Showing Compassion Through Service in Guatemala

Bob Toth

A Greyshirt reflects on spending two weeks delivering humanitarian aid and medical care in Puerto Barrios in 2018.

I’ve been back home for about a bit now, and as I reflect on my time in Guatemala in 2018, several things come to mind: In preparation for Guatemala, I had certainly been excited to be chosen as a medical provider (physician assistant) for the operation. Then I had started questioning ‘why me?’ Was I prepared and would I do a good job in representing Team Rubicon, the United States, and my team?

This was my most pervasive thought before the operation: would I be good enough, and would I get a chance to serve again? I honestly believe that was a thought most of us had, in one degree or another, leading up to that deployment. That anxiety drove me to learn more about Guatemala and my team, and to refresh on medical topics and mentally prepare before the operation.

Greyshirt Bob Toth sees a patient in Guatemala in 2018.

Once we finally arrived for pre-deployment I had a chance to meet the team and get to know folks better. Needless to say, it was an impressive group with a broad array of skills and experience. The pre-deployment briefing only served to heighten my awareness and need to mentally prepare.

Heading to Guatemala, we knew our team would be responsible for staffing a medical clinic alongside the host-nation and some U.S. Military personnel. We would also provide some specialized training and certification in humanitarian assistance/disaster relief coordination, Basic Life Support, and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support to Guatemalan medical personnel. And, we’d be augmenting U.S. Navy-led instruction of Helping Babies Breath, Pediatric Advanced Life Support, Stop the Bleed, and Tactical Combat Casualty Care.

Greyshirt Bob Toth sees patients in Guatemala in 2018.

Once we were on the ground in Puerto Barrios, it was game on: it was time to get ready for patients and hit the ground running. It was challenging in the beginning. During our nine clinic days, we saw an average of 33 patients a day—with the help of an interpreter—and we were sweating it out in high heat and humidity. But, after a few patients, we found our rhythm as a team and all got into the flow.

Overall the patients had fairly common family medicine complaints, but there was usually an outlier daily. Each day, I would get back to our FOB at the hotel and reflect on those patients who I was most worried about: Patients like the 20-year-old female whose mother had been carrying and dressing her everyday since she’d had a febrile seizure at three weeks old.

Now, she had severe cerebral palsy and was non-verbal and unable to walk and care for herself. It was hard to be the provider who had to tell that mother that we could not help her daughter. These cases helped me to reflect on the importance of what we were doing and while unfortunate were only outliers in helping the people of Guatemala.

Greyshirt Bob Toth in Guatemala in 2018.

In the end, I firmly believe what we did was good and helpful to the people of Guatemala and for the U.S. Navy in supporting their Continuing Promise mission. It was impressive to bring together a group of individuals who performed in outstanding fashion to help the patients, medical providers, and first responders in Puerto Barrios. And, over the course of two weeks, we served nearly 5,000 patients.

It’s through service that we are able to show compassion and our desire to help humanity. I never get tired of witnessing the selflessness, resourcefulness, and talent of Greyshirts. This mission, like the others I’d been on before, solidified my trust in Greyshirts to get a job done, despite any lack of resources. In the end, I found I could get the job done and be at my best; I was prepared and hopefully touched the lives of many patients.

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