I woke up at 3:00 Saturday morning, even though my alarm was set for 3:30. This was fortuitous because I still needed to pack a few things (and still managed to forget a few things). Loaded the car, drove to the Park ‘n’ Fly—this time from Denton—and got shuttled to the international terminal at DFW.
At this point, the routine is pretty familiar. Meet the team, get the cases and duffle bags of medical equipment and supplies off the truck, check everything in at the counter, go through security, find coffee, wait for the flight. Unlike my first trip, this all went very smoothly.
We laid over in Phoenix for a bit and landed at Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo late Saturday afternoon. Getting the crates through customs took a while, but our in-country fixer, Xochitl (so-chee), came and helped us out. We headed straight to the hospital for patient screenings to see who’d undergo procedures. This trip was with a much smaller team than usual, but six patients underwent 11 procedures in two days.
This trip was all about ears. Dr. Eric Payne and Dr. Alejandra Garcia performed ear reconstructions for children born without them. I’m not using the right medical terms, but this involved taking cartilage from the patient’s ribcage and literally carving an ear shape from it on a cutting board before inserting it under the skin where an ear would be. Crazy.
Like Haiti and Belize, Mexico was also hot and humid, so, as usual, I mostly hung out in the OR because it was the coldest room and they had music playing. And that’s where most of the action was anyway. Though, truthfully, most of my trip consisted of sitting on a little metal footstool trying not to nod off or be in the way. Even so, I loved being there.
A typical LEAP trip consists of getting up at 6:00, breakfast at the hotel, hospital until after dark, crash at the hotel, repeat. Since this trip had a smaller team, we finished around 6 or 7:00 each night while it was still plenty light out to go to the beach, where we got photos and drinks and some people got their feet wet.
There was one seat too few in our two cars, so I always rode in the bed of the pickup, which may have been my favorite part of the trip. I love the feeling of being in another country, and getting to see Mexico backwards with no roof was great. Zihuatanejo is beautiful, if tricky to say; it reminded me a lot of Guatemala (except for the ocean), and it’s a lot less touristy, apparently, than neighboring Ixtapa, which is easier to say.
I’m tempted to get on a soapbox about how terribly the U.S. is treating Mexicans right now, but I’ll try not to. I’m glad I got to be around some American doctors and nurses who treated some Mexicans with love and skill. But the sacrifice wasn’t one-sided. One of the patients and his mom traveled 10 hours from Mexico city by bus for his surgery. And more than that, the mom had to quit her job to do it because they wouldn’t give her the time off. She didn’t care; it was worth it. Damn your racism. Damn your stupid wall.
On Monday evening, we were able to get everything loaded up at the end of the day so we could spend more time at the beach on Tuesday before heading to the airport. Dr. Garcia’s parents were from that area, and they, along with her husband and three kids, were there on vacation at the same time. Her parents knew the owners of an oceanside restaurant called La Perla, so after a long walk on the beach, we had local beers and fresh seafood. It was very nice.
I brought a film camera on this trip just for fun, and I like how these black-and-white shots came out. They look like gritty, old-school news photos to me, and it might be the closest I get to photojournalism. Of course I took color, digital photos as well, but it’s my blog and I can post what I want.
I’ve said it before: people who use their vacation days to help other people tend to be pretty nice. Until the next one.