Sunday Feb 5 2012
Finally a minute to “catch-up”.
After a week in Naranjo, we returned to Flores last night and are now preparing for the next journey.
Sunday morning. It’s only 7AM but already I feel the little familiar simplicities that make me love it here. I ran down for a cup of coffee and he happily gives me a full “thermo” for only a dollar to bring to my room – oh happy day! With the roosters calling in the backround, the very same 11 year old girl is riding her bike through the island selling the local newspaper calling with that high pitched call “Nuestra Diario!!!” Today, she has her little sister with her who comes running happily to me when I indicate that I’ll buy one. I give her a little “tip” and she joyously skips back to her sister showing her little fortune!
Perhaps I say that every trip is the “best” one yet and this group is the “best” group yet but I’ll say it again! At the end of each day, we would look at each other with amazement wondering why our lives are not like this every day at home. Why are we able to display such constant love for each other and for those we meet in the midst of such great poverty? We rose every morning around 5:30 and gave every ounce of energy our bodies could muster until our eyes finally admitted defeat each night. Then refreshed and rejuvenated, we’d do it again the next day. No complaints, no self-seeking; only desperate efforts to make the next day even more meaningful and “productive” then the day before. The 5 of us came with our unique gifts and Ismael, Orfe and baby “Anita” led the way. Hard to believe there’s any group that could be led by 2 people with such kindness, wisdom and hearts as big as their’s. When I consider how we first came to know Ismael, our “bus driver” and his quiet, humble but very powerful wife, Orfelinda, I’m reminded that indeed the least can do the most. Sometimes I wonder if they are really people or just angels in disguise! Baby Anita is only 3 months old and yet, somehow, Orfe is able to keep her smiling and peaceful throughout the day while she interviews our patients, “sees” everything we need before we can even ask for it and somehow anticipates every need.
Our project?? Pretty phenomenal….somehow God sent ALL the right people as always. Yes, …..yes, we do have the 2 BEST medical students in the U.S with us….but how does a 72 year old woman with fairly serious health problems but with the knowledge to make all of this work have the faith to come on a project such as this? With 50 years of medical experience but more importantly HUMAN experience, Mani has been our lab director and “mom” all week!! In the midst of starting a fairly sophisticated lab, she installed a gourmet “kitchen”. The love that she puts into preparing the food (mind you she brought spices!) makes me feel that I am nourishing my soul and body with every bite. Without a doubt, she is an Indian version of my own mom and now I feel as though I have two! During the 25 years that I’ve been “doing” paps, never did I realize the painstaking effort, concentration and skill that goes into insuring that they are interpreted correctly. They never have the personal joy of hearing a patient thank them that their cancer was prevented but they take such pride in their work. We doctors can be so critical if results are not back immediately, if there’s any glitch in the system. How arrogant! After so many years, how wonderful to work side by side with the people who work behind the scenes with me every day. Our other lab technician, Lisa, gave up her vacation time and even a week of her masters degree classes to join us. Watching her and Mani furiously work to devise new techniques to overcome the environmental lab challenges of heat and humidity has been once again amazing (Ok….I know it’s the most overused word of the year!!). One of the highlights of the week was when Lisa ran over to my room with tears in her eyes saying “we have a high grade dysplasia”! She knew that that meant we could treat this 38 year old woman who would otherwise die of cancer in a few short years. She knew that our whole trip would have been worth it if only for this.
So far we’ve “seen” about 250 patients. Any of you who work with us know that we make a very special effort to never focus on numbers. “How many patients did you see?” is the common question when we get back….as though saying 1000 in a week would be anything better than a “human safari”! Can you imagine if you heard that your own doctor spent that little time with patients! Facing great cultural and language barriers, we struggle to make each “encounter” one that blesses each person in a meaningful way.
On Tuesday morning, we all lamented that this trip unfortunately had to be one where we need “numbers” since we are trying to get data in order to push a meaningful cervical cancer prevention project in Guatemala. But within an hour, as Lauren came to me with tears in her eyes to “present” a patient, we all realized that God puts those that he wants you to help directly in your path. And it is in those moments, we can choose to press on with our earthly goals or we can stop and realize that it is in those moments of sharing love that we can restore the brokenness of hearts and lives.
Lauren’s Spanish is pretty exceptional and so is her heart so in the midst of filling out our form and gathering our “data”, she was able to find out why this woman of age 40 looks like she is 80. She and her 10 children have been physically abused by her husband for many years. Her children have known such violence so it is no surprise that her teenage son had such anger within him that he raped a girl in his community. When the girl’s father discovered what happened, he went to their home and murdered the boy’s 2 year old sister in front of them all. Since then, the husband left this woman with all her children……no money…..only tortillas and beans. Did I hear that? Is that what she is really saying? We had Orfe come in so that we could be sure what we heard. Yes, it is true. That is why the life is gone from this woman and she is slowly dying of a “broken heart”. There are no police to call, no lawyers to engage. All we can do is our little bit. We cried and prayed together. We promised her that we will do what we can. What gives me a least a little comfort is knowing that indeed, Orfe will continue to see this woman. We can do a little bit…give their family the KAH food each day, perhaps sponsor one of her children for school. Who knows…..maybe she’ll have a garden next year or at least a little hope that someone cares and she is not alone.
The very next “patient” was 51 years old. All I had to do was say “How are you?” and she burst into tears. Nine children at home and her husband died of a brain tumor a few months ago. When I asked if he received any treatment, she laughed and said “Somos pobre” (We are poor). Without any further explanation I know that this means they had nowhere to turn. Perhaps there is a hospital in Guatemala City but how do you even get there without any money to get on a bus? Where would you stay? Who would care for your small children? So she watched her husband die in agony and now her young children have to scrounge to find little jobs that will bring in enough money to feed them. Go to school? Really? How would they do that? There is no “welfare” system, no health insurance, no one to turn to….only God. At our planning meetings, we always try to find ways to introduce good nutrition, clean water, education…..all the things that should be basic to human existence. But how do you do any of that in the midst of such stories?
So, as always we press on. Before every trip, I’m always overwhelmed and exhausted with all the preparation. But once I’m here, I somehow have so much peace within as I realize that it is really only with God that anything is possible. I often think of Paul’s words in Philipians “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength”. As we left Naranjo yesterday, Puja and I walked along the road. She and Lauren have been part of this effort since the first day Flori arrived in our clinic less than 2 years ago. We thought about how this story evolved. We thought back to the day that Flori came to our clinic, desperate and in agony. We thought about all the lives she touched both here and at home and that even though she in now gone, her soul lives on in this work and in this place. Our lab was actually set up in Flori’s sister’s house and many of the women we saw were only there because of her story. How many women will live to raise their children because of the courage of Flori? I will never, ever believe that God decided that she would die so tragically but I will believe that God gives us the grace to bring goodness from great sadness.