Definition: corny; lacking in freshness or effectiveness because of constant use or excessive repetition
expressed too often to be interesting or seem sincere
OK….I imagine if you’re reading this, then you are either:
a. Wondering if we’re still alive after an earthquake that devastated thousands of lives but one that we barely felt
b. A family member of someone in our group
c. Someone who is desperately hoping that this will not be one more TRITE BLOG intended to guilt out the world as we approach Thanksgiving.
It’s 3AM and though I’ve been “dormiendo como un bebé” (yes, they say “sleeping like a baby” even here in Guatemala) all month, I’m not tonight. You know how your eyes just pop open and as you pray that the morning light is about to shine, you see 2AM on the clock? And you know it’s not just a brief lapse in REM sleep. It’s a full blown “I can’t get that thought out of my head so I might as well just turn on the light and do something worthy of being awake at 2AM"!!!
So here I am writing this “blog”. OK….my first plea to myself was to PLEASE not sound trite……especially as we are coming up on Thanksgiving when we are bombarded with the tritest of trites. Anne, above all, do not start in on the “Be Thankful” litany. Please don’t start reminding yourself and everyone else that we all have too much, we are never grateful enough, the key to happiness is gratefulness, lack of gratefulness results in depression and lack of meaning in life and lack of giving yourself leads to all kinds of death and decay!!!!!
Of course, what hits me first is the utterly disgusting overuse of the word “blog”. Really….how can you not be trite if you’re writing in a “blog”? By it’s very nature, the word implies the ultimate “lack of freshness”. I’ve been struggling the last couple of weeks to write anything in here that sounds new, not completely overused and might even be worth staying awake for at 3AM. My usual litany of ranting against oppression and injustice seems even too much for me right now.
So…..what’s keeping me awake?…….a little girl named Genesis.
Because “we can’t be all things to all people”, I try hard in our little clinic to treat patients in the same way I treat them at home. That means limiting the patients to what I am trained to do and for me, that means no men and no children!! So I’m not sure why I broke my own rule and said “yes” when Orfe asked if a little girl could come in. All she told me (in Spanish of course) was that the girl had a condition called “Crystal Bones”. Hmmmm???? Crystal Bones? That sounds intriguing.
Here’s where the story gets very “Guatemalish”. I say yes…..Orfe calls the mom…..the mom calls a “tuk-tuk”…..the mom and the girl with Crystal Bones arrive in about 10 minutes.
So mom, me and the girl with Crystal Bones sit and chat. At first, mom seems fairly angry. Her brows are tight, she is rapidly speaking in Spanish and then she pulls out photos of her and some Gringa (American woman) and then a “Christian” book about finding God in Quadriplegics. At this point, I feel like I’m reading some Sherlock Holmes novel where you’re given all the clues at the beginning and if you’re really smart, you can figure who killed who.
And so, the story unfolds……the story that is keeping me up at 3AM and the story which is intended to NOT sound trite and only intended to share a little inspiration about “what it’s all about”.
“Genesis” is 6 years old and weighs 20 pounds. She was named after her disease. She had a normal birth but by 6 months old, she just wouldn’t grow and began breaking all her bones. Now at this point in the U.S., you would either be in jail for child abuse or you would have already been to the likes of Cleveland Clinic to find out that your child has a rare condition called Osteogenesis Imperfecta. There are varying degrees of severity of this problem but we’ll just talk about “Genesis” for now. They say she has “crystal bones” because her little body is pretty much like Waterford Crystal – you will fall in love with her within minutes because of the haunting, tranquil enormous eyes that fill most of her little face but if you touch her too roughly, she will break. Her little body is full of broken bones that are indeed painful – painful for me to look at. For 6 years, she has basically been carried and caressed by a mother whose missions it seems is to do nothing but love this little treasure. And what does love mean? Just watch this mother. Watch her frantically tell me the same story she has told over and over – desperately hoping that I won’t be one more “gawker” who listens politely and moves on. Watch her change the little girl’s clothes as if she was indeed washing precious crystal. Watch her literally cry after we gave her a few little items we thought would help. Watch the response of the little girl as she sits on her mom’s lap. I wondered if I had it in me to ever love that deeply, that selflessly…..
“Mira…” the mom says. Mira means “Look”. It is a word they use a lot here when they want to cut to the chase and get your attention. You can be sure this mom is tired of telling the story over and over and over. “Mira……she has Osteogenesis Imperfecta……she keeps breaking her bones……I’ve brought her everywhere…..I get no answers. But as if that didn’t get my attention enough, she then hits me with the story of the “Gringa Woman”. “Mira”! I have evidence!
So as she shows me photos of her in some fairly fancy Conference Room with some smiling American who looks about my age, I wonder what crime the evidence points to? The Gringa woman looks like a lot of Americans down here – an image I dread. An image I fight not to look like. An image of a “do-gooder” whom you suspect is there for a photo-op and an opportunity to have a feel-good week. The mom raises her voice and then shows me the book that this woman has written – a book filled with bible verses and a message of finding God in little suffering children. Then she tells me that this woman promised to help her get the money for an intravenous drug that might help the fractures – a drug which costs $1000 a month. But guess what? After the photo-op, the woman never called back. And here is the evidence. Here are the pictures! Now where is the money????
