By GEORGE ROBERTSON, M.D.
At least 2-1/2 years ago, Jeff Hallums had a dream of a mission trip for his church family that would involve evangelism and maybe some building. He thought that his church family could be brought closer together after he had participated in a similar trip with a church in Valdosta, Ga. going to El Salvador. His wife Terri also encouraged him in the process since she too had a good experience with medical trip years ago.
Many roadblocks seemed to delay the trip, and College Hills Church of Christ also was planning one that was cancelled in July 2009 because of the political unrest in the country that also looked as if it might stop the Maple Hill effort in its tracks.
The surgical trip In Honduras in October seemed to go as planned in spite of the instability so when personnel for the trip plan in March started coming together a few weeks before the spring break time it looked as if the Maple Hill brigade might be able to put the final touches together.
A group of 33 people including doctors, nurses, builders, a druggist and ancillary personnel left cold weather in Tennessee for a much warmer climate of Namasigue, Honduras. At 2 o’clock in the morning of March 7 we awakened to the alarm clocks and got the last suitcases zipped up and in the car. My wife decided to drive me to the rendezvous at the church but said she would go back to bed after dropping me off.
About 10 hours later we arrived in Choluteca, Honduras and finalized plans for the mission experience starting the next morning. About half of the group journeyed to the home construction site and the rest set up exam and triage sites at the church. On the first day 90 patients were examined and treated. Money had previously been collected for medications and supplies which were made available by the Mission Lazarus personnel making maximum use of work times.
The second day 161 patients were examined and treated by two doctors and a druggist and about a dozen other medical professionals. By day three the number had climbed to 235 children and adults with more than 750 prescriptions being filled. Most of the treatments were for cold, flu and parasite infestations but various infections were handled as well.
Interesting patients included a 26-year-old lady who could not sit because of contractions and joint limitations from juvenile arthritis of many years duration. There was one child with a myelomengiocoele and club feet. Numerous diabetics were seen and started on therapy. Since screening blood sugars were done on people over 50 years of age, many were found and did not realize they were diabetic.
Many patients could be examined by the doctors and nurses who took only a snack for lunch and continued to see the numbers waiting until the afternoon heat would become unbearable for everyone. Most of the patients appeared years older than their stated ages.
The most common occupation for the area was farm work with many of the men being very proud of their ability to swing the machete. The birth rate for the area was unbelievably high averaging about eight children per family. One grandmother with the most offspring claimed to have 15 children and more than 60 grandchildren.
Children were also small for their ages and trying to guess their ages was difficult because of their small statures which caused a two-year guess discrepancy. It was interesting to note that out of hundreds of patients there was only one 10-year-old girt who appeared overweight.
Scabies and lice medications were greatly needed and freely used to treat many children living in close quarters in small adobe houses.
The average education level for the children in the agricultural region was 6th grade level but in the townships around could extend up to the equivalent of our high school degree. The farm children did not have the money to buy books and uniforms to extend their education, and one little girl who came to the clinic three days in a row said that she could not go to school because her uniform was dirty.
On the final day of the clinic 121 patients were seen bringing the total to 625 for the week. Most of the medicine needed to treat common aliments was still available by the end of the day. Also on the last day we drove to the river to witness a baptism, one of the 11 while we were there. We later saw him as a patient in the clinic and unfortunately uncovered a loud heart murmur that he was unaware of and will require treatment somewhere down the road.
Afternoons after the clinic work were centered around devotionals and meals. The group ate American-style some of the time at fast food places like Pizza Hut and Burger King but had some local food fair meals including goat cheese, refried beans and the ever present rice which added to the calories.
Friday was reserved for the Mission Lazarus experience which required a 45-minute trip up mostly asphalt highway roads to a turnoff in the mountains ending in a winding gravel road at an altitude of 3,500 feet and the top of a mountain peak. The 1,250-acre ranch had been outfitted for mission groups and tourists and was complete with separate bunk houses for the men and ladies plus some cabins for couples. Food at the establishment was tasty and especially enjoyable being served in an open air building at the mountaintop with a view unparalleled outside of the Smoky Mountains.
We drove the ranch and looked at the homes for 40 orphan children. Maple Hill church of Christ members participated in building two of the six houses. There was room for 20 more children but the Honduran government had been in disarray since the last election and was behind in getting more candidates for the orphanage openings.
We were interested to see the vocational schools for carpentry and leather work for the orphans who were in training for future work as adults when it came time to leave the protective environment of the ranch. The children also had their own garden where they could earn money by picking and selling their produce. The dairy on the property supported 40 cows which were fed and milked dally with some of the Holstein milk being used for local consumption and the rest boiled, since there was no refrigeration, to be sold.
The final night at the ranch found us around a large fireplace where a crackling fire chased away the chill of the high mountain air. We recounted the good experiences of the trip and expressed to each other how the trip had changed our lives.
Saturday was a travel day that took about five hours to cover the ground back to Tegucigalpa and the Clarion Hotel for our first taste of "civilization" in a week.
Travel home from the capital of Honduras was uneventful except for the six-hour layover in the Miami airport before getting in to Nashville after midnight.
Editor’s Note: George Robertson is a physician with Family Medical Associates, PC, in Lebanon.