. It was humbling to see them each contribute what they were able to. Some fruit, banana leaves, a pig, etc. Several of the women cooked and spent hours preparing the meal for us.

In the evening, we were presented with the meal and served in banana leaf bowls! It was a beautiful dinner and ceremony bridging cultures. There was eating, singing and dancing.

During the dinner an unfortunate incident happened. The teenage son of Pastor Jose was bitten by a snake in the soccer field. The snake was very poisonous and several members of the medical team were quickly notified. We were able to stabilize him by starting an IV and giving steroid and nausea medication. We applied a tourniquet to his leg above the bite and kept it in a dependent position. Although he remained stable both neurologically and hemodynamically, his leg continued to swell and his mother was worried. At this point is was nearly 10pm, dark and had been raining very hard for about 6 hours. The mother decided to transport him, however, in order to get him to a clinic or hospital we would have to take him out the way we had come in…a 20 minute bus ride, a 30 minute boat ride and then another 15-20 minute ride in an ambulance. It was a risky decision but once the mother decided, we sent them off with our nurse practitioner, Kris (to manage his IV and keep him stable during transport), a translator and one of our Costa Rican team leaders.

The river was so high it was nearly impassible but they managed to get him across and to a small clinic. Once he was in their care, they administered anti-venom. Unfortunately the boy had an allergic reaction to the medication and began vomiting blood and losing consciousness. He was then transported to a much larger hospital which was 3 hours away where he was stabilized. The clinic staff said that the only reason he was able to remain stable for so long was the care he received from the medical team onsite and the fact that the snake only struck with its upper two fangs. It was a scary and difficult night and we are all thankful to God for the quick care he received by our medical team and the fact that the boy is alive.

So the morning after the BriBris dinner (and the snake bite), we woke up at 5am to repack and make the long trip back to San Jose.

We are not super-heroes.  It was an extremely difficult week in Talamanca.  From the first day I began pleading with Josh…Please, I can’t do this!  Let’s go home! But we stuck with it and I now feel as if we received much more than we gave.  We want to encourage you all that serving on the mission field is difficult but possible for everyone!

Back in San Jose the next day a missionary couple who work for OM and served with us in Talamanca during the week played tour guides for us and we were able to visit a coffee plantation, a volcano and the La Paz waterfalls!

The week really wore Josh out.

Saturday morning the rest of our American medical team flew back home and Josh and I took a bus from San Jose to Playa Hermosa.

It is a little piece of heaven.  It is by far the most beautiful beach I have been to (so far!) with soft brown sand, warm water, perfect palm trees and surfer-quality waves.

In three days we will be welcomed back into the world of reality.  After over two months of traveling.  So for now, we’re savoring this…

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2 Responses to “”

  1. bruster said

    Amber, thanks for the comprehensive storying of your trip! I enjoyed and was encouraged.

    We just got back from our long weekend break — Friday off — which I spent with 20 people on an island less than an acre in area. It was awesome! Made a fun rock-climbing day trip on Saturday… look on facebook for some of my friends’ pictures.

    Glad you’re safe and sound.

  2. Matt said

    Thanks for the long update, we’d been waiting for your next post and you rewarded us. You must be exhausted by now. (just in time to return to the U.S. for your next adventure).

    Josh’s beard is really making up for lost time. I have one too now, we’ll have to compare.

    Lisa’s at the camp in Ireland right now haveing fun and using her teaching skills.

    Have a great trip back.

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