Sunday, June 15, 2014

Last Cacaopera blog entry, by Patricia Spross

Attached is the  photo of Dr. Garcia, the head of the Cacaopera clinic, with the cryo equipment donated by PINCC.

Last days in Cacaopera

PINCC doctors and nurse practitioners focus on training the local medical team on how to treat the patients.    When they guide the medical exams, their main focus is ensuring that the local doctors learn how to perform IVA, cryotherapy and LEEP's.   The sustainable part of PINCC's mission is to make another PINCC visit unnecessary because the local team is fully trained. 

Volunteers often say that they receive back much more than they give.   So for my final blog entry, I want to express thanks for the gifts that PINCC has given me:

·         Meaningful work, and the feeling of being needed

·         A motive to improve my Spanish

·         An opportunity to support the cause of women

·         The recognition that my life has been full of extraordinary gifts

                A PINCC volunteer without a medical background lives in a parallel world from the trainers.   We stay on the periphery of the medical and training process.   In fact, some of us are squeamish about getting close to a patient's nether regions.   We interview and comfort the patients, hold the babies, input data into the computer, set up the exam rooms, and perform unexpected tasks such as chasing runaway patients, visiting the local pharmacy to buy pregnancy tests, or using our best handwriting to create "graduation" certificates for the local medical team.    This is nothing like a normal day at the office, and is enormous fun!         

Having studied several languages, I rarely have the chance to immerse myself in a second language.   That love of languages gave me my first entry into PINCC's world.   They needed Spanish- speaking volunteers, so I took a risk and signed up in spite of my limited Spanish.    Two years ago, during those months of waiting to travel with PINCC, I read only Spanish novels borrowed from the public library.   Those first books were hard because my vocabulary was weak.   So I wrote down the many words I did not know, and looked them up in a dictionary.   The excellent telenovela "Pablo Escobar – El Patron de Mal", was my tutorial for spoken Spanish.    Language learners usually struggle the most to speak, especially adults who are embarrassed to make mistakes.  But I forced myself to speak Spanish in my neighborhood stores.   As I have always found, native speakers kindly endure the fumbling efforts of someone trying to learn their language.   And now that I have completed my third trip with PINCC, I enjoy simple chats with anxious patients about our families, our gardens, and food.   And my vocabulary of Spanish gynecological terms may exceed my English vocabulary on the same subject!

But perhaps the most important gift bestowed by traveling with PINCC, is the opportunity to support the cause of women.  I was a young teen during the 1960's, and the women's movement spoke strongly to me.    A phrase from that era, "We are all sisters" still resounds.   As a Catholic schoolgirl from a religious family, I ached to participate in the fight for equality.   And in my small way, I have always fought for the cause.  But a female professional in the banking industry needs to tread carefully because we are a minority.  Banks are hierarchical organizations where only in recent years have women begun to achieve a critical mass.   Only when we are present in numbers can we be our best selves, and speak freely of the challenges of trying to succeed in our professions, while having and raising our children.    I connect the experience of our struggle for equality in the US with the struggle now underway in El Salvador.

Patriarchy still reigns in the poor communities of rural El Salvador.  Women clearly have made inroads in the medical profession, and the majority of our trainees were female doctors.  Yet, silence among women has allowed patriarchy to flourish.  A critical mass of women needs to give voice to the things that impede them from being full participants in society.   While taking the patient histories, we PINCC volunteers ask the Salvadoran women about forbidden topics such as childhood sexual abuse and violence in the home.   When a patient minimizes her suffering by responding that she endures only verbal, but not physical abuse, a PINCC volunteer can observe that verbal abuse is also very painful.  This acknowledgement may be a seed of strength that can be nurtured through the psychological counseling that is now available to many patients.  Some Salvadoreans ruefully acknowledge their culture of machismo.  Acknowledgement is the first step on the long journey toward change.  The PINCC team was happy to see the poster in the clinic which offered support to victims of family violence. 

So I will keep coming on these trips as long as PINCC will have me.   The wonderful women I encounter will always pull me back.   The women may be illiterate, but the intelligence and courage often shines through.  Like all mothers, they think of their children and want a better life for them.   And sometimes they feel safe enough to open up about the pain in their lives, and we listen as tears fill their eyes.    But for the luck of birth, it could be one us speaking softly of lost children, abuse, or the grinding poverty of life in rural El Salvador.   We are all sisters.

Patricia Spross

Saturday, June 14, 2014


By Sallie Weissinger, PINCC Volunteer, June 2014

There's more to volunteering for a PINCC mission than doing our work by the book or, in our case, by the manual.  According to the manual, our mission is to train local doctors and nurses to diagnose and treat women for low and high grade lesions, thereby preventing cervical cancer.  But our real job description is far richer and rewarding than the official one.  On a PINCC trip, we are learners and students, as well as medical experts and teachers. We relish that richness, as we soak up information about the cultural, political, social, and familial structures in the regions where we work.  We're especially interested in learning about the health care resources that support (and, in many cases, don't adequately support) the in-country clinicians mastering PINCC techniques.  Meeting the clinicians' patients and learning about their histories, hardships, and challenges is always interesting and at times humbling.  The same is true of getting to know our clinician trainees' backgrounds.  Every day we work with them, we become more impressed with the dedication of the local doctors and nurses. They cope with personal and professional demands and pressures we simply haven't ­ encountered.  Their stories and experiences leave us open-mouthed and even awe-struck.
 Someone who fits this description is nurse midwife Selmira Aguilar, a mother in her 30s, who trained with PINCC in Kukra Hill, in the Kukra indigenous region on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast.  The day after completing her five-day, intensive training in diagnosing cervical lesions, Selmira did not go home for the weekend, to hang with her family.  She and five other health care providers left on a 14-day trip to visit 13 remote hamlets, places too small to have access to health centers for some of the 16,000 inhabitants of the catchment area in which she works.   They left on horseback and mules, packing their clothes, medical equipment and supplies.  They packed hammocks to string up on trees, but left prepared to sleep on the wet ground if trees weren't available.  Even so, they clung to the hope that, in the midst of the monsoon season after a day of trudging through mud on dirt paths, there'd be the occasional school or church for sleeping dry. 
Their plan called for eating food prepared by the villagers on the way and setting up the 13 clinics wherever possible:  in some hamlets, clinics would be set up in churches and schools.  In other places, Selmira told us she and her colleagues planned to improvise clinics in people's homes or, if necessary, hang sheets on ropes attached to trees.  One way or another, they would provide a full range of services:  PAP tests, HIV testing, routine vaccinations, pre-natal care, well baby care, and general medicine.  In time, once she becomes certified by PINCC in VIAA – visual inspections with acetic acid- she will add it to her medical repertoire, so women won't have to wait months and months to receive their results.  With VIAA, they will get their results within minutes.
Following her first week of training, the PINCC trainers were favorably impressed with her skills:  she's fast-moving, quick-thinking, accurate, energetic, and animated; most importantly, she's a good clinician and a good communicator.   And, in the words of one of the PINCC team, "she has a generous heart."   
As we write of her visit to the hamlets outside of Kukra Hill, Selmira should be returning from her 13-day trip.  On our next visit in November, we will be sure to learn more about her time on the road as a medical provider in this remote part of the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  That's when she will once again be a PINCC trainee, and we will return as her trainers.  But we will also switch roles, learning from her about dedication in the face of discomfort, generosity in the face of scarcity, and  perseverance and commitment in the midst of pouring rain and omnipresent mud.  And all of this while riding horses and packing with mules.  For sure, the learning goes both ways! 


