Category Archives: travel

Guatemala: Final Day 5

Here is the final installment of Linux in a Guatemalan hospital. You can read the entire account here. I’ve been home from Antigua just a few hours and have my faithful Chihuahua Cindy asleep in my lap. I sit in a cluttered spare bedroom that I call LinuxMedNews World Headquarters because of the hilarity of just this one little news site with no budget attempting to shape events of something so large as medicine. I think back to the events of the last two days at Hermano Pedro hospital, beginning with Sunday morning.

I braced myself for Sunday’s surgery triage at Hermano Pedro which I remembered to be a frenetic chaos with approximately 100 people arriving to get scheduled for an operation. Today was no different. I spotted several children with cleft lips in the crowd and various other ailments before pushing through to the triage area. The triage area now held the resurrected computer Mateo and the good soldier Lucas.

Two of the newly arrived volunteers where working the machines. There was a tense moment when Mateo wouldn’t accept keyboard input as the lines of people formed. Instant relief occurred when it was found that the keyboard had merely become unplugged. The day passed swiftly and we where able to finish scheduling by about 5:00pm. Faith In Practice Director Vera Wiatt noted that with the two machines working in tandem things had gone smoothly.

Finally! All the work over the last year was actually resulting in something useful. I breathed a sigh of relief and moved on to get another machine (Marco) working in the Bodega which is the spanish word for supply storage. Marco will become more important as time goes on since inventory data will be entered and submitted to Faith In Practice for the acquisition of needed supplies.
The day ended with the timelessness that is Sunday afternoon.

Walking home I passed one of the religious processions unique to Antigua that are both majestic and mysterious. The processions consist of wooden floats of lifelike biblical figures voluntarily carried on the shoulders of Antigua’s citizens. After dinner I proceeded to the convent that I was staying in and got to bed early for the first time in days.

I awoke the next day and packed my bags for the trip home. My last duties consisted of protecting the machines with voltage regulators and UPS as well as contracting with a local computer supplier, Jorge Guillermo, to trouble shoot in my absence. I finished speaking with Jorge at 9:30am, then jumped into a car for a short drive to pick up some leather boots that I had ordered 3 days before. I retrieved the beautiful just made coffee colored boots in a little town called Pastores which many nickname ‘boot town’ because of the number of boot stores there. After trying them on and finding them a good fit, I hustled back to the hospital to shoot a little videotape tour of the computer network for future volunteers that have never been to Hermano Pedro. It was now 11:00am. My flight left at 1:30pm and I still had to drive to Guatemala City. There were several hurried goodbye’s, I jumped into the tour bus to get to the airport and I was on-board the flight five minutes to takeoff time, breathing hard.

Things had gone smoothly. Last year was more difficult because we were starting with nothing. Now there was a something, no matter how broken. One casualty occurred which was the recognition that Linux on the desktop isn’t there yet or at least the acceptance of Linux on the desktop isn’t there yet. Further that it will take Linux longer than I thought to get there because of the relative lack of business applications. Just about everyone has a passing knowledge of Windows applications. For Linux to succed this means that it will have to basically clone the Windows applications and user interface.

But aside from the technical aspects, Antigua teaches many lessons because it is a city of generations. Superimposing Antiguan history onto clinical computing, one can conjecture that this is the time of the Conquistadors. The open source
computing projects that are being undertaken now will be seen as the beginning of history to future generations for we are at the start of a
very long journey towards a future medical landscape.

But free and open source medical software is like the sheer impossibility of Antigua. Antigua is a city built on an earthquake fault line, built in the shadows of volcanoes and has been abandoned as the capital city only to be re-discovered years later as a colonial treasure. It is apparent that the possibility of achieving true success by making reality widely used, good clinical computing software is low. History says it always has been. But life is always an embracing of the impossible or else it truly isn’t lived. Out of impossibility and chaos beauty can result.

Antigua endures and so shall free and open source software because it belongs to generations.