Hmmmmm…………..so, what was I to do now? At all costs, I did not want to be another Gringa woman!! So I frantically made some promises that I thought I could keep while I struggled to buy some time. Our Pediatrician could see them next month. I could talk to a Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon. We could get them an oral medication that might help. I printed out some helpful information in Spanish. We found some items that might make life a little easier (a school desk and a wheelchair) and of course, some Children’s books. At some point, the mom just started sobbing. Sobbing and sobbing. I didn’t need her to tell me why. I could read it in her eyes…..”I’m tired. Tired of watching my baby suffer. Tired of telling the same story and getting no answers. Tired of poverty. Tired of hoping against hope. Tired of people who act concerned but are long gone. “
Then the mom suddenly smiles when I asked her how Genesis does in school. Her eyes brighten up as she tells me that this little 20 pounder is number 1 in her class. She says “Genesis, show the doctor what you know. Recite a little prayer for her. Sing her a song.”
So attached is little Genesis’ Thanksgiving gift for you all. I’ve only known her for a few minutes but it was enough to keep me awake tonight. Her little body and little life and the unconditional, passionate love that her mom and her show is really what it’s all about, isn’t it. I guess you just take whatever situation you’re in and whatever trials you face and you keep fighting, you keep looking for hope, you keep getting angry when people fail you and ultimately, you look to find God in whatever way He shows himself to you. I hope I won’t be just some Gringa woman for her.
As I post these photos, I realize how far we have come. Years ago, upon returning from "short term medical mission trips", I was plagued with haunting questions and doubts about the purpose for and supposed accomplishments of the trip. Though others would complement me on my "sacrifice", I would lie awake wondering if we did more harm than good.
Pictures of desperate faces and far more desperate stories would float through my thoughts as I would attempt to re-aclimate back into my "normal" life. With every trip, I would become more aware of the hopelessness of what we were doing. Articles and books I read about issues in Global Health only confirmed what my soul was already telling me - great issues of poverty, injustice and oppression take more than "a little love" to resolve.
Five years ago, we talked about including lessons learned from the U.N.'s "Millenium Development Goals" in our plans to address these problems of massive poverty. In our prayers, we heard God telling us that we are not here to "help". We are here to share what each of us has and what each of us needs and that is just each other. As we look for ways to end the poverty in someone else's life, you soon realize that you are ending the poverty in your own life. Despair, hopelessness and loneliness are shared among rich and poor and it is indeed in "giving that we receive". It is in giving that we rid ourselves of those things.
These photos are a little glimpse into the ways we ARE giving of ourselves. Yes, there is a clinic. But there are schools where impacts are being made, communities that are dreaming realistic dreams and children that are receiving real nutrition.
And while we are at it, let's give recognition to people from Toledo, Ohio!!! Our country often laughs at our little city as one of the least attractive places to live - well I argue that it is a city with people with the biggest hearts and most loving souls!!
Look at a young man who is using his passion for global energy conservation to build a small energy efficient fish farm! His dream is to live here in Peten in a tent WITH the local people so that he can REALLY learn about their lives. He reminded us the other night at one of our evening chats about how we only have a glimmer of their struggles when we return to our hotels each evening. Look at a very popular hairdresser from Toledo who is lovingly teaching her skills to a very eager group of Mayan women who are searching for ways to raise their children out of oppression. During our trip preparation meetings, Gracie would often let tears flow as she talked about the people in her own life who brought her out of poverty and how she wanted to be given chances to do the same for others. She has surely done that this week!
Look at Tracy and Dina - our 2 fourth year medical students. Just 2 weeks ago, they were doing the usual med student "routine" - feeling worthless as they worked long hours while no one paid any attention to their efforts! Now, with a heavy load of responsibility, they realize the crucial role they play - not just in the health of a patient - but in the health of a world. They are faced head on with the reality that the gifts and education they have been blessed with are actually a call to repair the brokenness of this world.
Look at Annette - a physician who works with dying patients. As she had hoped, she has had the opportunity to see face to face the agony of a dying woman with no hospice, no pain control, no "nada". After just a week, she has been able to "feel" what no book could tell her. Now, she can return with the real knowledge that will enable her to help us make change.
And look at poor Dr. Anne! She thought she was an "Obstetrica". No, now she has to consult 70 year old books about parasites as she studies "poop" under a microscope - talking about being out of your comfort zone!!!
Look at Iris. Little did she realize when we asked her to be our translator that she would have to be the one to tell a mother that she would be leaving her children behind soon as she succumbs to the tragedy of a preventable disease called Cervical Cancer. We marveled at how she was able to say these words with such compassion and love. No University preparation could have taught her a better way to handle such a crucial moment.
And look at my husband! At our meeting, he said that his goal for this trip was to be a support to anyone who needed him. I think that is always his goal which makes me a very lucky wife! As I watched Iris sob as he left, I realized that he did indeed fulfill his goal.
And Sr. Pam - well just read her blogs and you will see how she is impacting lives every moment!
Last night, we drove back contemplating all we have seen while laughing hysterically at each other and our attempts to communicate in a different language and far different culture. We thank God for so much. I have left out big chunks and big stories......more to follow!