My new 10-year old friend is Ismael. Ismael has been in the hosptial in San Cristobal for 8 days. His mother visits him once a day for about an hour. Otherwise he is here alone. For several days he shared a room of five beds with an older gentleman. If this hadn't occurred in such dire circumstances, it would have been cute to see how they cared for one another.
I think about my nephews at age 10 and can't imagine any of them being alone in a strange hospital day and night for over a week with no end in sight. Nor can I picture any of my siblings having to leave a small child in a hospital alone. The whole family suffers.
I am not a doctor; I do not know what is wrong with Ismael. It seems that he has a cut on his big toe that became infected to the point where he could not walk. It appears that he is receiving oral antibiotics. The toe is healing but ever so slowly. Today the IV was taken out of his arm. For him, that was the signal that he was going home. When I found him this morning, he was sitting on the edge of his bed with his coat on and his small bag packed. He was ready to go.
Unfortunately, when his parents came to visit, he found out that he would have to stay another 3 days. He was devastated and cried; it was one of the few times that I have seen tears. Though I had to leave before actually finding out, I believe that Ismael's mother had agreed to come back to spend the night with him. At least for one night he would be warm and feel safe. (There are other younger siblings at home.)
Ismael has little bags with his supplies with him on his bed. He has a juice box that he hasn't touched and a very small bag of chips. He has a partially used roll of toilet paper and likely a few clothes. It has been very cold at night. I keep taking a blanket off an empty bed in the room and giving it to him as a second blanket. In the morning, the blanket is back on the empty bed. I cannot imagine that he does not freeze overnight.
It seemed that no one was bathing him, and he appeared to be dirty so one morning I asked the cooks for some hot water and took a small dishpan to his room. I was shocked when I washed his face, his hands, his legs and his feet with a soapy cloth that the cloth came back clean. What appeared to be dirt was permanent. I repeated the gestures with the old man in the room. With tears in his eyes, he thanked God for this simple kindness.
While I was sitting with Ismael, his dinner came (it is a blessing to find a hospital where food is served to the patients and to waiting parents): Two tortillas and some vegetables in a corn soup base. I was amazed with this little boy. Before he would eat, he initiated two actions. First, he had to wash his hands. This little boy looked filthy all over, and he wanted to wash his hands. To do this, he had a little bag of water. I held a small basin and ran a bit of water over his hands as he rubbed them back and forth. Second, he prayed. It was only then that he would eat.
To add to the pain of loneliness, there is nothing to do in the hospital. At times he would sit by the "nurse's station" and watch a bit of TV with other children. To ease this boredom, we worked a few Suduko puzzles and played Block Drop on the computer, something that he had never used before. Then a few of us went to the little shops and found him some simple Superman coloring books and colored pencils. Carlos and Peter took turns coloring with him. They would ask him questions and he would freely answer. We also bought a blanket for the family, a red baseball cap for him and a bit of food. The night before last, we bought a Superman DVD and the old man, Ismael and a few of the team members watched with him. Hopefully his pain and loneliness were averted for short periods of time.
I must admit that I need to practice just sitting with the ill, perhaps holding a hand. It was much easier to buy things to distract the pain that to sit with Ismael for lengths of time with nothing. I was reminded of the 3 apostles who were asked to wait with Jesus at his time of agony in the garden. Waiting is this fashion is a very difficult kind of waiting.
I want to be clear that the persons in service at the hospital were doing the best that they could with little or no resources and very poor pay. I only experienced kindness toward the patients and cooperation among themselves. It must be a very draining ministry to see so much suffering and to be able to do so little. Please include all those associated with this hospital and village in your daily prayers.
Sr. Pam Buganski
Sr. Pam joined SewHope as our first American Project Coordinator in 2012