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Cacaopera June 11, 2014


We just finished our third day in Cacaopera.   Many patients have traveled for miles to visit us for treatment.  There have been numerous LEEP's and cryo's which have enabled our doctors to train the local medical team.   The trainees need to observe many cases of diseased tissue in order to recognize it in their practices. 

The local public health employees have done a great job to improve the health of their communities.  One group arrived today with their doctor, their nurse practitioner, and their psychologist!   The doctor, like many here in El Salvador, was trained in Cuba.

Yesterday, we had a patient who had been deported from the US.   She preferred to speak in English, and overflowed with stories of her troubled life and the difficult living conditions in El Salvador.   The young woman seems to have no place in this world.  She has no documents for the US, and none which allow her to work in El Salvador.   This lost soul spent time talking with us while waiting for her cryotherapy.  She seemed grateful to have someone listen to her.

Today, the services of the PINCC support team, i.e. non-medical volunteers, expanded to include child care.   One young mom came with her 2 year old who sobbed pitifully during her exam in the ante-room.   His body was tense with fear, and nothing could soothe him.   He finally calmed down when his mother rejoined him after her exam.  But his young mother was very nervous at the prospect of the cryo treatment that the doctors had recommended.  Another PINCC volunteer supported the mother until her turn for treatment came.  During her cryotherapy, the little boy sat quietly in the waiting room watching the scene.  People delivered lunches in huge baskets.  Stray dogs smelled the food and roamed the hall until shooed away.  Doctors and nurses rushed to treatment rooms discussing their cases.  Patients chatted while waiting their turns.  Most entertaining were the young children who drew with the colored pencils that one of the PINCC volunteers had brought.  Sitting next to my young charge, I also enjoyed the bustle of the clinic at midday.      

Patricia Spross

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

First day in Cacaopera El Salvador

Off to a smooth start on our first day in Cacaopera, El Salvador!  The town is in the poorest region of El Salvador, and the region most impacted by El Salvador's war.   The clinic's team was well- prepared for us, and the trainees eager to learn.   Veterans of 7 PINCC trips, Carol and Cheryl, were very impressed with how well organized everything was.  We saw 20 patients, which allowed us to unpack the PINCC suitcases and sort things out without pressure.   Salina, a medical student on our team, had the time to teach the patients some anatomy.   Although the patients were quiet during the talk, Salina had an impact because several women approached her afterwards with questions. 

As always, the patients were lovely, and grateful for the care.   Among the older women there were harrowing stories of war experiences.   One woman delivered her baby two months early when a bomb detonated a few yards from her home.   The baby survived, but the mother was left deaf for several years.   Another woman had worked as a nurse for wounded guerillas.    Another woman had beautiful green eyes, a rarity in this country, but not in her village.  There must have been a European ancestor who brought those genes to this remote region.   It is an honor and a wonder to hear these women's stories during the patient interview.

It is rainy season here.   We need to be vigilant about using the stinky mosquito cream.   Our hotel is high in the mountains, surrounded by clouds in the late afternoon.   What a joy to be here with such a wonderful team of women, in this forest full of colorful birds and tropical vegetation.   Tomorrow is another day of adventure; we expect to see 40 patients, so there will be lots of stories to share.

Patricia Spross

Saturday, June 7, 2014

photos from week in Pearl Lagoon

Captions for photos:
Top L: Volunteer Dr. Christine Newsom observing trainee Nurse Elcia Taylor with trainee Doctora Maria Ines Castilla behind. Decorations are up because of recent Mothers Day celebration.
Top R: Trainee Dr. Effie Fox (Clinic Director) using cryo-gun under observation by volunteer Dr. Nancy Reynolds.
Mid L: "Central-Supply" table with clinic specula, some donated by PINCC
Mid R: Cryo-gun and Nitrous Oxide Tank
Combined group of PINCC volunteers and five Pearl Lagoon trainees
Emergency Room interior
Emergency Room entrance

Pearl Lagoon, June 2014, Photos and text by Dr. Nancy Reynolds, Gynecologist

Today began with the news that one of our nurses' cousins had died in Managua. She was in her 30s and had been diagnosed a year ago on the first PINCC visit to Laguna de Perla. She left 4 children motherless. This sad news reminded us of the significance of our mission. 300,000 women are diagnosed annually with preventable cervical cancer worldwide. In my 35 year career in the U.S. I have diagnosed only 4-5 women. It is rare because we practice prevention.
The clinic and patients from a village, Orinoco, who came by panga today for cervical cancer screening.
Photographs of Nurse Elcia and  Doctor Maria Inez, that I worked with today.
A truck parked outside the clinic.
The cryo therapy unit was successfully repaired today so we treated 2 women with pre cancer.

Photos from Pearl Lagoon by Dr. Nancy Reynolds, Gynecologist

First day at work—7:30 til 4—curried shrimp and rice for lunch. Lots of bottled water. Hot sunny day outside. Inside AC when electricity was on. I worked with a Spanish speaking family practice doc—25 wks pregnant—Cuban trained. There are 4 docs here who went to Cuba at age 18 and trained for 10-15 years before coming home to Nicaragua.

