story and photos by Bobby Anderson, Staff Writer
The state of Guerrero, Mexico is a juxtaposition of two worlds.
The resort city of Acapulco, backed by the Sierra Madre Del Sur mountains spills into the Pacific Ocean.
Cliff divers entertain throngs of sunbathing tourists daily plunging some 136 feet into the crashing waves below.
But travel a few miles in any direction and you run the risk of becoming entangled in the violence and death associated with what you might expect from Mexico’s heroin capital.
Oklahoma Heart Hospital RN Shawn Watts walked that fine line a few weeks ago, going on a medical mission trip that provided help and hope for hundreds of families.
Watts realized the world is a very different place outside the walls of Oklahoma Heart Hospital South.
An outdoor covered basketball court served as the mission trip’s staging ground surrounded by a dense urban population eager to seek medical care.
Watts served as triage nurse sending patients to either a dentist, optometrist, pharmacist, family practice doctor or pediatrician based on their needs.
“They’re so worry about their kids staying healthy they wanted their kids to get vitamin shots and even antibiotics when it wasn’t appropriate,” Watts said.
At OHH all Watts has to do is walk into a supply room to get whatever he needs to take care of patients.
“They gave me a box of IV catheters, tubing and medication,” Watts said. “It’s field medicine. That’s exactly what it is.”
Fifteen minutes away was storied Acapulco.
“You hear that and think ‘Oh, how nice.’ It’s not,” Watts said. “In Mexico they develop a resort community and you go two miles beyond and it’s gone. That whole culture is gone. You have true Mexico. They have chickens hanging for sale gutted in the streets. They burn their trash in the streets at night.
“Fish are laying out all day long for sale not even iced in the market. You drive whatever direction you want to. It’s just the culture.”
So Watts assumed when he arrived he’d bunk up in a corner in someone’s house on the floor.
Little did he know he would find a resort hotel room for $43 a night.
People from all over would line up early in the morning to catch the clinic as it opened. Some rushed out the door without even taking their morning medication.
“I would check their blood pressure and it would be 180/110,” said Watts, who traveled with the medical-based Fishers of Men. “We couldn’t tell if their medicine was working for them.”
Multivitamin IV solutions, or banana bags, flowed freely for most of the day as the group did what it could for whomever showed up.
Despite residents not always having access to medical care or the medicines they needed, Watts said the culture had a few things working for it.
“You have no choice but cardiac health there because everything was uphill and you walk to everything,” Watts said. “These little old ladies their blood pressure was well controlled just on basic medicines. They didn’t use medications like we do. They used medicines that were more basic, been around for years and didn’t require monitoring afterwards. Long-term they weren’t the best but they were the most practical for that area.”
Diabetes, malnourishment and dehydration were all issues.
In the hot Mexico sunshine, Watts would go through 6-7 bottles of water daily with no access to a restroom.
“We left there at 6 p.m. and we all went to the restroom after that,” Watts said.
The days flowed for Watts.
“I triaged them so fast that I made the doctors and the dentists mad because I set up extra lines,” Watts laughed. “I had a couple CNAs with me and we did blood pressure, scales, temperatures, measurement. I started slotting them so fast the director of the mission board said ‘You come back. You organize. You’re good. You get everything done. You come back.’”
That’s no surprise. ER, ICU and now CCU at Oklahoma Heart Hospital have been Watts’ sandbox for the past 17 years.
His first calling was in applied ministry as a youth minister in an inner city.
He started doing home health on the side.
“It flowed,” Watts said. “I became an aide and did home health for four years and went to nursing school and worked three jobs during that.”
He would go to class for three hours and see patients on his lunch break before repeating the cycle in the afternoon.
“I love it. It just fits,” Watts said. “I’ve tried to slow down and thought about an office job since I’m 50. I just don’t have the gears for it.”
That’s a good thing not only for the people of Oklahoma City but the residents of Guerrero as well.