Rice Foundation Medical Mission to Honduras Volunteer

by: Lisa Witherite-Rieg, DO

Meet “Pedro”. Pedro is a farmer in El Jaral, Honduras. He uses a machete to cut the canes that are processed into the sweet addition to so many things we enjoy without even considering where it originated. Pedro spends hours bent over, swinging the large blade, tying the canes and carrying the bundles. Pedro is a decade younger than me. He came to see me at the Rice Foundation outreach clinic complaining of “dolor de cabeza” or “brain pain” as my teenage interpreter explained to me.

When I inquired “How long?” the response was “Tres.” Three. That could mean three days, three weeks, three years. Time in El Jaral has little impact to a Honduran farmer who goes from season to season and field to field. A headache has a great impact, in productivity especially. Through our interpreter we figured out the pain had been for at least three months. Examination showed a normal neurological exam, but his osteopathic musculoskeletal examination had me wondering how this man was walking, let alone swinging a two foot long blade attached to a heavy wooden handle and carrying fifty pound bundles on his back from sunrise to sunset daily. I had prednisone and cyclobenzaprine available on our limited formulary, but I wanted, needed to DO more for him. 

With limited space and equipment, I was able to mobilize his cervical and thoracic spine with Pedro sitting in a chair, but I couldn’t adequately address his lumbar spine. “What do you need, Doctora?” one of our Honduran-based team members from the Rice Foundation asked. As I described an OMT table, she said, “like for a massage?” Within a couple of hours a folding massage table was located and brought to me at the clinic. Pedro patiently waited.

Though a little higher than what I am used to working with, we made it serve our purpose. I used coolers as step stools and worked with our interpreter to help our patient understand what I was going to do and how he needed to help. Skeptical (as he was a bit bigger than me), Pedro put his faith in me and God (as I did – praying for the extra strength and grace needed to move vertebrae that were mal-positioned for months).

Everyone in the clinic heard that “osteopathic POP!” as the remaining lumbar vertebrae found their natural position. Pedro’s smile, relief (instantly), and gratitude I felt in the farmer’s sweaty hug was more valuable than any recognition certificate or pin I have ever received.

That massage table and those coolers did get a workout the rest of the week as word-of-mouth travels faster than Facebook in El Jaral. Dozens of people came in with “brain pain”, back pain and hip discomfort, all as a result of hard work, and left with relief. OMT can DO that. We can DO that. With the help of ambitious medical students, pre-med students and a young Honduran physical therapy intern, we taught exercises and proper body mechanics to help minimize re-injury.

Mission work is so rewarding to me. I have received so much more than I could ever give. This particular trip gave me a deeper appreciation for the men and women who harvest the sugar cane and coffee I love and take for granted. I respect and appreciate the pure, clean water I don’t think twice about consuming. I express gratitude more freely. The people who allowed me to serve them shared their love, their vulnerability, their light. We all should be so blessed!

For more information on the Rice Foundation, visit:  www.ricefoundation.us.