When Michelle Long saves up her days off and her overtime pay, she’s not planning two weeks in Europe or a lavish cruise to the Caribbean. No, Michelle, a CMSRN in the Women’s Unit at NHRMC, uses her paid days off and her savings to travel to Guatemala.
Michelle spends two weeks at a time volunteering in pop-up clinics in gyms, tents, or vacant buildings, providing medical care to Guatemalans, from pediatrics to geriatrics. In the impoverished communities Michelle visits, air conditioning is an unaffordable luxury, over-the-counter medicine is unavailable, and clean water is scarce.
In 2016, Michelle made three trips to Guatemala, helping locals with dental care, vision tests and teaching proper hygiene. She offered pregnancy tests, delivered medicine to cure parasitic infections, and treated those who were malnourished.
Michelle is not fluent in Spanish, but she describes herself as “functionally bilingual,” so she can communicate with patients. Most of the Guatemalan medical professionals are bilingual, she said.
Sometimes, the Guatemalans can’t reach the clinic, so Michelle, her father and their Living Water Teaching team members from across the U.S. take the clinic on the road – or even the water.
When the team couldn’t find a driver willing to brave the treacherous road to a remote village, Michelle’s team packed their supplies on a boat and took a two-hour trip across a lake to reach those who needed care. She found homes where families all slept in one room, cooked on wood-burning stoves and didn’t have running water. Sometimes, Michelle would pull out a lollipop, using it as an incentive to get a child to take some parasite medicine.
“There are so many things we take for granted,” Michelle said. “Clean water is such a valuable resource, but some of those families in Guatemala didn’t have access to it.”
Spending two weeks in an impoverished country might not seem like the most relaxing way to spend your vacation time. Sometimes fellow nurses ask her why she does it.
“All I have to do is show them one picture and then they understand,” she said.
The NHRMC Women’s Unit donated 20 shoeboxes of supplies and gifts through Operation Shoebox, and Dr. Walter Gajewski paid to ship them to Guatemala. When they arrived, Michelle was on the ground to help distribute them to the smiling children.
When she sees their smiling faces, it reminds her of her own boys 2,000 miles away, being taken care of by their dad and grandparents.
As much as she misses her own family, she feels compelled to help these poor families in Guatemala.
And Michelle vows to do more. She’s working to recruit other nurses to join her on a mission trip, and she’s working to help establish an orphanage at one of the clinic sites.