To say it was a good, successful week seems so trite; to describe our "successes" seems so insufficient. Here are some of the moments that mattered.
Flori's family had a huge fiesta for us to thank us for all the love of so many people here in the U.S. When they first asked me to go, I almost didn't because I felt obligated to continue working in the clinic. To think I almost passed up this opportunity to see what true family love, support, and wealth in the midst of poverty means! They asked me to take a photo with the 4 "gallinas" (chickens) that they had slain in my honor! They only eat these about twice a year. Flori's mom tearfully sent thanks to my mom for caring for her daughter as if she were her own. Her mom spent the afternoon serving us all, making sure we had enough and scrubbing dishes. As we said grace, I wept thinking about the day that Flori was in the Neuro ICU having seizures. I remember calling her family telling them that she might never make it back. They never chastized me or laid any blame or asked what we could do differently . They merely thanked me for all we had done for someone who was a stranger to us. I sat with Flori's older brother and he asked me why I had become a doctor and why I continue to travel to Guatemala. The question took me by surprise and reminded me of what you're often asked in med school interviews! Hmmmm......"I want to help people" surely sounds ridiculous! I laughed and said "No se! (I don't know). God sent us here!" I started thinking about it. My impulse was to say that I hate injustice and I cry when I see the pain that people endure in this land of poverty and that there's something in me that wants to make it better. But I don't really think that's the whole truth. The answer to that question became clear to me this week. It's because I want to "know" God and meet Him here all the time.
I met Him in a filthy yard next to a home of extreme poverty. Ismael brought us there because he wanted us to meet one of the families that receives the KAH food. As we walked back to their home, I saw lots of large puddles of standing water that were attracting malaria ridden flies. The public health books tell us to "eliminate standing water". How do you do that in a place with no money, no engineers, no resources and torrential downpours every afternoon?? The mom of the family welcomed us as if we were long lost cousins! She displayed a flash of joy when I was introduced as the director of the organization that sends the food. I felt so embarrassed getting any credit for the work of so many others. She proudly showed us the open fire in her home while the smoke made my eyes burn. When I suggested that she might like us to help put in a "chiminera" (chimney), she wasn't so sure she wanted one. Flori's mom doesn't want one either! Flori's sister, Ana, told me that it's because she thinks the people don't care about their health but I don't think so. I see the panic in their eyes when they hear Flori's story and their terror when their baby has a cold that they know might turn to pneumonia and kill their most loved one. I think they have just become used to having nothing and feeling hopeless about any change. She then showed us the 6x8 foot room that sleeps the 8 people in her family. As we left, we met 4 of her children. One was a 3 year old boy who was unable to walk, lift his arms or his head. Polio, cerebral palsy, a fall, a birth injury??? No one knows. His skinny 9 year-old sister happily carries him around all day. When we asked her if she goes to school, she smiled and said she can't too often because she has to take care of him. "Do you cook?", we asked. "Oh yes, tortillas!" Yet, there was no look of self-pity or sadness in her face - just delight that we were chatting with her. They were all strangely looking at my blue eyes! We took their photo which they giggled at and told us they hoped we'd meet again. Maybe we can get them a stroller or mosquito bed nets. The needs are so endless ......
I often see God in our patients in the clinic. A beautiful 28 year old paraplegiac woman came in a wheelchair. She has had polio since 18 months of age. She lives with her mom and has a 10 year old son (not sure how that happened!). She seemed embarrassed having to ask to be lifted to the exam table which Ismael did in his usual gentle, kind manner. She had been told she had an ovaran cyst and wanted an ultrasound to see if it was true. When I did the ultrasound and told her it wasn't, she beamed and exclaimed "Now I can get married and have another baby if God is willing!" In addition to not being able to use her legs, she has minimal use of her right arm and is blind in one eye. Yet, she left with a happiness and trust in God that I rarely witness in my office here. Her 13 year old cousin then pushed her home on a bumpy dirt road for 2 hours!
One pregnant woman was having an ultrasound and pointed out to me that wasps were busy building a nest on the wood beam above us. After my initial panic, they assured me that they wouldn't bother us and it was a sign of good luck! What hard workers those bees are! You should see what they accomplished in a few hours! Can you imagine seeing such a thing during your doctor visit??!
Throughout the week, we felt a little tired from the long days. Yet, there was always time for reflection, for prayer and for acknowlegment of the powerful God who can heal all things. Puja and I often looked at each other in peaceful amazement as we witnessed little miracles that we so rarely see at home. When I wrote to our friends at home asking for sponsors for the school children, I received 8 in the first day! Working here also gives me so many opportunities to see the goodness of so many people in our own country.
We ended the week thanking God for all His revelations and asking Him to open and close the doors that lead to the paths of goodness and healing.