Pearl Lagoon

This is the clinic in Pearl Lagoon and our Support Team (Sarah, Shana, Salena and Kate from left to right).

Friday, June 6, 2014

Last day in Pearl Shana Wetzler

Well, the last day has now officially come…Friday. What happened to the time, the two weeks of the trip? This time here has FLEW by!!

The work here have been long days; some with sunshine and heat, others are humid along with down-pours. Regardless of the weather, every day our group has strived to work hard; to teach the clinicians in Pearl Lagoon to maintain cervical cancer screening without PINCC returning; educating members of the society about cervical cancer; working in rooms filled with many women with limited air conditioning; keeping up with all the paperwork, computer work and medical records; cleaning and stocking each room. Everything in the past 2 weeks has made the experience here be a total thrill!!

The local 'Pearl Lagoon' folk, the PINCC crew and the staff at each hospital have been totally amazing! I will miss each and every person…it brings tears to my eyes to think that tomorrow I will fall asleep in a hotel room all alone somewhere in Houston awaiting a flight back home to Wyoming. I have become so close with everyone here that it will be heartbreaking to leave.

The simplicity of the lifestyle here in Nicaragua is one thing that I will miss more than I can say.  People tend to walk slower taking in the beautiful day, sunshine and life in general. Once the locals get to know you, they will smile as you pass with a simple greeting. Children are riding their bikes, playing baseball, and running around their houses with friends. One thing that I have noticed is that children here seem very happy and content. The mothers are very attentive and the older siblings are second hands to help tend to the youngsters.  

On a regular day I have noticed that horses wander down the dirt roads. Cows wander in the fields. Chickens roam around each house. Dogs lay in the sidewalks. Hummingbirds feast on the beautiful flowers growing all over. The 'farm lifestyle' is one thing I will miss the most. Children walk to school each day in groups, dressed in classy uniforms. White shirts, green bottoms, skirts for the girls and pants for the boys. All carrying backpacks…smiles greet us each day.

Our day ends with our group separating prior to dinner. Some go back to the room to rest, others socialize. We all reconvene for dinner at a local restaurant…changes each night. The late night walks back to the hotel have been exhilarating. Cool breeze and calm…a perfect way to end each day.  The power has only gone out a few times this week, but overall we have been sleeping in air conditioned rooms throughout the nights.

Even though it is a goodbye for some of us, the rest of the crew will be continuing on to El Salvador next week. I have heard so many great things about El Salvador and in some way…I'm slightly jealous I'm not going!! I can't wait to hear all of the stories of next week. It will be a great adventure and I wish everyone safe travels! Thank you again PINCC for a great learning and travel experience. One I will never forget!!


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Week 2 in Pearl Lagoon:Blog from Shana Wetzler

Well the second week has officially started!! The new crew is all settled into Pearl Lagoon-welcomed with a 'power outage' the first day. But so far, everyone is just wonderful! Sarah and I have 2 new running partners (Kate and Selena) for our morning runs prior to clinicals. This morning was a beautiful day to run, clear skies and a small breeze. Always a wonderful way to start off the day.

Coffee and breakfast to greet us after our run...always my favorite!
Today in Pearl Lagoon at the clinic, has been a little hectic. Although, as Carol will always say "its the first day, its supposed to be hectic!"

The staff here has been very helpful. Ellen (a nurse at Pearl Lagoon clinic), her mother made homemade 'PICO' a pastry filled with sugar and cinnamon...YUM!!!
The weather is beautiful with sunny days...leading to hot and humid-ness. Minimal rain yet so far since the week has started.

We have been seeing many returning patients that PINCC saw in the past 2 visits last year. The wait time for each patient is a little longer than last week, but we are working on our 'time factor'.
The lunches this week have been super delicious, homemade from a great cook named Warner, local man here.

So far so good on this second week!!!!


Friday, May 30, 2014

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Kukra Hill, Nicaragua, May 2014

By  Shana Wetzler, RN ICU/ER, Jackson Wyoming

"Welcome to Pearl Lagoon!" was the first thing that I heard stepping off the boat onto a deck full of men handing out their hands to offer assistance. All I could think of is…"where am I? This place is magical" I was a little nervous at first flying into Nicaragua, the first time since I've been out of the country in 3 years. Although, Carol, our leader, who has spent many years in this country, fluent in Spanish, yes pretty much a saint, reassured me this place was safe. That still didn't convince me and I definitely had worries coming from a small town in Wyoming.

I felt like I was walking aimlessly around the streets looking at all the greenery, palms trees, run-down buildings, brick roads and not to mention the natives staring at you with no smiles on their faces. When I offered a smile to them and said "hello" their facial expression immediately changed to a smile and offered a "hello" back.

We got to our hotel called the "Green Lodge" which was a gated little area. Professor Wesley was the first to greet us with open arms and a smile on his face.

"WELCOME TO OUR HOME. Thank you so much for coming". Bottled water was in our hands within seconds with a key to our rooms. What a welcoming gift, although I didn't realize I was dripping with sweat and cold water was heaven in my eyes. As we entered our rooms, the air-conditioning was the first to greet our tired and hot faces.

All I could think of is "This is WAY better than what I was expecting! Air conditioned rooms with beds, fresh water every morning, homemade breakfast from Wesley's wife. OK sweet, I do this for 2 weeks, no problem!" But there are definitely some things that we have taken for granted in the US such as; sunscreen to buy, internet access, consistent electricity and running water, a cold beverage with ice or fresh veggies (Carol has make it VERY clear not to drink the water here or eat fresh veggies). Mangos and pineapple on the other hand…are safe! YUM!

Sunday was our adventure day. We hopped onto a boat filled with the 15 of us from our PINCC group and a random extra engine lying on the floor of the boat. We headed out to the "Keys Islands", and within about 15min the boat stopped. Our boat driver was frantically working hard to 'fix' the broken engine. Within minutes he was asking to hand him the 'random extra engine'. Little did we know…this extra engine was not as strong as the first…so our quick boat ride ended up turning into a 2 hour boat ride to the Keys. He stopped at the first 'tiny' island because it was the closest and our crew was getting pretty anxious to get out of the boat at this point. This 'tiny' island may have had about 26 palm trees total…each one finding it battling to stay alive with the small amount of space given. The white sandy beaches and warm water calmed all our nerves the minute was stepped onto the island. Swimsuits were on and people were instantly in the water swimming. What a wonderful way to spend our first 'leisure' day in Central America.

