SOMC nurse takes healing touch to Guatemala

SOMC RN Kristen Pertuset completed her first mission trip earlier this year. She visited the Central American country of Guatemala.

For many, the summer months are a calling to take time off work and go somewhere special.

Somewhere far. Somewhere exotic. Somewhere you can enjoy the warmth of the sun… the fresh, morning breeze… and armed guards, barbed wire, and electrified fences…

At least, that’s the story of Kristen Pertuset’s last summer trip.

Kristen is a registered nurse at Southern Ohio Medical Center, but for a week in August she was (both literally and figuratively) about as far from SOMC as she could get. She was on a medical mission trip to the Central American country of Guatemala.

It was her first mission, and it exposed her to a standard of living radically different than that to which she was accustomed. In fact, while there she lived without luxuries so basic most Americans would not recognize them as being “luxuries” at all.

“There was no clean water and you weren’t allowed to flush your toilet paper,” Kristen explained. “There was a trash can in every bathroom that everybody threw their toilet paper into. You don’t realize how big of a deal that is until it’s taken away.”

The trip itself was inspired by the same desire that led to Kristen becoming a nurse – the desire to help others, especially those who need it the most. It began, though, with a word of warning.

A child plays near a sign promoting the “Partido Patriota,” or “Patriot Party.”

On her way there, a physician who was native to the country suggested she pretend to be Canadian. Being from the United States, he said, was not something that would win over the locals. But once she arrived, she found that her nationality didn’t really matter.

“They knew we were Americans and they traveled for miles to get to see American doctors,” Kristen said. “They loved us. They loved everything we could show them or do for them. They were kissing my cheeks, literally, and hugging me at the end of every single visit.”

While there, she saw patients in desperate need of quality medical care. She treated patients as young as three-months and as old as 100-years. She even treated a woman who complained of exhaustion and turned out to have been walking around with a hemoglobin level of 5 for the last six months.

Pertuset’s clinic saw, on average, 150 patients a day.

Her clinic averaged 150 patients a day and was equipped with limited supplies. She was forced to perform all of her procedures without so much as someone to hand her tools. It created a stark contrast with work upon her arrival to SOMC.

“(In Guatemala) we were almost trying to ‘MacGyver’ a setup to get what we needed,” she said. “It was kind of surreal to come back and have everything so readily available.”

But even with the clinic’s primitive conditions, lack of supplies and machine gun-wielding guards, Kristen is clear that the experience was a positive one. In fact, she is looking forward to doing it again – electrified fences and all.