Thursday, May 05, 2005

Forsaken Commodities,Gringos and Progress

The weather has been sweltering combined with the humidity and all the dust I feel like there is crud an inch thick all over me. To top it off we were with out water for two days because someone broke into the line and stole the water. It's a big problem, not just with the water but also with the land. People come and just put up a shack. Literally, they clear a little grass, throw up a few boards and dig a whole for the outhouse and boom....your only retaliation is to shoot them. Squatters have taken over half of the plantation over the past 20 years. Obviously the 7th day Adventists doesn’t shoot them. That's part of the reason they have armed guards. I don't know how they got the water back and I don't want to know. As for the bugs it's been hell the past few days. The rain quit and they have decided to party, again I think they like me the most.....ah let's get the gringo! Seriously, I was standing outside my room minding my own business watching the children play soccer (they use the bushes as their goal posts....quite resourceful) when all of sudden I thought my legs were on fire! I looked down and there were a thousand ants on my shoes and then they begun gnawing on my legs. I had long pants on and socks but that didn't stop anything, they bit through the socks and crawled up my legs. I was trying not to make a big seen in front of everyone (can you picture that a stupid gringo jumping up and down and squealing like a stuck pick trying strip off her pants! I had to take one for the country) so I tried to bite my tongue and squash em under my pants as I ran to the room. By the time I was able to get the damn things off me, my legs were badly swollen and I didn't feel well all night. The following night I had just snuggled into my cot with the dog at my bedside completely exhausted when out of the blue the dog freaked out, yelping and running about, then he jumped through my bug screen and rolled around my bed still yelping as if he were just shot. I grabbed for the lights in time to see another one of those tarantulas crawling up the wall. This one was bigger and the eyes glowed red against the light. Disgusting. I started throwing match boxes at it cause that's all I could find. It crawled in the wall. Now I had turned on all the lights so naturally the night bees don't care that I'm trying to save me and the dog for the giant spider so they come swarming. Well I was pissed and I started swatting them with a shoe in each know who one that wasn't me. I was miserable again and I had no water to cool the stings. The dog wouldn't sleep in the room anymore and I spent half an hour trying to repair my bug net. Okay enough about bugs I'm just plain sick of them. I'm not so worried about exterminating my house in Rochester anymore cause there are enough bugs here to suffice for the whole world! There are good things here. I was running the other day and came upon a giant lake! I didn't realize how close we are to the only lake in Honduras. It is not at sea level but at 2,300 feet and it is beautiful. The area is so green and there is absolutely no development on the lake shore, it is just raw fields. There are a few Hotels (one of them actually a 4 star...sort of) located a ways back which capitalize on the view only. I was quite impressed. So maybe a few people wouldn't mind doing a little outreach here after all! Other cool things...You can buy fresh coconuts and pineapples on the side of the road also. Most importantly the children are innately so lovable. They expect nothing and are happy with anything. They want hugs and smiles. They love to try to say English words and they have learned to laugh in world full of uncertainty, insecurity, broken promises, cruelty, unfairness and countless other atrocities. When I hold their hand their eyes sparkle for those moments, just as though they feel they are the center of the universe. My heart melts like butter. It is a feeling all the money in the world can't buy and it's worth every cotton picking bug bite I'll ever receive. Sometimes I feel badly that I'll have to leave them. They have just started really opening up to me. They don't have a concept of time and haven't realized that Jenny and I will not be here forever. The older ones do they have been through this before and are more hardened, but the little ones don't seem to. The last few mornings 7 of the children age 8-12 have been meeting me at 5:45 am to run. We do about 25 minutes single file down the road. The dog follows up the rear and it’s a really rewarding time. The little girl in the wheel chair (Isadora) is pulling to a stand now if I hold down my hands for her she will grab them and pull up. She also says hands and feet in Spanish. It's wonderful really! As for the doors still mysteriously there are no keys to be found and as for the clinic we are going to paint it this week. Mom, just wanted to tell you that I bought you 30 little foam beds for mother's day. I figure you don't have a great need them at the moment so we are going to borrow them here for a while. Thanks! Love to all and more later!