Meanwhile…while our group was basking in the sun, eating fresh papaya and coconut, swimming…Carol, was hard at work in Kukrahill. Meeting with the hospital staff for our visit, setting up transportation for the week, making sure we were going to have lunch each day…hard at work. She greeted us back in Pearl Lagoon with a huge smile on her face saying "I have such great news". What a comforting thing to hear after spending a total of 4 hours on a boat, a few people getting seasick, and many of us with sunburns.

Instead of having to take a bus ride for 1 ½ hours, she set up a boat ride that would only take us 20 minutes. I laughed internally thinking…we just spent 4 hours on a boat, I'm sure some of the crew is not so thrilled about more boat adventures. Although, I was over excited! Not having to be on a bus for 1 ½ hours in the hot and humid weather…done and DONE! Thank you Carol!!

Each night Carol set up a spot to eat at a different restaurant. "I do this to help out the community, our business will feed their families for weeks" Carol would say. I will have to mention…this woman, Carol, whom I just met a few days ago…is one of the most positive, inspiring, organized and giving person I have ever met in my life. A smile on her face at all times and a reassuring statement to make any worried person feel at ease.

Monday, May 26

First day of clinicals in Kukrahill. We arrived on the boat to a dock in Kukrahill filled with beautiful colors painted all over. What a welcoming place! The ambulance was there to greet us and pack our large suitcases filled with equipment to the clinic. We arrived at the hospital around 8am. The waiting room was packed with women of all ages, children running around and men standing outside. I had no expectations walking into the hospital, but this was sure overwhelming. We all started scrambling to set up each exam room. Carol assigned 2 of us to each room to set up. I remember thinking as I was setting up the room…I have no idea what I'm doing! I hope I don't put something in the wrong place…I don't want to forget something…and what the heck is the VINEGAR for?!  I could see Carol and Sarah running around knowing what to do and where to go. Meanwhile, Christian, Lang and I were kind of dumbfounded. The physicians were all in the back room giving a lecture and class to the 'new trainees' about the procedures, instruments, etc.…

While the physicians are training, the rest of us volunteers and nurses from Kukrahill will interview all of the women. Questions range from; age, date of birth, medical history, history of family cancer, how many children they have, when was their last menstrual period, when they first had their menstrual period, if they have ever been abused physically or sexually, and many more questions. Once we get a nice stack of women interviewed, we will start placing the women in each exam room with one MD from PINCC with one or two trainees. The PINCC MDs will explain and instruct the cervical cancer screenings. Within a few patients, the trainees will then take over and have the MDs supervise.

It was a pretty hectic day with a lot of cervical cancer screenings being performed. Not only that, but myself and a few others felt extremely overwhelmed due to the massive amounts of 'Spanish speaking only' women here. It was a struggle because every time someone came up to the front desk to ask a question, I had no idea what they were asking. I then had to go find one of our bilingual volunteers to help me interpret. That was pretty frustrating, I sure wish I knew more Spanish!! We were expecting to start with 20 patients…that was until Carol came to us to let each of us know that there was a bus filled with 16 women from a different town who needed to be first priority to leave by 1 o'clock that day. Of course she had a smile on her face with no fear at all, how impressive. So we scrambled to get all the women seen by our lovely physicians before one o'clock that day.

At the end of each day the physicians take the trainees into the back room to for more teaching, also reviewing their day. The rest of us cleaned each room, entered patient data into the computer, cleaned up paper charts and organized for the next days to come. Whew! What a crazy day…and we all left the clinic smiling and happy to be in the sunshine. I personally was looking forward to the cool breeze on the 20 minute boat ride back to Pearl Lagoon.

There were a few things I remember Carol telling us before I came to Nicaragua:

"It may rain every single day so be prepared"

"The women here speak both English and Spanish"

"Don't bring a suitcase heavier than 25 pounds".

So far…the sun has been shining almost every day, with a few rain spouts here and there to cool things off. The women in Kukrahill mostly speak Spanish. AND my backpack only weighed 15 pounds!!

The nights here have been very relaxing. We all usually meet around 6pm to head to dinner. That gives us a few hours to cool off and separate from the group for a bit. A few nights some of us will relax on the patio looking out into the Bay and watching locals fish. Others go for walks or catch up with their children and family to hear about all of their adventures during the day.

So far this adventure has been wonderful! I came with zero expectations and…well my expectations have been exceeded. The local people here are extremely friendly; the land here is absolutely beautiful with lush greenery everywhere; the water is warm and clean to swim in; the food here is delicious-ranging from shrimp, white fish, chicken, plantains, beans, rice, and cooked veggies (mainly carrots and squash); and most of all, our group is FABULUOUS! We all get along and work together really well and to top it off, Carol is a wonderful leader. I am going to miss the crew that was here the first week, but also can't wait to meet the new crew coming next week! Thank you PINCC for letting me take this adventure to an amazing country with amazing people!!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Pix day 1 Hyderabad

Hyderabad day 1

Was so wonderful to see the expressions of happiness when the returning trainees greeted Leonie and Ginger. Roughly 10% of our VIA exams were abnormal and required treatment. The food and chai the hospital graciously served us was delicious. The outlying hospital is a gorgeous, sparking new facility with adequate ventilation and bathroom facilities. A great first day!

Carol M. Haubach, MD

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Nyabondo Photos, February 2014

By Austine Wanga, Clinical Officer

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Bungoma and Kibera, February 2 - 15, 2014

By Maureen McSherri, RN

I knew that I wanted to go back to East Africa. And I knew that I would want to spend time with the friends that I had made in both Uganda and Kenya the last time 1 ½ years ago. But I also knew, that as before, I wanted something to do that was more than just being a tourist. Previously I had volunteered as a nurse with Hospice Africa Uganda. A hospice started by a woman physician, Anne Merriman, 20 years ago when she was 58. She is still going strong and with assistance from USAID and private donors HAU continues to thrive. I had a wonderful experience with them. Learned a tremendous amount about the Ugandan people and probably even more about myself.

