Monday, March 8, 2010

A broken leg and a long walk home.

One night recently I happened into the hospital when John Alden was in the ER attending a young boy who had most likely broken his leg falling out of a tree. The leg wasn’t really deformed, but had an ominous bump on it. John was kind enough to let me assist him with caring for the young lad. He was three and scared and his leg hurt like the dickens. He screamed out in pain whenever we touched his leg, which made getting an x-ray difficult. The x-ray confirmed the fracture, and that there was no “displacement” of the bone. Many times, I would act as the “diversion” trying to say or do funny things to take his mind off of his pain. Fortunately, he seemed to like my brand of humor and responded well to my attempts to distract him. John and I played around with several types of splints made of plaster of paris before finally finding a more modern fiberglas splint that setup more rapidly and more securely. Our job was to splint the leg for tonight and then the lad would see Dr. Jeff for a cast tomorrow. John taught me the very important trick of fitting the splint loosely to the “good leg” first so as to avoid most of the pain and then swooping in and splinting the broken leg quickly so as to greatly minimize the pain on the young man. We both got a good laugh out of everyone that came by and reminded us that we were, in fact, splinting the WRONG LEG. Even though we assured nurses and mom that we knew what we were doing, you could see the looks of doubt in their eyes. They were just sure that we had the wrong leg until finally, at the last minute, we splinted the right leg. John kept saying over and over again “Juan es loco” (John is crazy). I love John.
As we were finishing up, John explained to the parents that it would be best for the boy to stay in the hospital overnight for his comfort and then he could be seen early tomorrow by Dr. Jeff for a cast. The parents continued to look nervously at each other and I could tell that they weren’t “on-board” with the overnight stay for their son. As is customary here, there didn’t say anything, but I could tell that something was wrong. One of the Honduran nurse’s aides walked in who knew this couple very well and began to speak with them in the rapid, campensino (rural) Spanish. One way that I know that I’m getting better at Spanish is that I can catch a few words of what they are saying. I can’t by any means keep up with their conversation, but I can begin to get the idea of what they are saying. The nurse’s aide (Juana) began to explain to John that the lady had another child at home that was “on the breast” and that mom HAD to go home. Thus, she interceded for the young couple (yet another wonderful blessing of having Honduran staff that know the people here and understand their needs) and asked if they could take the boy home for tonight and then bring him back in the morning. John accepted the compromise, insisting that they promise to bring their son right back early in the morning for an appointment and a cast on the broken leg. It began to dawn on me that this couple was about to walk home, carrying the son who had just been through so much, for about 2 kilometers (about a mile and a half) in the dark. Have you ever carried someone or been carried by someone? What is the part of your body that “flops” around the most? Yep, your legs positively dangle as you are carried. I was thinking how hard life is here sometimes. These parents and this boy were about to go through a difficult half hour to get home for a short night and then would have to turn around and come back. What a nightmare. Of course, I took them home – but how many parents walked home with kids in this kind of condition or worse across the country tonight? How many parents sat in huts or tepees, or block houses with kids in much worse condition with nowhere to take their children to get help? My one simple act of taking them home and then picking them up in the morning made me feel good and it most certainly was a blessing to them, but it has a real “finger in the dyke” kind of feel to it. I guess that part of living here is beginning to understand what we don’t understand in the USA, how much pain and suffering the rest of the world deals with on a daily basis. How difficult and how raw life is for the majority of the population of the world. I think that if we understood this more clearly, we wouldn’t be quite so worried about how “broken” our own health care system is in the United States. At least we’d have some perspective with which to frame the current arguments about health care reform. I can tell you as an “outsider” looking in; we desperately need some perspective.
This is one long walk home that I was able to help with, but it feels like such a small cup from which to skim off the tiniest bit of suffering in even this region of the world. How many more parents had an even longer walk home tonight?
“God, I pray that you would be with all of those who are hurting tonight. Give us your perspective on hunger, pain, and suffering. Help us to understand the incredible blessings that you have bestowed on the United States of America and help us to understand that ‘to whom much is given, much is required.’ Amen.”

Friday, March 5, 2010

Don Clementino

There are days when living here just feels like you live in a dream land. You shake your head and say “how did we get so lucky?” The weather is perfect. Cool, tropical breezes balance the sunshine and then there are the star lit nights. Wow. Yesterday, I bought a string of fish from a local boy (about Ben’s age) out on the road. There were about 30 small (8”-10”) fish tied up with cabulla – the local string that is used for everything – around his handlebars. He was riding up and down the road – looking to sell his fish. I purchased them for about $5.00. I’m quite sure that I paid at least double what he was hoping to get for them, but I just didn’t feel like I could bargain with such a little kid; surely it would be taking advantage of him.  So, I preferred that he “take advantage” of me. With the fish in the back of the pickup I headed home to clean them up and get them in the freezer. We have an outside sink, so cleaning them up was easy enough – the boys had already “gutted” them and done the hard part of the cleaning. Our gardener Don Clementino* came over and joined me at the sink as we removed the heads from the fish and cleaned them up. Suddenly something amazing had happened. We had connected.
My family and I have lived in this house now since Thanksgiving (so about four months) and, as is the custom here, the house “came” with a Gardener already in place. My understanding is that he has worked here since the house was built around four years ago. He is 78 years old, about 4’10” tall and might weigh 95 pounds soaking wet with a blanket wrapped around him. He is the quietest, meekest, most soft spoken man you’ll ever meet. He bikes about 10km (6 miles) to work each day, across one river, and then walks up the very steep hill to get to our house. As a North American, I can tell you that it is very uncomfortable and a little embarrassing to have “employees” here where we live. Although it is customary for “gringos” (white folk) to employ a gardener and a housekeeper, it is very contrary to the North American mindset and at times, very uncomfortable. The double blessing here is this: we are blessed with a beautiful looking outside area around our house that is much safer for Benny to play in (short grass means no snakes) and a 78 year old man stays employed and can support his family. Words like “social security” and “retirement age” don’t exist here. All of this background to say that it is difficult to have employees around doing things that in the USA, we would do for ourselves. It feels rich and snooty and weird sometimes. So while Don Clementino is always kind, always eager to do anything that I ask of him, I have been very uncomfortable being his “boss”. I don’t really tell him what to do; I just ask him how he is and get his aspirin or cold medicine if he tells me he isn’t feeling well. When it is rainy, I put him in the truck and take him home. Every Friday I give him his pay and that is about it.
But now, here we were at the sink, both doing something that we knew how to do – cleaning fish. I’m not sure that Clementino or I will ever feel like we really know each other, but I’m so thankful for the opportunity to know him a little better. I’ll let you know how the fish turn out.

*”Don” is not his first name, the word Don here is a title that is given to married men. It is used mostly to denote respect give to “older people”. I say “older” very gently because the title “Don” is used with me sometimes and I can’t possibly be that old!