Mother's Day

Happy Mother's day! Mother's day here is a very big deal. They had a little production at the main school on Friday Night in Pina Blanco to celebrate the coming day. The kids did cute skits and parents were supposed to come. "Supposed" is the big word here, there were only a handful of parents there which seemed rather odd until the preacher got up and gave a 45 minute sermon in which (granted it was in Spanish but...) from what I could make out and what Jenny translated he was promoting more children, woman's place in the home (cleaning and cooking) and how much of a privilege that is. Now I might go along with the privilege to be a parent thing but the rest...I don't think so. This may have been known in advance and that's why only 5 parents showed up. At noon the men cook a big meal and they try to have meat. Woman still clean up, then the men go get drunk! The kids have off of school tomorrow also. Now I can't generalize it to all of Honduras but that's the way it's done here in Pina Blanca.

I have to say I was asked to par-take in the celebration at the superintendent’s home. He's the one in charge of the day to day runnings at the orphanage from the mechanical/physical side of things. When I walked in to their home the first thing I saw was a giant set of bull horns with cowboy hats hanging off of them accompanied by the sound of Elvis in the back ground singing country. In the mean time he asked me if I could look at his new son's umbilical cord so I said okay. Well they had just delivered a new boy 9 pounds a few hours ago and she was sent home already. They don't fool around here. You go in to the adult hospital after your water breaks and you leave as soon as you can stand. I suppose at the rate they are having children here the hospital would be full all the time and there would be no one home to cook if they had to stay 24 hours. Sorry for the sarcasm.

So I passed the lice test so far no critters but I'm still itching my head all the bloomin time and I started loosing my hair today because I've been scrubbing it twice a day. At this rate I won't have to cut it, it will all just fall out.

Speaking of I get pretty nervous here at night with everyone and their uncle carrying riffles and the drug trafficking that goes on at night compounded by the fact that I was told directly not to go out after dark. So I solved my problem and actually got a full night sleep! I brought "Rotan" in to sleep with me. He's a stray dog that hangs around orphanage. Yep he has fleas but what the hell I've got every other insect why not a few fleas. No I didn't let him on the bed....I do have limits.

Progress report on the clinic: We finally got it all cleaned up and all the crap out there. We mopped the floors and washed off all the furniture. The people here are pretty superstitious, none of them would help clean the room that the boy with AIDS died in a few weeks ago. I walked right in and started cleaning to try and show them it's okay. They just stared at me. People are really complaining that we threw out the termite and worm infested books as well. I drug a bunch of the muchachos down to take out the three termite nests. Really gross! Then we sprayed again with the diesel fuel and now it actually may be "move in able". I went back today to give it one more mob job with Clorox but someone stole my bucket. I think they thought if they steal the bucket I won't make them work:) oh and just so you know Sunday is regular work day here so I wasn't breaking any labor laws!

We made an unfortunate discovery today and will need to discuss the best way to handle it with Steven the director when he gets back. I was wondering about and noticed a small set of stairs. Oh course I went up them and found three locked felt kind of like one of those "choose your own adventure books" where you get to pick what to do next and then it sends you to some random page number that tells what happened.
When none of them would open I started to think of other ways to figure out what was behind them. You might say why not ask someone...because know one knows nothing here, if you get my drift. Jenny and I are constantly be sent from person to person for every little thing, a lot like trying to get through to someone from AT&T when you keep getting sent to a choose a number menu that ultimately brings you back to the number you called in the first place. Any who...back to the doors. Well because the place is termite infested I was able to peer through a few convenient holes on door number 1 and a gap in the wood panel in door number 2. I could not see a thing behind door number 3 because it was new. I actually was able to see boxes of clothes and blankets behind the first 2 doors. I cant' tell how old they are but peering through my little hole I don't think they are years of build up. I smell a rat. So I will have to keep you posted because the owner comes back next week and one the other family members comes back tomorrow. I have a feeling the office manager ( a separate person I haven't spoken of yet) may be hiding stuff up there. I'm nearly certain the owners don't know. Cause they just paid someone to make some clothes for the kids.