When I had returned from my last trip a mutual friend of Carol Cruickshank and mine gave me a card. It had PINCC in large letters and had Carol’s name and contact information. I had not seen Carol for many years and had only heard about her briefly through our friend so I had no idea what she was up to and certainly had never heard of PINCC before. So I did what we all do these days and got on line to investigate.

I was intrigued by the idea of working with an organization supported and coordinated by someone like Carol. I had always known her to be a compassionate and unselfish person who had spent much of her life in the service of others. I was also excited about the idea of working specifically with African women. As amazing and beautiful as East Africa is it is the people that draw me. My internet search lead me to a U tube video of women singing out their gratitude to PINCC as they stood waiting in line to be screened. That was the all it took and I decided that I would contact Carol right away to investigate becoming a volunteer.

Approximately 1 year later I met with my first PINCC group in Bungoma, Kenya. I had already been traveling for several weeks in Uganda visiting Hospice and seeing friends. I arrived a couple days early so had a chance to check out the town. Like many East African towns Bungoma was bustling with street life. Cars, matatus, boda bodas and what I call boda bikes (transport of people on a padded seat on the back of a bicycle). Window shopping is easy in East Africa because the clothing shops display their cloths on wire hangers that express the cultural appreciation for women being well rounded from the waste down.

Our hotel was peaceful with a friendly staff. I was touched when it was time to go that they genuinely seemed sorry to see us leave. And despite a few kinks in the plumbing, a few holes in the mosquito netting and that toilet paper was hard to come by, it was a pleasant place to stay.

But of course the highlight was what we all came for, saving women’s lives with cervical cancer screening. One of the things that attracted me to PINCC in particular was the fact that it isn't just a group that comes in, rescues Africans and then departs leaving them with a vague memory of the experience and no ongoing skills. PINCC teaches the screening itself, even providing supplies and sometimes expensive equipment such as cryotherapy and LEEP machines. I was also so impressed with the other volunteers. Doctors, nurses and support people who have not only spent the time and money to be here but do their work with grace and compassion. I watched the doctors patiently and gently teaching the many different personalities that made up the doctors, nurses and medical officers from each site who are all so eager to learn how to make cervical cancer screening available to the women in their country.

Our second site was Kibera, one of the largest slums in East Africa. Each morning we would trade our shoes for rubber boots to make the 20 minute or so walk to the clinic. It had been raining (and a downpour in Kenya is very impressive) which made the narrow passageways through the slum more difficult, as the last thing anyone wanted to do was slip and fall into the mud here. We also had to be mindful of our heads as low metal roof overhangs were abundant. But the walk and the emotional experience of Kibera itself were all worth it when we encountered the enthusiastic group of healthcare providers waiting for us.

I have to say, that as I had thought, it was the women themselves who impressed me the most. Many of them had never seen a health care provider before and certainly most of them had never undergone a pelvic exam. Many of them were truly frightened but they overcame their fears and came in numbers. My favorite job while volunteering was when I had the opportunity to teach about cervical cancer. Generally this was done with an interpreter. Often a woman herself waiting to be screened who spoke English. I also found it very rewarding to explain to a woman what to expect from the process of screening itself in hope of easing her fear. But despite everyone’s best effort at preparation there was still some fear and in this case a hand to hold and a soothing voice became the necessity of the moment.

Gently, firmly with humility and much grace, Carol, our fearless leader kept us all on track. It was such a great experience getting to work with this amazing woman. She was truly the conductor of the orchestra and there would have been no music without her.

Volunteering with PINCC will always be a highlight, not only in my career as a nurse, but my life in general. It was a profound and rewarding experience and I am forever grateful to all the courageous, compassionate PINCC volunteers that I worked with. It was a true honor to be counted among you. AND I will see you again!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

World Cancer Day in Nyabondo

It is appropriate that on National Cancer Day we are able to provide cervical cancer screening and training to the women of Nyabondo, in the region of the Luo tribe.  The overall rate of HIV in Kenya is 4%, but here the rate is 15%.  This is due to early age of intercourse (13-15 for girls), polygamy and poor nutrition.  5/6 women we interviewed yesterday were HIV positive, all of them on meds and appeared healthy.  Being HIV positive makes a woman much more likely to have cervical cancer, as her immune system is weaker and unable to protect her from the HPV virus that causes cervical cancer.  The program we are providing to teach medical personall how to perform the screening will be immensely helpful to the area woman as intervention can be provided early on in the disease process.  The 8 nurses/physicians that attended the lecture yesterday were very enthusiastic about the program and eager to learn.  They return today as we screen 15 more women and teach as we do the screenings.  

Getting here by car from Bogamo yesterday was an adventure - as are most trips in Kenya.  Part of the road was under construction and we were driving on a bumpy sideroad next to the very smooth, partially completed paved road.  Although we were not allowed to drive on the road, it was a perfect smooth pathway for the area cows, goats and motorcycles.  Our driver stopped in the middle of the congested, dusty road - or so I thought!  The car had just quit and couldn't be restarted.  A passing motorcyclist called his friend, a car mechanic , and brought him back to our car within 5 mins.  After taking apart the steering column, glove box and under the hood, he determined that we needed a new fuse. We found this in town, replaced the old fuse and were on our way in under an hour. During our delay I was able to get some great pictures of the passing traffic, both animal and human.  Not a wasted time at all.  

The woman that I have been working with this week are all incredibly interesting and well traveled.  Talking with them in the 4 hour car trip yesterday was much better than reading a book on public health and more informative.  I will miss them immensely by the end of the week, but hope to travel with them again in the future.  This program, PINCC, is so necessary both from the standpoint of the actual screening but also due to the education that we are providing to both the students and the patients.  

Friday, February 21, 2014

Tabitha pictures, February 2014

PINCC volunteers, Tabitha Staff and patient, Classroom teaching session.

Lauren Ayres, RN-BS-N, CCRN.

