Updates on Belize

by Dr. Gregory Bartha

August 31, 2016

Earlier this year, I returned from a 17 day visit to Belize, where I worked with Dr. Javier Canul at the Belize Hospice and Palliative Care Association.  Very quickly after my arrival in Belize, we began making home visits to the patients.  Most had some type of cancer — lung, breast, colon or liver.  Others had spinal cord injuries with chronic pressure sores.  We had to do a lot of wound care.  This involves cutting away the dead tissue, packing the wound with absorbent material and covering it with a protective bandage.  We provided electric beds for several patients, so they can change positions easily.  The only proven method to heal pressure sores is to remove the pressure, so frequent position charges are necessary.  Many patients required pain medication.  We usually administer ibuprofen or naproxen initially, then follow up with codeine, and finally morphine if the pain remains uncontrolled.  Several patients also required medication to control agitation.  In addition to providing medical care, Dr. Canul addresses the social and spiritual needs of patients, asking them to express their goals for the time remaining to them, asking them if they are worried about their relationship with God, or if they have concerns whether their lives have meaning.  Dr. Canul is a one-man operation dealing with medical, social, and spiritual issues, treating wounds and delivering medical equipment and medication.  There are volunteers but no nurses.  He also makes bereavement calls to patient’s families.  He is a kind and knowledgeable physician, and I saw firsthand the benefits of his evaluation and treatment of terminally ill patients.

We also made time for a visit to the Belize Zoo, which is an excellent facility.  There was a most powerful and beautiful jaguar, a magnificent scarlet macaw and several beautiful toucans proudly displaying their multicolored beaks and feathers.  We spent one day at Caye Caulker, a very pleasant island about 45 minutes by boat from Belize City.  The island offered spectacular ocean views and long, white beaches. The atmosphere was wonderful and the water most pleasurable for swimming.

I enjoyed morning walks along the seawall of Belize City.  One morning, a manatee washed up next to the wall, the victim of a motorboat propeller.  I watched a newborn manatee swimming around the body.  These gentle creatures are frequently killed in this manner, and the motorboat operators have to take precaution.  Fortunately, the baby was rescued.  There are several manatee reserve areas where boats are not allowed to work.  It was a great 17 days and I hope to return again in January, 2017, to assist Dr. Canul with his work.

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