On the more medical side of things, we treated a bunch of people today but as is always the case word got around Jenny and I were here and a lot of wealthier people started showing up. We can't afford to treat them free when they are capable of paying and we aren't set up to be charging money. So we turned a bunch of non-emergent ailments away and told them to go the doctor that lives in town and charges 400 lempiros per consult...that's about 20 dollars.

A young man brought his son who had been a healthy 4 year old with apparently a great laugh that has been neurologically devastated for the past year secondary to meningitis. He wanted to leave him at the orphanage because he has 5 other children. Upon examining him we found good things and bad things. The bad was contractures in the upper arms and he has pneumonia. The good is he actually had decent strength in his legs, no lice and no scabies. We unfortunately had to turn the child away. We talked about it for almost an hour, the best approach. We felt that although it was hard for them he was actually not to bad off. He was clean and fed. If we took him he wouldn't be treated well by the staff because they don't take the time or care very much for the children they don't like. We are already having trouble getting them to care for our other developmentally delayed child. We felt sure the family wouldn't come back for him if we took him even just until the pneumonia was treated. And he needed physical therapy because he could walk if someone worked with him. That's what I'm doing with the little girl we have now. She's gonna walk I think but I have to work with her all the time. It is a bit of a foreign concept here. Children are kind of disposable. If they don't work right they just write them off. Now we didn't turn him out in the cold. There is a nurse in town who volunteered to get him to San Pedro where they can put him in an rehab program 3x a week. We gave them the medicine and a group of doctors from Virginia are going to help pay the cost of rehab. (the doctors from Virginia found him originally in a town 2-3 hours away and thought he'd be best at our little facility). Now I can't guarantee that the family wont starve him to death, but I also know he wouldn't do well here right now. Jenny who will be here long after I'm gone felt pretty strongly against keeping him. We think that because he looks so good right now the family probably doesn't have the heart to starve him and the physical therapy 3 times a week will keep him connected to a bigger medical facility then what we have.

Okay I could go on for hours, but it's dark now and I want to get home straight away.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

3rd Post Sleepless and Starving

The days run together. Still not sleeping much going on 5 days now and it is starting to get to me. The food is scarce here and that's not helping much either. Imagine standing blindfold at the rear-end of a jet airplane when it's gearing up for take off....that's what it sounds like in my room as the rain falls hard on my little rusted tin roof at night. It's been raining every night and intermittently during the days. That's why they call it the "rainy season"! My room is pitch black at night. I tried to sleep with the lights on to keep the cockroaches away (as many of you suggested) but then I was swarmed with night bees. They come first one and then the next until there are so many with their buzzing so loud it sounds like they will eat you alive. I opted for the silent roaches and I don't get up till daylight even if I think I might wet the bed!
A disturbing occurrence yesterday, still not settled well with my stomach, I reached for my suitcase in the morning, sitting on the extra bed, covered with dead bees and suddenly out popped the giant spider, it had found a home under my suitcase! Unfortunately for him my suitcase broke his legs. Now trust me I was not analyzing the legs I was screaming my head off it scared me so much. I ran outside as if the thing could fly, and looked for help but alas there was no one. For those of you who know me well you know I don't kill spiders. Now I was in a let it suffer or to kill it, thankfully though I think it died while I was deciding so I swept it out the door. When Jenny came by I showed it to her and she said "that's not a cane spider it’s a tarantula, bite yah they will and leave a big rotten hole" in her Jamaican English accent.
Enough with the bug thing which is an on going war...sorry got carried away there.

As for the lice and the children....well I ran the oil thing by the women who tend to the children, and the Vaseline, and the mayonnaise, but they would have none of it. We had trouble even getting them to let us cut their matted hair short. Jenny and I finally pulled the doctor card and told them it was medically necessary in order to put the medicine on them. Now, what medicine you ask.....well let me tell you.

We drove to San Pedro Sula down the mountain over the pot holes and through a mudslide. (With all the rain a huge mudslide closed the road for a bit, they opened the road but the mud kept falling till it no longer supported the water main and that collapsed leaving the towns down stream with out water). When we got to San Pedro Sula we went to the pharmacy and told him we had no money but we needed medicine for the children we were caring for, could he please give us some on credit. He agreed quite willingly and proceeded to fill our little wish list. We will worry about how to pay him later. The work Dr. Youngberg has done over the past 40 or so years has really been respected by the people who knew him and they support the plantation as much as they can.