Kibera, Tabitha Clinic, February 10-14, 2014

By Lauren Ayres, RN


            PINCC volunteers arrived on the outskirts of Kibera at the offices of Carolina for Kibera on Monday morning, albeit later than expected because of the ever-unpredictable Nairobi traffic, ready to get to work. For some volunteers this was to be their first experience entering the slum they had only heard about in the various forms of popular media. Apprehension, excitement, curiosity, determination and many shades of emotions in between were apparent on the faces of the volunteers as we prepared to make our way through the narrow paths that would lead us to Tabitha Clinic. Along with donning our rubber boots we carefully forced straight and stoic faces while mentally preparing for what we had only heard about. The residents of Kibera were already in the midst of their day, easily traversing the somewhat treacherous terrain which we nervously (and very slowly) tread. I am happy to report there were no slips during our week of walking in and back out from the clinic despite the heavy rains that made this trek all the more daunting.

            Upon arrival to Tabitha Clinic, most of us were struck by the large concrete structure. How they managed to construct this massive building in the midst of small tin-roofed homes, open ditch sewage, millions of residents and muddy streets is a feat I will not even begin to contemplate. We were, as per usual, greeted with enthusiasm and hospitality that far exceeded our expectations. All the staff went well out of their way to be accommodating for the duration of the week, and yet every day I was amazed that this seemed effortlessly to be the case. We walk in and disrupt their routines and their staff roles, and they couldn’t be more welcoming to this ordered chaos. After a brief introduction of the team we would be working with throughout the week, we realized how much assistance we would have available. Community and peer health workers were in abundance and more than prepared to encourage the residents of Kibera to come in and be screened by the PINCC trainees. As we took a tour of this clinic it was a bit jarring to look around and see how well supplied it was. Tabitha Clinic is a CDC site and is also made possible by Carolina for Kibera. Therefore, it is resourced fairly adequately, particularly in comparison to some of the other sites PINCC visits. Since this was the second visit to Tabitha, we were going to try to use the supplies provided by the clinic as they were available. The clinic had their own cryotherapy equipment, but PINCC supplied the LEEP equipment in order to have this service available to clients throughout the week.

            For the majority of the trainees this was their first experience working with PINCC. We were all impressed by how quickly they learned and the enthusiasm in which they undertook the training. Many had never performed a speculum exam, and I can personally attest to the fact that by the middle of the second day they were patiently and competently teaching me. The learning that took place within this group was exceptional. Dually noted was the warmth and kindness that radiated from everyone in the clinic. From the clinical officer to the maintenance staff, every person I encountered was contentedly working towards helping this startlingly underserved community. The energy of that goal was palpable from the time we stepped foot in the clinic to the time we took our last steps out. I have not a shadow of a doubt that this is the attitude even when there are no witnesses. What a humbling and honorable experience to have the opportunity to work alongside this dedicated group of men and women.

            I couldn’t help but compare the experience at Tabitha Clinic with the experience from the previous week at Bungoma District Hospital. When first walking in Tabitha, it feels a bit closed off compared to the open and spread out layout we experienced in Bungoma. Our “nursing station” was a desk in the middle of the crowded waiting room. Among large numbers of waiting clients and screaming children getting their vaccinations, we began. Despite the lack of personal space and the crowded nature of this room, the volunteers and health workers tried to provide as much privacy as possible while interviewing clients. It was a difficult realization that the simple concept of privacy in these situations is somewhat futile. Asking personal questions and performing cervical examinations are usually tasks that are kept as dignified and as private as possible. However, our idea of patient privacy and confidentiality does not quite align with realistic possibility in Kenyan clinics. Still, we worked with what was available and tried to preserve patient privacy as much as was feasible. It’s just one aspect of the great learning curve we had the privilege of experiencing every day. We had five exam rooms; one of which served as a cryotherapy room and one that was used for LEEPs as needed. The rooms inside the clinic are about the size of a closet and have no source of light except for the natural light peeking through the windows. Conditions were tight, but everyone made the best of it and worked past the small discomforts with ease. Even when, on the first day, the skies opened up and the clinic was under several inches of water, everyone simply slipped on their boots without complaint and carried on with the tasks that needed to be completed before we were able to leave for the day.

            The patients we saw during the week spoke a variety of languages, primarily Kiswahili, Luo and English. We had printed materials in all three languages and the community health workers were able to assist with patients that had limited English. Despite the language barrier, the gratitude emanating from every client and staff member was palpable. I suppose some things traverse language, and spoken words become inadequate. Again, such an incredibly humbling and honorable week from start to finish. The patient population coming in for screening tended to be younger than I personally had anticipated. Typically, PINCC recommends screening only for women older than age 25. However, during our week at Tabitha we amended this standard. Because the majority of women are sexually active at an earlier age and a high percentage are HIV positive, the risk of cervical cancer is significant even for women in their late teens or early twenties. Education for these clients was vital and it was encouraging to see such proactive young women coming in to be screened. Despite the fact that the average life expectancy in Kibera is only mid-30’s, alongside the younger population there were also middle-aged women coming in to be screened for the first time. We detected varying degrees of dysplasia and were able to successfully treat many women of all ages.

            We had several cases throughout the week where we would have to turn women away for one heartbreaking reason or another. Once cervical cancer is detected, the services PINCC has the ability to provide become insufficient and the woman is encouraged to seek medical attention elsewhere. Sadly, the waiting lists are endless, resources few and financial assistance unavailable. Many women also come to the clinic in the hopes of finding an answer for their breast cancer or their neighbor’s progressing cervical cancer. Not looking for money, but simply for an answer. A pleading look, a desperate grasping of hands and the inevitable walk back out the door into the harsh reality. There is nothing. That is something I hope to never become accustomed to.

Throughout the week we saw anywhere from 30-55 patients a day, and performed several cryotherapies and LEEPs. As the trainees grew in their knowledge base and experience, our confidence in them increased exponentially. By the end of the week we were able to certify two trainees and both were present at PINCC’s first visit. The small number of certifications awarded is due to the fact that PINCC likes to have each learner perform a large number of exams in order to confidently certify someone in VIA. Needless to say this usually does not happen during the trainee’s first experience with PINCC. We encouraged all the trainees present during this visit to return upon PINCC’s third, and perhaps final, visit in September. Based on the skill level and educational development of the trainees, there is sure to be many more certifications earned upon PINCC’s next visit. As we prepared to leave, we were surprised by an impromptu performance by both the Kenyan Boys Choir and the Kenyan Girls Choir. They were incredible and it seemed a very fitting way to end our last day. As we put on our rubber boots to make our way out of Kibera slum for the last time, the energy among PINCC volunteers, Tabitha employees and Kibera residents was tangible. The Friday afternoon activities were in full swing: children out of school, food being prepared along the narrow streets, people going about their business as we inconspicuously left Tabitha, and Kibera, behind. It almost seemed as though nothing had changed since our arrival, and yet, for me, everything had.

