~~We leave the hospital at dusk today and the weather has turned cool and cloudy. The 30 minute ride back to our hotel’s town of Chicaman, usually filled with chatter and cheery voices is quiet and subdued. The team is pretty done in. We have equaled yesterday’s volume of patients and are told we have now seen more patients in 3 days than any other Faith In Practice team has seen in 5 days since the inception of the mobility clinics 5 years ago. We feel it. Yet, once again, we feel we have done what God has asked of us. We have all pitched in and cared for those who couldn’t find this kind of care otherwise.
We are struck by the emotions these patients’ conditions and their stalwart attitudes can produce in us. A 20-year-old young woman, Ramsey, was struck by a car and broke both her lower legs 5 months ago and had surgery performed locally to repair both fractures. The casts were removed 2 months later but she was given no instructions to rehabilitate her legs. She is in constant pain and her legs are swollen because she cannot move them. She is at our clinic for a wheelchair since her family can no longer carry her around in the plastic chair she is confined to all day. Our therapists, Sarah, Val and IRA descend on her and with him translators, Jesus and Ashley, are able to help Ramsey understand that if she is given a wheelchair she will never recover and will spend the next 50 years confined and dependent. They come up with a good plan and present a unified front to Ramsey for exercises she must begin to do. She understands there will be some discomfort as we stretch out joints and muscles that have been ´frozen ‘for months but it will be worth it. An hour and a half later she is not only standing for the first time in 4 months but is actually taking steps with a walker! She was so happy! Ease my way.
The Guatemalans are a wonderful people. They are they are kind and very respectful which makes them seem reserved until you can break the ice and get them to smile and laugh a little: you then realize what a light ‘hearted and engaging group they can be. Their They are diminutive, especially the Mayans from this area and further to the northeast. They wear their very best clothes to see the doctor; here that comprises beautifully colorful dresses and a wide belt they can rest on their heads who can optionally be wrapped around the waste. They prepare and get excited for their visit to our clinic for weeks and it is the topic of much discussion for several weeks after they return home. The bonds of love and devotion between family members and even amongst neighbors if incredibly strong. Parents and siblings will carry ill relatives around for years without complaining. You can rely on family members and even neighbors to take responsibility for dressing changes, getting the patient to return doctor´s visits or to follow up with appointments for surgery in towns many miles away. A woman seen today with her 23 year old developmentally challenged child said she stopped having children after having her because she knew she would have to devote the rest of her life to raising her. It never fails that patients and their families ask for hugs when departing the clinic and wish ´God Bless You and your family´. We are the lucky ones.
At almost 5 pm we are tired and ready to get back to the hotel and rest a bit. The 54th and last patient of the day turned out to be complex, however. A 17-year-old young man was made quadriplegic by an accident. The fatigue immediately fell away from us. Initially bedridden he developed pneumonia and a huge decubitus ulcer over his coccyx bone which was exposed. By some miracle he regained some function in his upper extremities and through the constant attention of his family his ulcer was nearly healed. His family could not afford a wheelchair but he was able to borrow one from a fellow villager which was ill-fitting and somewhat rusty. He came to our clinic in hopes of something better. The entire team rallied around him and worked on the most complicated chair so far. The 3 therapists, once again, collaborated to come up with a plan which required multiple revisions. Some of the changes required cannibalizing other chairs and equipment in the hospital and we were grateful for some of the donations Val was able to get from generous donors. Change after change was made until Val was content we had done all we could and the young man was comfortably seated in his new chair. He and his family were astonished at the effort and desire to ´make this just like we would for one of our relatives´ (one of the themes of the trip) and hugs were given out all around. The team lined both sides of the corridor and gave Hugo a round of applause and ´Dios, le bendiga¨(God Bless You) to the family
Unbelievably tomorrow is our last day – how we have been blessed.
By Dr. Joseph Austin