A little about San Pedro Sula: It's a big city crammed into an area the size of Butler. (for those who haven't had the good fortune of visiting Butler it's about the size of a pimple on the butt of an elephant). They have fast food joints (actually they tote the largest KFC in the world complete with a life size statue of Colonel Sanders at the door...much of the chicken for KFC comes from Honduras I've been told), there are 3 giant supermarkets complete with armed guards in the parking lot and guarding the water. Water is a big deal here. Not much clean water anywhere. If you don't keep your gate closed on the driveway (everyone with a home has these big iron gates) people on the street will come asking for water. This happens more in the mountains than the city so I'm told. San Pedro is not short on shoe stores and the gas is 3 dollars a gallon. They have several butane engines here...kind of cool and environmental.
People drive insane!

Okay back to the lice story. So now we have the medicine but we can't treat them if we're not going to clean the bedding. Ah the bedding.....It consists of little foam mattresses and make shift blankets 2ft by 3ft, nestled in little cubicles built of plywood that sit up on tables (better than the floor! right?). The grown children have little cots like mine. Well, the women say it takes three days to dry the foam and the children will have nothing to sleep on. So I said fine we will buy new foam and start over so we have 2 beds for each child that way you wash one and have the other clean and ready. Okay that's great but what about the blankets...well we can't afford to buy them blankets so we'll have to make due with sewing together old clothes. Everyone agreed and we asked a man in town who was going back to San Pedro to get the foam. Several hours later he came back with out foam. It was $120. We had scraped together 50$. But a beautiful thing happened. When you’re doing your part the Lord does his! A bus load of Gringo's from Utah showed up out of the blue with bags of clothes and blankets new and donated by Wal-Mart. (okay for those of you who know me I still hate walmart but maybe there's a place in my house for a toothbrush or two from them). We didn't know they were coming and it was late like 7pm. They were Mormon dentists who were just passing through not even staying over night! it was kind of funny I heard all this commotion outside.... gringo this and gringo that, I thought they were still pissed about the hair thing so I peaked outside and I see this guy in scrubs running through the jungle out back totally lost. Long story short I took him to where the kids were sleeping and found this whole bus load of good meaning folks hugging the children and carrying them around, giving them toys. I barely had the heart to tell them they better delouse, de-scabby and de-worm before getting back to the states.

Ever feel like you were trying to move a mountain with your big toe? Getting people to make change around here is just like that. The people who run this plantation do a good job considering all the obstacles. It is no small feet to feed forty families with barely any income. Unfortunately the people have no hope and minimal education so they don't have aspirations. They are happy to do a little work for a little rice and beans. They don't want to a lot of work to earn a steak with a side of fries. If you know what I mean. Just as cutting the hair was huge, so huge one mother came and took her child, sick with asthma, back home because she was told we were going to cut his hair. (If you’re confused we also serve as a children's hospital to Pina Blanco.) So in trying to clean the clinic it's been rough going.

One quick funny story before I go, first there are no rest stops on the highway so people just go on the side of the this lady from the kitchen was telling me how she had to pee so bad on the way back from San Pedro last week that they pulled off the side of the road. Her husband came over and was trying to hide her "bonkie" and she kept yelling "no no ...No one knows my bonkie hide my face"! I had to chuckle

Until tomorrow......

Ps thanks for the emails and the advice!

