Oakwood nurse spreads compassion, healing

Oakwood Nurse Maribeth Guys, RN, CPNP, said she had always felt the call to serve above and beyond her traditional role in healthcare.

Guys, along with her son, Nicholas, had that opportunity recently when she traveled to South Africa on a mission trip to bring medical care to an impoverished area of that country.

“It was one of the best things I’ve ever done,” said Guys, a Novi resident who works at the Oakwood Taylor Teen Health Center in Taylor. “I just loved it. It’s a whole different way of practicing medicine and nursing. It changes you.”

Guys had heard about the opportunity through Africa Christian Ministries. She had never been able to take part, however, until this year when she and her 21-year-old son—who is a senior at the University of Michigan, pursuing a career in medicine. Preparation for the 16-day trip took six months. The Guys’ committed in November and traveled with the group in May.

They landed in Durban, the largest city in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal and from there took a two-hour trip to the townships of eSikhawini and Ingwavuma where they would conduct five health clinics during their stay. Everyone had to bring along five suitcases—three of which were filled with medicines such as antibiotics, asthma medications, antifungals, and analgesics as well as eyeglasses and sunglasses. The medicines were donated, many of them came from Guys’ Oakwood colleagues. As they left the relatively prosperous city behind, they traveled over nearly impassible roads where cows, chickens and dogs roamed free to the dormitories that would be their temporary home.

“There was no comparison between Durban and where we were,” said Guys. “It was very remote. Some people didn’t have electricity; many didn’t have running water. We only had hot water sometimes, we frequently lost electricity; we slept in bunk beds—but it was still a luxury to us,” she added. 

The missionaries spent the first three days of the trip sorting medicine and preparing for the clinics. When Guys arrived at her first one, she said the site that greeted her was very humbling.

“People generally got in line the night before,” she said. “You would pull up and find, literally, a hundred people lined up just to see you. I took that responsibility very seriously. I was very moved by that.”

The group put on five clinics throughout the 16 day period. Guys said they treated more than 800 people and more than 300 of those were children. They administered to people with fungal, upper respiratory and skin infections, people who suffered from asthma and other allergies exacerbated by the dusty conditions, as well as many who suffered from abdominal pain due to parasites. For Guys, who works with children at the Oakwood Taylor Teen Health Center, helping the young people was particularly rewarding.

“For many of the children, it was the only physical exam they would get in a year,” she said.

Many of the adults suffered from the general fatigue that came from living in adverse conditions. Also, many had eye issues as a result of spending a lot time outdoors with no protection from the intense African sun.

“They were just sore and tired. They had to walk to get their water, or walk to get to any sort of jobs that they had,” Guys said.

The clinics were generally nine-hour days with 15 minute breaks to eat or use a restroom. That didn’t count the time heading to and from the clinics, as well as the chores before and after. Guys said they were drained every day.

Guys said that the experience was difficult and humbling and it served as a reminder to how fortunate we are. It was an eye-opening experience, she said, to find such poverty within a short drive from a major city.

“Two hours is nothing,” she said. “You wouldn’t expect to see something like that in 2014. It’s really another way of life and you forget how easy it is here. It gave me a tremendous perspective.”

Her son agreed.

“One thing in particular that I took away from the trip was an appreciation for the strong spirit displayed by so many of the people we cared for and got to know in South Africa,” he said. “Even while living and working in very difficult conditions, most everyone was happy, especially the children. That is something we at home should learn from.”

CUTLINE: Oakwood NUrse Maribeth Guys, RN, CPNP, and her son, Nicholas, a med student at the University of Michigan, served on a team that helped more than 800 people during a recent mission trip to Africa.