Susan Dean Writes From Guatemala: Renewal for Patients, and for Caregivers

 May 2

We started surgery today.  There were two gorgeous babies (girls) today who had their cleft lips repaired. The parents were super happy with the results. These will be perfectly normal babies…with beautiful brown eyes!

They get to all of us.  On a sad note, a 35-year-old woman came in hoping we would help her have babies, but the laparoscopic surgery found so much scar tissue and we could not help her.  Children are really valued down here.

I am pooped.  We started really early!!

More updates to come. Need a Guatemalan latte.


 *   *   *

May 3

We have been starting our mornings with inspiring devotionals surrounded by beautiful blue sky and active volcanoes.  Today we heard the story of the wealthy father who took his son to see how a poor family lives.  On the way home the father asked his son what he had learned about the poor family.  The son responded: instead of having one dog they have four; instead of walls around the house to protect them, they are surrounded by the horizon; we have a pool that goes to the middle of our yard and they have a creek that runs forever; we buy our food and they grow what they eat; instead of having walls, they are surrounded by friends.  Then the son adds ¨Thanks Dad for showing me how poor we are.¨

This mission gives me many moments to realize what life is really about. The Guatemalan patients trust us and give us a reason to be grateful to be here.  The Guatemalans, who don’t have much, are a happy people showing us how we have forgotten the most important things in life. Rich or poor is not dependent on money. Personal wealth is not measured in money.

Today, while doing cases, we were told we needed to finish and stop operating because we were losing power.  Power at the Obras went out at 4 a.m. so the generator switched on. Then the generator overheated. The OR was using up too much power and the generator could not keep up with the demand.  Our hopes were dashed.  We want to do as many cases as possible.  Now the plan is to work late the rest of the week so that all of the scheduled cases will get done.

This is what happens when you are in a third-world country.

By the way, the seven Kaiser Permanente team members are:

  • Rachael Schering, MD anesthesiologist, Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara Medical Center;
  • Gordon Haddow, MD, anesthesiologist, Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara;
  • Robert Karoukian, MD, anesthesiologist, Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center;
  • Paul Preston, MD, anesthesiologist, Kaiser Permanente San Francisco
  • Tracy Liu, RN, Kaiser Permanente San Francisco
  • Margaret Petrie, RN, Kaiser Permanente San Rafael Medical Center.
  • And me!

I will try to send more pictures soon!

Take care,


May 4

We all wondered what we would find in the OR today.  Would we have power?  Would we be able to operate?  We all just knew we were here to do whatever was possible. We don’t know if we will be able to regulate the temperature in the OR tomorrow, but we know we have a full day.  We will do our best to help as many people as possible.

I will write more tomorrow; today, the computer connection is bad.


May 5

We started our morning with a special,  non-denominational chant/song. Looking around this outdoor room one could tell what the group was thinking, meditating and contemplating. All of the words and the Kleenex and sniffling gave it away.  The song reminded us how we had connected and “heard” the Guatemalan people we had met. We were there for a reason. We could empathize with these people.  They weren’t strangers anymore. We are here to offer them the best of us. We realize that these people are poor and have no understanding of the medical system. They don’t understand what their procedure entails or the healing process, and yet they give us their complete trust in allowing us to treat them.

The group is smiling yet tired.  What is making us get up at 5 a.m. to get to the operating room?  (Could it be the great Guatemalan coffee that is waiting for us?)

We are all inspired. We are not just here alone; we are surrounded by each other.  The people that we care for are so different from us yet we are the same in so many ways. We are all inter-connected.  Our patients come in scared and nervous, realizing that something bad could happened to them and nothing is in their control. We can hold their hand and use what we have learned to help them.

As the doctors make morning rounds, we find our prayers have been answered; our patients are doing really well.

May 6

Good morning,

All of our surgeries have been completed. Seventy six patients have been treated.  More than 80 procedures have been done. Our team has learned a lot: We each carry part of the world within us.  When we change the world, we change ourselves.

Getting outside of our routine, day-to-day experiences and having the opportunity to do this work is a renewal of the spirit. Some people concentrate on their bodies with classes and retreats. We, on this team of 40, have found this same type of renewal through caring for patients. We give to the Guatemalans medical treatment and hope, and receive back renewal hope and love. We are lucky this team needs people that translate, people that enjoy cooking, recovery room nurses, operating room nurses, anesthesiologists, and surgeons. This allowed us all the opportunity to have this experience….and what a life-changing experience it was!

Susan Dean, RN
Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center

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4 responses to “Susan Dean Writes From Guatemala: Renewal for Patients, and for Caregivers

  1. Bless you all for your charitable works! Kaiser is lucky to have such giving employees. As employees, we all need to learn to generously care for our patients in the states, as you all do from afar. Great role models!

  2. Margarita Hernandez

    A month ago our church team (10 women) did non-invasive medical care in El Rama, Nicaragua. We know the feeling of those faces looking for help. Yet we were limited in what we did. We still strived to make a difference in their lives. Four of us are Kaiser Permanente employees.

  3. Wow that is so amazing what your doctors have done in Guatemala! I love this country and their awesome people my in laws live their. Thank you so much!

  4. Soliman A Soliman

    It is not what you take, It is what you leave behind.
    That is what we have to do in life. You are lucky.

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