Navaja Well Child Clinic

2014 Navaja Well Child Clinic Story – Submitted by Ottis Layne

The primary focus of Misión de Candelilla has been the medical trips we have done since 1986. Less well recognized are our semi-annual journeys to the Piedras Negras, Mexico area to hold “Well Child Clinics” in two small schools there. This effort grew out of our relationship with the Rotary Club of Piedras Negras. Since 2003 these Rotarians have facilitated our passage through Mexican Customs when we cross at Eagle Pass. That crossing was plagued by delays and difficulties in knowing how to deal with Mexican officials from the time we started passing that way in 2001.

Prior to getting help from the Rotarians, Curtis and I used to go to Piedras Negras about two weeks before each trip to try to meet with the director of Customs to facilitate our coming through on the way for our clinics. Occasionally this worked, but more typically it led to pure frustration for any number of reasons, including the director of Customs had changed or was inexplicably unavailable. We also dealt with extremes in the interpretation of the rules that applied to our entry into Mexico, with every official wanting something different, maybe asking us to pay import duty on our medical equipment, or not approving our bringing gasoline into Mexico, or trying to deny our bringing medications into Mexico without getting permission from the Mexican health department. It went on and on, usually with the result it took hours to cross.

The solution came through Rotary District 4110 which includes the Rotary Club in Piedras Negras. We had already been getting assistance us with equipment and services in our medical work through Rotary district 5840 Hunger-plus committee.  Through the District 4110 website Curtis became acquainted with Angel Garza, then-president of the Club in Piedras Negras. Not only is Rotary highly respected in Mexico, Angel understood all the nuances of the paper work that the Mexican officials like, including long lists of equipment and personnel on Rotary Club letterhead.  When Angel began to meet us at the border, our crossings were suddenly different, usually allowing us to be on our way in under an hour, occasionally even a shorter time.

At one point Angel asked Curtis if we could drop by the school in Centinela when we were passing through to check the children. After asking how many children there were in the village Curtis knew it would take a trip for this purpose alone. The first school trip occurred six years ago, to the village of Centinela. Then two years ago Carlos Barrera (Club president at that time) asked if we would include the school in Navaja.  This year was our third “Well Child Clinic”. These overnight trips are favored by a number of our volunteers because they are short and because we get to schmooze with the Rotarians in Piedras Negras, usually being treated to lunch at an excellent Mexican restaurant (this time that detail was different, as you will read below).

 Thursday, May 8, 2014

The meeting place was Oak Hills Church in Fredericksburg. Curtis and Sara Allerkamp, our mission director and associate director came in one of our mission vans to transport us to Eagle Pass.

We met Dr. Charles Burg, a long-time participant in Misión de Candelillia on our medical trips, now coming on his first school clinic trip. He is a family practice physician who is always up-to-date in his medical knowledge. I always learn from him when we’re together and I enjoy his unique perspective on life, seeing irony everywhere. On this trip he told me the latest on how cardiologists are treating coronary heart disease. The irony, by the way, is that the cardiologists now prescribe cholesterol-lowering medications for their heart patients without even checking the cholesterol level, using these medications for their anti-inflammatory effects to benefit their patients.

We also met Carleton Turner, a rancher and vineyard owner in Gillespie County and a member of the new evening Rotary Club in Fredericksburg. He is also a former sergeant-of-arms for the Texas Senate. He came because we needed help with the clinic, but he also wanted to meet the Rotarians because the Fredericksburg Nimitz Rotary Club is in the process of becoming sister clubs with the Rotary Club of Piedras Negras. We found him to be ready to help with anything at hand, he has a ready laugh, and he sprinkles his conversation with country wisdom.

Debbie Campbell is a registered nurse from Fredericksburg, most recently a school nurse, giving us her familiarity with the vision and hearing screening equipment we borrowed fro FISD to check our Mexican children. She has been with us on school clinic trips in the past as well as a number of medical trips.

Kelly Graham is Associate Pastor at Fredericksburg Evangelical Free Church. He also serves on the board of directors of Misión de Candelilla. He is a quiet, thoughtful man who told me stories of sleuthing out nuances of Greek usage in the time of Plato and then using this knowledge to understand descriptions of Jesus in the Gospel of John. He brought an intellectual yet deeply spiritual tone to our group that was a lovely contrast to Carleton’s folksy style.

Loading our few personal items into the van took only minutes and we were off from Fredericksburg. The first stop came just south of Kerrville, where we met Dr. David Pope, a retired family practice physician who also is a veteran of both school and medical trips for Misión de Candelilla. He has difficulty walking to the point that he requires help to get in and out of the van, yet his mind shows no signs of slowing down. He, Charlie, and I comprised the medical team for this trip, and it was good to have three because we had some more extensive evaluations on our school children than usual.