Lauren Ayres, RN-BS-N, CCRN. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Kiambu 2014

Thursday is now behind us. Today we saw 46 people. The cryo gun was fixed on Wednesday and we have done a number of cryosurgeries and LEEPs. The electricity was out for a short time this morning but it didn't slow us down at all. Mike our driver helps to locate things(vinegar for tests, meat to practice LEEPs , unwitting papayas for us to practice biopsies on) and we have additional help from George a young man from Kibera with support work. The team has gelled really well and like my trips before with PINCC I always feel like I get more than I give. Carol and Sheila( the nurse guiding the program at the hospital ) help to keep the wheels on the bus and things running smoothly. Both answer our questions with a smile and search out what we and our patients need.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Kiambu February 2014

Hello All,
This is my first venture into the world of blogging so be patient. Things here in Kiambu are off to a great start! We have a interested group of learners which are mix of people from PINCCs first and second trips here. 
The team consists of Dr. Art Levit, Dr. Sharry Kreitlow, Dr. Harmony Schuttler, Dr. Sara Cochrane, Caitlyn Husar, and the glue holding us together Carol Cruikshank.
We have a number of patients who are HIV positive and we are working on teaching LEEP and are struggling a bit with the Cryotherapy machine but hope to have it up and running soon. This is not uncommon and if I were skilled at engineering I would design a hearty cryo machine that never broke down.
We are staying at the HeartLodge which is cozy and has internet when the electricity is up. This allows us to keep in touch with friends and family. Three of us are from Wisconsin and our families share how much snow and cold is back home. We may just stay here until April or May.
More to come as the week goes on.
Sharry Kreitlow

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Community Health Workers and PINCC Volunteers

The PINCC Team on the last day at Bungoma District Hospital (photo taken by Mike Muthama) and three wonderful Community Health Workers who came to help teach about prevention of cervical cancer as patients waited to be screened (and eventually to be screened themselves).

Bungoma Photos

Bungoma Photos and Blog by Dr. Monica Hahn and Lauren Ayres, RN, PINCC volunteers, February 2014.

Bungoma Photo, February 2014

Bungoma PINCC visit February 1 - 8, 2014

PINCC volunteers arrived in Bungoma and immediately fell in love with this beautiful city.  On our first day we were welcomed at the District Hospital with smiles and genuine Kenyan hospitality.  Everyone was very enthusiastic and eager to learn, or in some cases improve upon, the skills necessary to provide the community with cervical cancer screening, a great need in this community.

It was immediately apparent that Bungoma and the surrounding area is in desperate need of these services, as we found that the overwhelming majority of women screened during our visit had never been screened before. We were struck by how many middle aged and older women came to get screened for the very first time with us this week.  On the contrary, the large number of young women who wanted to be screened impressed us.  The program outreach and awareness the community had regarding the importance of cervical cancer prevention was encouraging. Many women from the vulnerable population clinic (CCC), including many HIV+ patients, were screened this week as well, which was a great opportunity to educate women about HPV and risk factors for cervical cancer. We also received referrals from surrounding towns for positive or questionable cervical exams. In addition to all of these patients, we were happy to screen all of our trainees as well as the community health workers who provided health education to patients as they waited to be screened. It truly was remarkable to see the volume and wide range of women who wanted to be screened with us this week.
In general, we were able to screen between 35-55 patients per day, perform approximately 5-7 cryotherapies per day and between 1-3 LEEPs per day.

By the end of our week of training, which included morning and afternoon didactics as well as in-clinic precepting, PINCC was able to certify 8 trainees in VIA and 2  trainees in cryotherapy. We were also very proud to certify Dr. Kubuasu, the only OB/GYN in Bungoma, in performing VIA, Cryo and LEEP.  As this was PINCC’s third and final visit to Bungoma, the focus was to encourage sustainability and assignment of roles within the healthcare team. We supported efficiency in the regulation of patient flow, promoted the utilization of their own equipment and resources, encouraged troubleshooting and overall management of the screening program independently.   PINCC volunteers were excited to take a step back and watch this site grow into self-sufficiency day by day.

We were also able to donate a LEEP machine to this site, as well as other essential equipment.  Bungoma District Hospital (BDH)  will now be able to provide cervical cancer screening along with treatment on-site and on the same visit if a lesion is identified. This will also enable BDH to accept referrals from outside hospitals and clinics that do not have the resources to provide cervical cancer screening or treatment options for their community. The nursing staff were very excited about their current plan to have the hospital serve as a main training hub in order to continue expanding these vital services to other outlying clinics and dispensaries.

            With new certifications and skilled staff, Bungoma District Hospital will now be able to provide these services every day of the week at their family planning clinic. We were pleased to educate all the women who came for screening about the new availability of this service. Cervical cancer screening services were in such high demand this week, that as we were finishing up our last exams the clinic was already accumulating a long waiting list for women who wanted screening. Therefore, the women we did not have time to see will be screened in the coming weeks by our newly certified and competent participants.

In the past week the trainees blew us all away with their dedication, effort and enthusiasm for learning about cervical cancer screening and treatment. It was so rewarding to watch as their confidence and skills improved each day.  From trainees who were learning VIA for the first time to the veteran nurses who have been practicing VIA for some time, everyone showed amazing progress in their abilities and made our whole team very proud. 

Outside of our time in the hospital, we volunteers had a blast taking walks around town, getting caught in the occasional rainstorm or power outage, chasing aggressive chickens away from our dinner table almost nightly, and treating ourselves to excessive amounts of pizza and chocolate to reward our hard work. 

