Help from above: Flying doctors buzz into Bahia Asuncion
December 5, 2002
When an airplane buzzes over Bahia Asuncion and lands on the dirt strip five miles out of town, the locals know to send out a vehicle for a pickup.
Bahia Asuncion, population 2,500, is located midway down Baja California’s Pacific side. It is connected to the world in some ways and not so much in others.
Lobster, abalone, satellite dishes, radio and the top ranked school system in Mexico are a foundation of pride and longevity in Bahia Asuncion. The absence of stop signs symbolizes a way of life in a town where rapid progress does not exist. The consistency of the low-latitude sunrise along with the turkey vultures perching on the radio towers at dusk, the Sunday Masses, the smell of chicken mole cooking at Tres Hermanos and the live Mexican music sounding through the town on a Saturday night enable a visitor to experience the vibes of Bahia Asuncion in a short period of time.
Juxtaposed against the hurried urbanized American pace, the members of the Flying Doctors (Los Medicos Voladores), a group of doctors and volunteers who travel to Mexico to provide medical help to the locals, received a gift of wondrous simplicity while extending one of medical services to locals.
Bob Horvath’s Beechcraft Baron and Rob Lober’s Twin Comanche arrived on Wednesday night equipped with a 10 volunteers that set up shop in the local clinic for two full days of chiropractic care and dental treatment for the locals of Asuncion.
Ricardo Guillen’s large duffels were packed with medical supplies that would get him through 25 appointments a day. That’s a lot of painkillers for frequent tooth extractions and treatment for those who were in the greatest need of care.
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Even though the pilot’s main job is to fly everyone safely to and from Mexico, their piloting roles become chameleon as they help meet the needs of a bustling clinic. Their mechanical minds come in handy while hooking up Ricardo’s 40-plus year-old suction machine out the window with wire off a nearby fence.
They “McGuiver” a candy holder container as the suction compartment with duct tape. In the meantime, Chiropractor Dave Renbarger sets up his table in a room that resembles a photo-developing center. Rob sets up an instrument sterilization station in another room.
By 9:30 a.m., the clinic was attracting a queue of all ages from abalone divers, truck drivers, animal preservationists, mothers and even demanding nuns.
Esther Bousquet, a mother of two and school teacher in Truckee, set up an appointment station in the front hall to organize all of the eager patients – a number big enough that not all of them will be treated due to time constraints.
Ricardo’s fluency in Spanish and capability to stay focused on people’s dental needs for 12 hours demonstrates the big heart of LMV volunteers.
Both he and Reno nurse, Joey O’Brien, pluck away the list without a moment to step out of the room for a breath of fresh air.
Laughter between Ricardo, Joey and an Abalone diver patient fill the stale room. “What’s so funny?” I asked while collecting the tools for sterilization. The language barrier creates a lot of unknowns for those who don’t speak Spanish. “He said that his tooth hurts so badly at night and not at all when he is deep sea diving. He said that he wishes he could sleep on the seafloor,” Ricardo said.
“No more tooth, no more pain.”
The diver smiles in the funny looking way one does with numbed lips.
In the meantime, Dave, with the help of Susan Bruno’s fluency, questions a woman’s level of back pain. She points to her neck and back while talking quickly. “She is sore from many years of taking care of her aging husband. She has to bathe him and do a lot of lifting. She is also telling me about her grandchildren. She has 34!” Susan sits on the floor eye to eye with this woman and motions with noises of what a chiropractic treatment feels and sounds like. “You have to breathe and relax!” As Dave performs a series of adjustments, she groans and laughs. Both Susan and Dave assist her to her feet. She smiles and does a little dance while exiting the room. A dental patient with gauze hanging out of their mouth exits the other less enthusiastically.
All of the meals for Los Voleras Medicos are of the home cooking type at Restaurant Tres Hermanos. The only hotel in town is next door and is a stone toss to the Pacific Ocean. A wonderfully warm woman cooks for us as if we are her children. She asks us at breakfast what we would like for lunch. At mid-day, chicken mole, octopus, macaroni salad, beans and rice amongst other tasty treats replenish us. The evening meal is on the lighter side while the frig full of beers assist in a jolly good time apr?s dinner. The full moon lured a few of us on a moonlight walk to the Pacific Ocean where numerous fishing boats were beached for the night. Though the hours in the clinic are long, we are energized mysteriously by the magic and by the gratification of helping others. The waves lull the hard worked crew to sleep.
In the early morning, a group meets in the darkness at the church in which is the most ornate building in town with stained glass windows of dolphins, the land, and the sea. For the month of October, the Rosary is honored in daily prayer where singers, a guitar player, women holding candles and a statue of Mary serenade the streets. Susan Bruno sings along every morning and is joined by Ricardo and myself for the last morning. We stroll along with the strumming of the guitar, comforted by the timeless sleep walk in a reality unlike our own. As the sun defines the faces of the warm-hearted locals, a welcoming feeling fills my soul with universal love.
At breakfast, we discuss our plan for our last day. “This is the toughest part of these trips,” says veteran Bob Horvath. “There will be the longest line at the clinic this evening. When the guy comes in on his horse from the hills with a toothache as we’re closing shop, it’s going to make you want to treat him along with the others.” The group discusses the common predicament. They want us to stay another day, yet we have gone through the entire supply of anesthesia. From past experience, Bob explains the need to have a rest day before returning to our busy lives in the U.S.
The next morning, our host, Fernando drives us to the airstrip. Dew on the planes and the desert floor act like a rain shower in a place that hasn’t had a drop in years. After sincere good-byes to our new friends, we fly across the Peninsula to Loreto for a day of fishing, kayaking, shopping, fish tacos and margaritas. LMV member Dennis Le Blanc from Truckee shows us the good life of retirement in Baja. The contrast of towns has already enticed us with its luxuries, while the remote village charm of Bahia Asuncion reminds us of the richness of simplicity.
The Flying Doctors (Los Medicos Voladores) is an organization that provides free health care to rural villages in Mexico and Equador. The informative Web site, flyingdocs.org will answer many of your questions about joining or you can call (800) 585-4LMV.
The High Sierra Chapter (Truckee/Reno Area) President Rob Lober can be reached at (775) 831-7908 or firstname.lastname@example.org to answer questions about upcoming meetings. It costs $35 to join LMV. You can simply make a donation to LMV PO Box 445, Los Gatos, CA 95031 or contact Helping.org.
The group needs physicians, RN’s, dentists, interpreters, pilots, optometrists and volunteers who can assist with organization and leadership skills.