“Change the world by changing yourself. Heal the world by healing yourself. Find a need and fulfill it. Service is the greatest form of spiritual practice. Everybody can be great because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” -Martin Luther King

By Marsha Hartberg, NP-C

My heart was moved by this quote of Martin Luther King. I had the opportunity to act on these words when in October of 2019, I journeyed to Antigua Guatemala to partake in a volunteer service. Janet Hendrickson’s non profit organization,“People & Pets Project,” offered me a chance to serve the indigenous people in the small town community of Alotenango, Guatemala. The mission was to serve both humans and animals in a clinic setting–“Serving both ends of the leash.”

I had recently retired from a 42 year nursing career, specializing as a Nurse Practitioner in Obstetrics and Gynecology. During the two day medical clinic, I provided physical evaluation for vaginal symptoms, urinary problems and cervical cancer screening through a new technique called visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA). This procedure alleviated the need for cytology interpretation, which is generally not available in this rural area; in addition, eliminating this laboratory step allowed for immediate diagnosis and referral. Not all patients needed physical exams, but clinical inquiries regarding menstrual irregularities, birth control and remedies for common pregnancy complaints were addressed by my team, with Guatemalan nursing students participating as well.

Being non-Spanish speaking, I was gifted with a wonderful interpreter, Beverly. She had the interpretive skills to talk as fast in Spanish as I could converse in English. It literally was like having a Spanish echo in the room. She was instinctively kind and with a big heart for the population we were serving.

My most memorable patient was a small, defeated appearing, indigenous woman in her 50’s—a mother of six children and in a long unhappy marriage. A lengthy discussion ensued about her unhappiness, depression, family and marital stress. In tears, she confessed a failed attempt at suicide. We listened, contemplated, and came up with a plan. We arranged for her to follow up at a mental health clinic. The following day she reappeared at the clinic door. I hardly recognized her as her countenance was no longer dark and defeated but bright and clear. She came over to me, embraced me, then she stepped back and looked up at me and said, “Tranquila” (tranquil). It was my turn to shed a few tears. The gratitude I received from this experience changed me. It reminded me of how a seemingly small gesture can make a significant impact in someone’s life. I will continue to seek out opportunities to serve. I thank “People & Pets Project” for facilitating this greatest form of spiritual practice.

“Healthcare for Both Ends of the Leash” will be in Guatemala from June 24-28!  We are taking the months of July and August off and will return to holding our clinics in Middle Georgia in September. Have a great summer!