Monday, May 02, 2005

Day Two Where Do I Start

I began the day yesterday sleep deprived, disoriented and clueless! The rain stopped briefly and the bugs were surprisingly not so thick. What the day would hold seemed exciting initially but quickly it was squelched by reality. Jenny is the Mexican physician that has donated some of her time to help her brother; he is the superintendent here at the orphanage. We met at 8:45 am in front of the office. The first item on the agenda was setting up a clinic. There were three options:
1)a room attached to the orphanage that was just outside the toilet rooms, it smelled like a barn, more like fresh manure, as they have the children use little fake toilets and just hose them out after breakfast right onto the floor. It was a small room about the size of a large walk in closet.
2)a house that is relatively clean but only 2 rooms and someone lives there already.
3) The old clinic (circa 1942)abandoned since about 1998. Sounds promising right? Well we arrived at the doorstep first needing to cross the yard, which contained a large obstacle called a bus! Not just any bus but a rusted machine with flat tires that resembled a bus and was home to their dental office. It came complete with a dentist chair and multiple rusted instruments, a washbasin and moldy partial dentures. I could see into the front room of the clinic through the walls. You see there were giant holes in the walls made from rot and termites. As we entered the smell was stale and it was disgusting. There was shit everywhere! Medicine drapes tools, catheters, braces just left in rotten boxes strewn all over from previous missions. There was evidence of a once thriving clinic complete with old exam tables and instruments used in the 50's and 60's. The Doctor had a personal library that was extensive but extinct and as I thumbed through some of the pages it was like stepping back in time. May add that I also learned the definition of bookworm. Most of the books had intricate holes in them through and through which contained occasional live species and multiple eggs. Termites had infested the entire building and all of its possessions. There were literally two-foot mounds in multiple areas where the bugs were nesting. The rafters completely infested and there was a giant mosquito mound in the gynelogic room it looked like a 50 lb bag of sand grit dumped in pile.
Jenny and I agreed that although the condition was sub optimal at least it felt like a clinic. Jenny left to go to town and I stood there for several minutes overwhelmed. This would not be the first time, I know. I kept hearing my mom's story of when we moved into the farmhouse. It too was dilapidated. Her and Aunt Phyllis stood thinking the same thoughts. "where do I start?” my mom said and aunt Phyllis replied, "right here" and she handed her a rag. They soon made pigsty into a beautiful home. I am not hoping for a beautiful home but I am hoping for a clean and organized environment. So I picked up a broom and began in the corner. I cleaned for three hours alone and was disgusted on a regular basis by my findings. At 12:30 Jenny came back and we both got little boost from knowing we were not alone. We went and rallied some of the kids and pretty soon the adults came and by 4:00 we had cleaned out so much junk and crap you could actually see the floor.
We finished the throwing away part today and now we are trying to get exterminating chemicals (diesel fuel) to kill the termites and fumigate the joint. I will have to keep you posted.
On a lighter note (believe me there is none)I met the children for the first time yesterday. From a distance they were so cute and tiny. There are about forty. They have little uniforms made of Mickey Mouse material. As I got closer though I began to notice lots of things. These children although smiling were plagued with various swellings and rashes and crooked bones. There hair matted with lice and boils. They instantly clang to me, a new face with loving arms. They were trusting. I fought back the tears so as not to make them feel ashamed.
That was yesterday.
I spent the evening trying to come up with remedies for lice and scabies that would be affordable and obtainable. Vinegar and soap may be all I can do for now. The story is much more heart rendering but I haven't time nor do you for the rest.
Today Jenny and I made a list of all we need to treat the children and I spent a long time on email trying to contact MAP international for more aide.
We were summoned by a young child to come to her home. Her mother was ill with some lung problem and she had a history of TB but was "treated" by the Honduran Health Dept. We arrived in the small stone hut which had a kitchen and three rooms all together separated by dividers of wood thatching. A woman lay there huffing and puffing not able to say much due to her extreme shortness of breath. She handed us some scribble and a few pills. She had in fact been treated for TB but not surprisingly she was under treated. They only gave her 2 medicines for 3 months instead of 4 medicines for 10 weeks and 6 mos more of double therapy.
Now she most certainly has resistant TB. She is only maybe 50 pounds and I can not help her. I gave her some inhalers and we place an IV through which we gave her vitamins and nutrition, but only one days worth. She had 3 children 3yrs old, 5ys and 12yrs. Her husband works in the cane fields. She will die in not more than 2-3 months.
We saw many others this morning each story more troubling, a child with asthma barely breathing, a baby with malnutrition and diarrhea, a handsome young boy the family's pride and hopeful future bread winner with a bad lymphoma growing out his arm pit. I can't even bring myself to talk about the sexual abuse. All this and I've only been here three days.
It's cathartic for me to write. If you have no interest just delete my email, it's okay.


