It’s Not Just a Bottle of Pills

This year marked my ninth year as a member of the medical team in Guatemala. I have to thank Dr. Lauronce again for inviting me for a cup of coffee all those years ago to tell me about a special project in which she thought I’d be interested. I am so happy I said yes!!  That’s where my Guatemala story began.  Five years with Xavier University in Cincinnati and now four years with Regis University in Denver. 

When I get back home and the Guatemala trip issecured away in my memory, I appreciate the time I need to think through what I’ve just witnessed and been a part of. Thank you for giving me that space to ponder my thoughts and try to put my feelings to words. What should I write? How do I put down all that I feel into words

As the pharmacist on the team one of my responsibilities was to supervise the unpacking the thirty-eight suitcases of medication and medical supplies for the pharmacy at the clinic. I also had the privilege to work alongside each of the ten female students during our clinic sessions filling prescriptions written by our physicians and dentist. A new area of responsibility for me this year was to oversee the prayer and sending forth portion of the clinic visit with our patients. 

Each day in the pharmacy once the prescriptions were filled, the students and I would counsel the patient about their new medications and give them time to ask any questions about their new medication. At the end of this consultation time, we would offer a time for prayer.  We would pray together – using a pre-printed prayer or sometimes our patients offering their own extemporaneous prayer. Our prayer time would end with a hug good bye and a heartfelt ‘Thank you’ from our patients. I would share with the students that this time for me was special because I had just given then a prescription of 30 Tylenol tablets and our patient was thanking me as though I had given them a pot of gold.

After dinner each night, we met as a team – medical staff and students – to share our feelings about what we witnessed and took part in during our day in clinic. These debrief sessions were a wonderful way for each of us to share what we experienced, how we feel, what we will cherish, and how will we grow from meeting the beautiful people of Ciudad de la Esperanza. At our last debrief (this time on the bus ride from Coban to Antigua) I shared with the team that I didn’t feel I deserved such praise and big Thank You’s over just a bottle of pills.  One of our group challenged me by saying that this bottle of pills wasn’t just a bottle of pills – it was someone’s story. A beautiful story – of the wonderful people of Coban at Ciudad. 

As I reflect on what was said on the bus, I am truly grateful for all the bottles of pills that we dispensed in one short week at Ciudad. The story that is in each bottle of pills – the person, the patient who now owns those pills, the family members of that patient, the students who worked with me in clinic that day, and me – that I got to be a part of the story written about all the characters in the little bottle of pills.

Thank you to all the beautiful characters in my Guatemala story.  I love you all.  

-Dr. Eric Bertelsen, RPh



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