We are very grateful to the PINCC volunteers who came before us and fostered such strong relationships with the trainees in Bungoma. All of our work combined has led us to complete what was started a year ago and we couldn’t have done it were it not for the strong foundation the groups before us had built. We have every confidence that the people of Bungoma will be well served by the dedicated and skilled staff we have trained over the past year. We also thank our amazing driver Mike and our lovely lodging host Dennis for their assistance throughout the week.  Every member of our team plays a vital role in PINCC’s mission to prevent cervical cancer.

Although this was the final visit, Bungoma will always hold a special place in our hearts.  As we leave for home or for our next PINCC training site, we leave with an overwhelming appreciation for all the trainees, patients, hospital staff and the wonderful people in Bungoma for what they have accomplished within their community.  Undoubtedly we learned as much from everyone as they learned from us. It was an irreplaceable trip for all of those involved and we couldn’t be more proud of the result.

Dr. Monica Hahn and Lauren Ayres, RN

Friday, January 31, 2014

Good-bye Cameroon...

Well, we have successfully finished two weeks of training in Cameroon!


Our week in Kumba (this was the second PINCC visit), resulted in certification of three practitioners, each from a different clinic. So, there are now three clinics in western Cameroon certified to do VIA: one in Doula and two in Kumba! In addition, the two clinics in Kumba are certified to do cryo, and one gynecologist at the large district hospital certified to do VIA, cryo, and LEEP... All due to the stunning persistence of Stella (the nurse who heads the Kumba clinic and invited us all), and the wonderful work of PINCC... It is gratifying and inspiring to be part of this work!

On the last night we heard the story of part of what motivated Stella. A few years ago, within 6-12 months, three nurses in the Kumba area died of cervical cancer; one was 38, one was 40, and one was 44 years old. A couple of years prior, a young HIV+ nurse had died of untreated cervical cancer. All of these young women healers dying was just too much to bear for Stella without trying to do something.

She contacted local hospitals, government officials, anyone she could think of who might help her get screening started. She found and completed on-line training that was available. She found PINCC on-line and wrote and wrote asking them to come to Cameroon, "and the rest is history".

Yesterday as we all said goodbye at the clinic there were many shining eyes... For our part we were mostly overcome with deep admiration for the local providers... I hope one of my team-mates will try to write about this admiration, as I feel completely unable to do it justice. But I will try with my life to honor them. I hug the memories close...

Beautiful women,
Committed, strong, smart women,
Brilliant smiles flash.

Travel Day:

This morning we left Kumba at 5am to drive to Doula. It was a morning filled with adventure. We stopped twice on the way to Doula, once for one of us to vomit on the roadside (I was particularly empathetic since this had been me just a few days prior), and once we stopped because the van had overheated. This time, when we were all unloaded, we saw steam billowing out all of the windows like a scene from a movie! But our driver Mr Azzis (sp?) refilled the radiator and all went well from there. The only other noteworthy event after that (by African standards) was a slightly lengthy stop to wait for a large herd of long horned cattle to cross a busy city intersection.

Having seen Carole, Ginger, and Dianna off at the airport (we hope they are safely in the air to Kenya now), the next adventure began... The plan was for we three remaining to be dropped at our hotel. After a while wandering the city it became clear that our fabulous Kumba driver had no idea how to get to our hotel, and wasn't having any success on the phone getting help with directions from the hotel clerk. After 20-30 minutes and two stops to ask directions, we realized we were approaching the airport again. It turns out his plan was to hire a motorcycle taxi to guide us to the hotel. Cooler heads prevailed, we made phone contact with the hotel's airport shuttmetrics happened to be arriving at the airport just at that time, met the shuttle and made the transfer, and are now cozily ensconced in our daytime hangout until we leave tonight to catch our 11:55pm flight. In hindsight, it was as if we had asked a taxi driver from San Luis Obispo to drop us off somewhere in SF! Ah well, poolside is a great place to develop equanimity. ;->

Peace and Blessings--

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Fwd: Photo 2

Fwd: Pincc gang

I am so proud of our group  today.  The work we began yesterday started gelling, and you could hear the learning happening.
We saw 40+ patients (4 docs proctoring, Ginger floating and everywhere at once, Carole as our fearless Leader, and Rebecca as our one-woman support team!), an abnormal lesion was found and cryo was performed, and the student Gynecologue demonstrated and taught the LEEP procedure (on some meat in an upended plastic cup).  The Chaplain is counseling interested women who admit to a history of DV/rape.
In my room so far, I am very impressed with my students. My one returning student has kept a good ledger and I am optimistic she will be certified this trip.  All three students are excellent clinicians.  Today we had several good clear SCJ's and two good Lugol's exams that gave us essential additional information.  On the suggestion of one of the other proctors, a couple of the students practiced drawing SCJ's from the pictures on the flashcards; the improvement was visible within 20 minutes!
And most of this is taking place in French!  Thanks the heavens that Ginger's French is fluent, and the rest of us are managing to get our ideas across just fine. In my case I am thankful for the miracle!
Tonight we returned to our Baptist Rest House tired but happy, to the usual gourmet repast: rice, vegetable, chicken and papaya for dessert.  Our cook, named Blessing (!), is a miracle of loving generosity who has already given me two great big hugs, and of whom we have already all grown very fond!
I can hear the cicadas and frogs in concert warming up outside... (the frogs sound HUGE! but they are probably tiny...)
Time to head to bed. Tomorrow is another day...

Monday, January 20, 2014

Cameroon greetings!

The PINCC crew arrived safely in Cameroon without much fanfare. We spent a day-or too -getting over jet lag and today had our first day of work at the Bethesda Mission Hospital.
the Hospital is a lovely little Oasis with well attended grounds and gracious staff.
Joseph, nurse anesthetist, and hospital administrator extraordinaire, had everything ready for us as he had a promised. The rooms had been emptied out and mainly set up, the patients were waiting for us and 12 trainees came ready to learn. Approximately 1/2 of the trainees were returning trainees. Two of them had travelled 2 days from the north of Cameroon to be with us.
truthfully , I think they were a bit disappointed that we were mainly a new crew. They send salutations to all the members from the last PINCC trip.

We got to work promptly at 8:00 and then Ginger Ruddy, our fearless French speaking medical director gave a lecture in perfect French and the rest of the volunteers got by with our rudimentary language skills. We saw about 25 pts the first day and nothing terrible or even bad happened. We were thrilled and the trainees seemed pleased too.

Eve Yalom. Ob Gyn

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