The trip to Eagle Pass was uneventful, punctuated only by a brief stop at a nice, clean roadside rest area just beyond D’Hanis on Highway 90. We had supper at Danny’s, a regular spot for us in Eagle Pass, and I can recommend the enchiladas poblanas. The sauce is mole poblano, made from chilis, pumpkin seeds, and chocolate, one of my favorite Mexican foods. The deep-fried jalapenos were immense, looking like stemmed torpedoes, and they were deadly hot, exploding with fiery flavor almost like a real torpedo.

We bedded down at a house owned by the Methodist Church in Eagle Pass, a lovely brick building with a wide central hall with multiple rooms opening into the hallway from both sides. There are no beds but cots were available, and I slept on a couch in the front room. The only disturbance in the night was the repeated, lonely wail of the railroad engines as they passed nearly, hauling their loads in the dark.

Friday, May 9, 2014

We were all up by 7am. Forty-five minutes later we met Chuy and Annette Casas, both Rotarians from the Piedras Negras Club who live in Eagle Pass. We followed them across the Rio Grande, stopping at Los Asaderos Reataurant where we met other Rotarians who would accompany us to the clinic. We were served spinach omelets  with fried potatoes and refried beans, as well as fresh-squeezed orange juice and the smallest hand-made flour and corn tortillas I have seen in Mexico. They were delicious.

After breakfast we had a brief stop to tour a medical imaging center, operated by the Red Cross in Piedras Negras that had been funded by the Rotary Club. We found a clean, well-lit clinic with capability for X-Ray, ultrasound, and CAT scanning. It also serves as a base for four Red Cross ambulances that are equipped for intensive care, just like in the U.S. (this is a rarity in Mexico). The ambulances were also funded by Rotary.

Then we caravanned to Navaja, a small town just outside Piedras Negras where we had our clinic. The school consists of two cinder block buildings with outside bathrooms, all connected by concrete walks. One building was the classroom, grades 1-6, with one teacher for all. We set up our clinic in the other building, which appeared to be a combination kitchen and activities room.

Rain was beginning to sprinkle as we unloaded our equipment, then we enjoyed a brisk downpour for about half an hour as we began the clinic. This cut into the heat of the day and left us with a pleasantly cool (although humid) afternoon.

We saw all twenty-eight of the students as well as six of their adult family members and three babies. The children all got a thorough screening exam, checking most everything from their ears to their lower extremities. Charlie saw a girl who had such dense wax impactions in her ears she failed the hearing screening. We weren’t prepared to remove the wax completely, but he was able to remove enough that her hearing was suddenly restored.

I saw a twelve-year-old boy who had pneumonia, sinus infection, and an external ear infection all at the same time. We had the capability to check his oxygen level and it was in the normal range, indicating he did not need hospitalization. We had antibiotics and decongestant medication to give him, but no medication for his ear. Charlie had an irrigation syringe in his doctor’s bag, and I used this to clear his ear of the pus and debris from the infection so that drops could be put into his ear, and I was at least able to recommend antibiotic ear drops to his mother, who accompanied him to the clinic.

The children were all dressed in their freshly laundered uniforms, bright and polite for their exams. All the girls I saw had long hair, one with a ponytail reaching to her waist, and several had intricate French braids. The boys were well-barbered and freshly bathed as well. I was impressed that almost all the children I saw had gone for dental work that had been recommended in our previous clinics there, as indicated by reviewing our past notes and simply looking in their mouths.

With three doctors working, we were three and a half hours completing the clinic, a little longer than usual due to finding some medical problems to evaluate (such as the boy with pneumonia).

On completing the clinic we were treated to an event that had not happened before in the six years we have been doing the school clinics: four of the school mothers had prepared lunch for us! And what a lunch it was, with picadillo, mole poblano, pork soup, bean tacos, fried potatoes, rice, and a spicy fresh green salsa. Ingrid, the teacher, and four Rotarians ate with us. It was a time of sweetness as we enjoyed the delicious, home-prepared fare while the four mothers watched over our group from the other side of the room.

Another first was all the children marched into the building just after clinic and stood at attention as one read a proclamation thanking us for coming and attending to their health.

Crossing the border took less than half an hour. We stopped at the house in Eagle Pass to collect the personal items and then it was on to Fredericksburg, stopping for gas in Uvalde and then going by David Pope’s house south of Kerrville to deliver him home.

–  Ottis Layne

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