Sunday, May 01, 2005

Day One Environmental Shock

Yeah limited email access but I'll take it:)

Made it safely however have had several mosquito bites already. Oh well so much for the super special triple steel bug repellant (I think we were lied to Karla). As for the trip down, not too many problems. Of course I got searched at every checked point with a fine tooth comb.... literally. They wiped down every bottle of medicine with a drug paper and ran it through the computer. At one check point three security guards were called over urgently to view the x-ray of my bag. They all looked at me at the same time with some murmuring and very abruptly took me to a back corner table where they questioned me heavily and tore through my bags forcefully, I was thinking holly crap what did I pack, then.....they pulled out my tuning fork and my Otto scope and began to chuckle somewhat embarrassed. Apparently these peculiar objects looked like a gun on the x-ray device. At any rate I made it to Honduras where they too were freaked out about all the drugs, just as they were about to put me through the ringer I whipped out my handy dandy letter from the Honduran Consulate (written in Spanish, so I have no idea what it said) and they waived me through.
We drove 2 hours on dirt roads with large pot holes that make Pittsburgh pot holes seem like minor divots. There were people carelessly crossing the roads as if getting hit by a 4 wheel drive pick up wouldn't be such a bad thing.
When we arrived at the orphanage at an altitude of 2,300 feet it was pouring rain and a thin man with a huge shotgun approached the truck. He is our security guard an ex Contra rebel with a story for another time. His presence was both comforting and disturbing.

I was dropped off at my room we unloaded the bags and boom they were gone. I walked in the door and the good news was I have my own bathroom, the bad news is I share it with a million cockroaches and a 4 cm sugar cane spider that seemed to have the run of the joint.

Yep nauseated! I did my best to clear the place of what I could and I made a fortress of netting around my cot to keep the critters from crawling on me in my sleep. It took me two hours to get it all set up. I'm not sure if it will work but it helped me to at least lie down. Didn't sleep a wink, afraid to close my eyes.

I have to go now I'm meeting the doctor from Mexico who I heard through the grape vine is very unhappy. She just got here last week and there are no supplies because they were bug infested and the clinic building has to be abandoned due to termites. We are going to try to put our heads together and come up with a plan.


In The Begining A Search For Meaning

For years I'd dreamed of becoming a doctor. As each phase of my life passed I'd found myself with a new reason to dredge forward against what seemed to be at times insurmountable odds. Through family and personal illness, near death experiences, love and monetary constraints I continued forward. The sacrifices never ceased. During my residency I found that the joy I received by taking extra time to really connect and empathize with patients, an act so fundamentally important to the treatment of illness, was repeatedly stolen because of the need to conform to 20 minute slots as if that was not discouragement enough the looming red tape of medicine created by the constant fear of litigation seemed absolutely crippling to the patient/physician healing relationship. Dehumanization of disease and lack of empathy plagued the system. With the slow realization of these facts I found myself nearing the attainment of my dream with a numbing sense of sadness. It seemed as though my core was becoming bitter and the reasons I so desperately clung to were so far in the distant past that they were unreachable. "What am I doing this for...?" echoed in my mind with every 5 am alarm sounding.

The desire to throw it all away and go back to working at the Clearview mall in Butler, PA (my home town and my first job) seemed tempting; however, my loans (which could purchase a small island off the coast of Tahiti) prevented me from just such an action. So....... I did what every American does so well.... I went on vacation and like a "good" catholic.....I went to church.

Amazingly I believe God heard me. Despite my crabby, negative attitude he heard me. In a tiny two bottle wine store in a cheesy little tourist town in Southern Florida my life would change forever. I met a man that told me of a tragedy which melted my heart and brought to the surface the purpose I had lost.

Somewhere in Honduras a group of children were suffering at the fate of a tremendous loss. I was being asked to go there to do something about it.

And so begins my journey.....somewhere in Honduras.
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