March 6, 2015
MOSQUITO BITE COUNT:
No new bites today. Maybe I’m not so tasty after all.
I’m not sure I can really make this a short story. It was just one of those days that was so overwhelmingly emotional that I needed a day to kind of gather my thoughts to finally write this post. We have a large team of nurses from Barton University visiting us (11 people) and so we’ve planned special activities for them while they are here. Yesterday’s events entailed visits to a low-income clinic and a public hospital. The clinic is run by nuns who use donations and lots of love to help destitute individuals to get cancer treatments, blood transfusions, and medication, among other things.
Where some medication would normally cost 1,000 pesos, they charge only 100. We got to visit a person who had just finished a chemo treatment. I felt terrible for this person who had just gone through something grueling and had 14 faces staring at her in wonderment. There are very few such low-income clinics in the DR and believe it or not, the one I visited yesterday, often has to give supplies to local hospitals.
Speaking of which, the hospital (apparently the best public hospital in Puerto Plata) was an unsightly encounter. People with an array of different ailments, are crammed into rooms that have little air circulation. In one room, a woman and child, who was born just hours before, lay in a bed with dirty sheets, the mother barely able to manage for herself. And across from them was a girl of 12 who had an IV in her arm and her eyes were rolling to the back of her head. At some point she came to and saw our large group standing over her bed. The poor thing was startled and looked slightly embarrassed about her state; her dress was up and she was wearing a diaper. Within seconds she passed out again. And just a few beds from her, I saw a girl who was probably no more than 16 hovering over a really tiny baby. I’m not sure what sickness the baby had but I have no doubt that girl was probably its mother. Having children at a young age is very commonplace here (but more on those sad affairs later).
By the time I left that room I thought was going to lose it. The combination of air filled with stale bodies and illness and seeing such young, helpless children hanging on to life encouraged a depression to loom over me for the rest of the visit. I was really fighting tears and the only reason I didn’t lose it was because the group had to keep moving to see more dreadful things.
Next, we travelled to the maternity ward. Thank goodness only the nursing students were allowed in. They witnessed a stillborn baby being born at 27 weeks and described him as having perfectly formed fingers, fingernails, facial features, toes, etc. Apparently the mother, a Haitian woman, had told the doctors she fell. But when they announced to her that her child was still born she shrugged her shoulders and said, “oh well.” Suspicions were definitely raised. I’m so grateful that I wasn’t allowed to go into that ward. Since I’m not in the medical practice, I’m sure it would have been too much for me to bear.
From there we continued to the ICU. In this area were a small handful of beds filled with men in terribly bad shape. The first guy, I was told, had mental health issues and had burned himself. Unfortunately, in the DR there isn’t any good support for mental health. I didn’t get to see the person in the bed next to him but the bed after that had a young guy suffering from a gun shot wound and the guy next to him was barely hanging on after being viciously stabbed.
While I am grateful that I got to experience that with the students, it was certainly hard for me to handle. The odd thing though is that inside the walls of that building I got to witness the fragility of life and people going through very dark situations yet while looking through the chain fences that lined many of the walls, I also saw such natural beauty outside. It was a contrast that left me very pensive for the rest of the day.
• Understanding and applying compassion. It’s so easy to get upset with these kids because they really do test your patience. I’m sure though, that if they were to speak their stories I’d have a completely different perspective. I may never get to hear their personal accounts of what they’ve been through but I can and should at least start with the understanding that each of them lives through very confusing and painful circumstances
• Trying to digest all that I saw at the clinic and hospital. I can use words to describe what I saw but there are no words to explain the emotions I struggled with
• Dealing with a returning sore throat, cough, and headache all while trying to give attention to 20 kids who are screaming and fighting. By the end of my workday yesterday, I was so zapped that I was shaking and passed out at 10
• Trying to quickly and gracefully respond to very personal and awkward questions that someone was asking me in front of a group of strangers. Not sure I’m happy with what I said though. You know when you replay a conversation over and over in your head and catch yourself talking out loud saying the answers you wish you would have said? Yep, me too
THINGS I LEARNED TODAY:
• That life is fragile and beautiful
• 10 pesos looks like a tooney
• Some traffic lights have a countdown that start at 90
WHAT I’M GRATEFUL FOR:
• My aunt’s words of encouragement and advice
• My mom’s suggestions
• Crazy Mike who’s the in your face kind of paparazzi guy. He’s a British expat who’s been around in the DR for several decades. After being a throat cancer survivor, you get to understand why he’s so silly. He lives every moment fully because he can and he’s a breath of fresh air.
• Getting the chance to hang out with the Barton university girls who speak English … yay!
• The Dominican kids who were convinced that I was 16 and the Barton girls who thought I was 22. Tee hee ☺
• Eating on the beach
• Dominican Pizza … I know, who would have thought! I’m lactose intolerant but so far so good
• Having fun with a few of the girls
• Being part of a small birthday celebration for one of the Haitian kids at the center
• The karaoke time that Mr Pollo and I had together on the way back home. It was seriously funny to hear me singing to bachata songs I didn’t even know
• Successfully getting into the house completely on my own. Otherwise, I would have had to wait outside with Gordo, the dog
Daddy, I just pray for healing over my body. I can’t do the work you want me to do here if I’m sick. Please also help me to learn the names of the children and to make good connections with them.
• Ideas to help heal a cough and sore throat and to get some energy?