Hotel Paps – a story of comedy, tragedy and a really good outcome
I’ve been back from Guate now for 6 weeks but I was telling my friend a story of something incredible that happened while I was there and she said “you HAVE to tell everyone that story”. So here we are
“It was a typical day at” ……the clinic. Bumbling around in a sweat, I was trying to be a teacher to my 2 trusty med students while still keeping the patient flow moving. As I moved between rooms, our social worker, Orfe, came to tell me that the reporters from the television station were here to interview me. Seriously?? You’re kidding. She laughed and said I’d have no problem. In my Spanish?? You really think I’m even going to understand the questions?? And I have no make-up on. Bad enough to have a 58 year old face but one unmasked is even worse. And my hair! Really…my hair. Bangs were too long to wear as bangs but too short to pull back – a natural hair disaster which any women who has been there knows is a reason to hide much less appear on television.
So I said no. Then Orfe just laughed and said “Of course you’re going to do it. You have to. The people have to hear about what we are doing. Don’t you CARE about this??? OK….guilt always works with me.
So the TV crew set up their stuff and they put the camera seriously RIGHT IN my face!! Somehow I just pretended I was in the twilight zone and went on autopilot. They started asking about cervical cancer and I just went with it. I started thinking about all the tragedies I had seen..all the injustices…all the girls who had been raped at a young age or women who had been abused and as if that wasn’t enough now they were paying the price of having a disease inflicted upon them.
The TV guy seemed incredulous that I was pulling together the Spanish words and that I was getting a bit passionate about the whole thing. He asked “What can we do to prevent this?” So I thought quickly and said “Men need to stop cheating on their wives. Men need to stop having sex with very young girls. Women need to stand up for their rights. They need to demand access to basic health care.”
Anyway, they showed it on TV and they put it on facebook and I got more “likes” and ‘”shares” than I ever thought was possible for me –
So….next segment of the story.
The next morning Laura and I went for our 5 am run and when we came back, the hotel guy actually started talking to me. Before this, he was pretty much ignoring us. He smiled a lot and starting asking me about my run and how it went …I couldn’t understand why he was suddenly engaged. Then he says “I saw you on TV…it’s great what you all are doing” Wow! This was the closest I will ever come to celebrity status!!
So off we go to the clinic and then when we come back in the evening, this little young woman who works in the hotel comes up to me and says
Es possible que nosostros podemos hacer un pap? (Would it be possible for us to get a pap?”
So I think “of course” BUT how are we going to do it?? The clinic is about 20 minutes away by car and these poor little ladies have to work ALL day long.
So I say “do you want me to do the paps here?”
“Oh, that would outstanding”!!
Ok….so the next evening I will do the paps at the hotel.
We had a long day that day. We got back to the hotel and 8:30 PM and I was kind of pooped. I was hoping they forgot about it. We walked into the hotel and out of the corner of my eye I could see a tiny group of women way in the back almost hiding but clearly looking at me. But I was pooped and also kind of grimy. But I no sooner went up to my room than there was a knock at the door saying that the women were ready for their paps!
OK. Great. So me and my speculums, slides, spatulas, cytobrushes, and gloves went down to the lobby. And there were 8 women all really dressed up for the paps! You would have thought they were going to a prom. Many had 3 inch heals. All had really nice dresses and all looked beautiful.
I don’t know why but I was in a complete sweat. I really don’t know why. I do paps all the time. I guess it was just being in a hotel room and all of them treating me so nicely and all of them feeling that they had to dress up for this “special occasion”. It made me feel so small for some crazy reason.
So each one came in…they were so incredibly grateful and kind to me.
And I did each one but there was one that seemed like something was wrong. As I took the sample, the tissue on her cervix sloughed off. I have never seen that before in my 25 years of doing paps here. Hmmmmm. ……kind of weird.
So I told her to come to our clinic the next day which she did. And yes, I did a biopsy. And YES, the biopsy showed an early stage cancer.
Wow! Really! All because Orfe arranged to have a camera crew come to our clinic to interview a doctor who didn’t want to be interviewed and some woman had the courage to ask if she could invite her friends for paps and I said yes and on and on. Because of all those things, here was a 47 year old woman with absolutely no symptoms who just happened to have cancer. Wow! Do you call that coincidence? Do you call that a miracle? Do you call it God’s hand working through the love of others?
Well the story does not end here. When Orfe told her the diagnosis and that we could set her up for a curative hysterectomy, she went to her church and the pastor told her that only God could cure her. So she spent 40 days fasting and praying and staying within their church!! All during the time that I was working so hard to set her up for surgery.
But at the end of the 40 days, she did consent for treatment and ultimately yes, she had a hysterectomy. I think she is cured although only God knows for sure.
She is only person, only one life.
But how do you explain it?
If she gets to live another 10, 20, 30, 40 more years, the world will be changed in ways big and small. To her family, it will be enormous. Maybe in the world it will be enormous. Who knows?
I just know that it took a LOT of good people just doing the right things to make this story.