On Tuesday I was shopping in San Salvador when I got the word that Maria del Carmen had fallen and had a broken leg. Could I come and pick her up in San Martin? When I got there, I learned that she'd gone for a peaceful walk down a dirt road and something - a hole hidden by the drifting sand? a hidden rock? - tripped her, so that she fell badly.
Her friends got her into my car and I took her to the little National Hospital in Suchitoto where a Doctora looked her over and said that yes, the right leg was clearly broken and it looked as if the tendons had been pulled on the left leg. But the X-Ray wasn't available at that hour, and the best she could do was to put a protective covering over the broken leg and to suggest we take her to San Salvador or Cojutepeque.
I was due in to the airport to pick up my friend Judy Stoloff, arriving at 9 pm for a vacation in El Salvador, so Peggy O'Neill most kindly took over, driving Maria del Carmen to the Diagnostic Hospital in San Salvador, where she got x-rays and a light cast on the left leg with the pulled tendons. Surgery or casting of the broken right leg would have to wait until she could get seen at one of the national hospitals.
Peggy got back to Suchitoto with Maria del Carmen a few minutes after I arrived with Judy, and as he'd done throughout the evening, Alcides, a strong and gentle friend, came to carry her to her bed.
The next day Alcides came again to carry her into the car and we drove into San Salvador for a second opinion from Dr. Cabezas, a good friend of Sister Eleanor's and mine, on whether surgery was really necessary. He recommended that she spend the next few days with both legs elevated and that she then get her right leg surgically pinned. He kindly and thoughtfully explained the whole procedure to her, and she said yes, she would do that.
So we bought a bedside commode and returned to Suchitoto (Alcides helping again) where Maria del Carmen has now spent two days in bed with her legs elevated - distracting herself as best she can with books, radio and DVDs. Val Liveoak, a Quaker with the Alternatives to Violence Project, who's also living at the house this month, has helped with nursing - we've all taken turns, and Maria del Carmen does as much as she possibly can for herself. She has a date with the orthopedic surgeon at the Cojutepeque National Hospital (the main hospital for our department) on Tuesday, and we'll hope for an early surgery date.
It's such a shocking thing, to go with one fall from being capable and strong and in control to not being able to walk at all. I have been so struck with Maria del Carmen's spiritual strength which is seeing her through this physical trauma; she is peaceful and cheerful where she could so easily be anxious, fretful. I am glad that Val and Judy and I have all been able to be there for her and have shared the practical nursing.
I think, too, how very differently a fall like this would be treated in our U.S. system - X-Rays and casts and surgery would be instantly available, even in a small town, even for people without financial resources, wheelchairs and walkers or crutches too, I think - though perhaps that's optimistic. Having to wait a week to see an orthopedic surgeon is hard to imagine. But that is normal here - it would have taken even longer to get seen at the main orthopedic hospital in San Salvador, Hospital Zacamil.
Here there's not enough of anything - equipment, doctors, medications, hospital beds - and while the rich can get whatever they need, most Salvadorans have to wait and hope that there will still be care at the end of their waiting. May Maria del Carmen finally receive the care she needs.