Thursday, February 28, 2013

A grand week

Our mission team loved their long, hot, busy, happy and productive week of medical and eye clinics in Estanzuelas.  We saw 1467 Estanzuelans, most for two or more clinics.  Our providers prescribed for those who needed medications - and everyone went away with vitamins and a toothbrush, at minimum.  We referred many patients for specialty treatment or diagnosis within the National Health System.  We signed up our full list for cataract or pterygium surgeries in April in the Hospital Nacional at Santiago de Maria.  More than 100 families are being invited to our capacitation session for receiving a water filter. 

But most of all, we carried away with us bright memories of faces and voices, people who touched our hearts, smiling or howling children, beautiful seniors, hardworking men and women.  

Here are a few images from the week, bright memories:
Sister Beth and interpreter Lea worked at getting just the right glasses for this patient.
Schellie was kept very busy with ear cleanings; a speech therapist, she's had expert training in ear lavage, and we used her skill to the full.
Interpreter Rita, Dr. Gulrukh and nurse Julie focused on this beautiful woman.
Dra. Jakellyne Jimenez, Director of the Estanzuelas Unidad de Salud (medical clinic) was our gracious hostess.
Marvin Hernandez (standing, center) coordinated all the local volunteers and kept everything running smoothly.  He's a superb organizer and a great leader - it was a delight to work with him.
Fatima and Wendy, two of the scholarship students who were our local volunteers, brought their intelligence and cheerfulness to every task.
Rosa and Hernan, two Salvadoran members of our team.  Rosa explains the eye surgery process to prospective patients, and Hernan drives us safely wherever we need to go.
And finally, here's the new Health Mission leadership team - Kathy Garcia and Darren Streff.  I am so happy to be turning over the work of in-country coordination to Darren, though I plan to continue to be involved.  Can't imagine better guides for this work! 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Day One of the Estanzuelas Clinics

Our first full clinic day in Estanzuelas, and all is very well. 

Yesterday I exchanged congratulations with Marvin Hernandez, our amazing chief organizer for the Estanzuelas community.  I was relieved that we’d come through the airport arrival and the customs process with no problems and in record time.  He was relieved that all the organizational pieces – the invitations to patients, the welcome at a local school with dancers and lunch for 120, the rental of tables and chairs and canopies, the organization of volunteers for the week had gone without a hitch.

And now we’re off and running, working our way through the opening day questions and glitches (there are always a few of these).  Medics have paired up with interpreters, we’ve figured out how to write up the references for patients who need further tests or specialist care, and every clinic is full of Estanzuelans telling their stories, talking about their needs and anxieties, being fitted with new glasses and being heard with attention and respect.

Especially on Monday, it always feels like a river overflowing: local volunteers, PazSalud providers, interpreters and patients: we’re all trying to figure out the flow. By Friday we'll have everything clear - and then we have to leave!

(Photos, top to bottom: Brian checks a young patient's heart rate; Carol helps a woman choose glasses; Darren listens to a story; Lorna and Moises give patients their medications.)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Darren's back!

In 2012, Darren Streff often showed up in my blog posts as a Maryknoll Lay Missioner who was working with our PazSalud program.  Then for the past couple of months, he's been absent.  Now he's back, but under different auspices.

What's happened is a longer story than I'm going to tell, but the short version is that the Maryknoll Lay Missioner program came to the conclusion that Darren's proposed work as a coordinator for PazSalud was not a good fit with their expectations of what Lay Missioners would do.  Their expectation, as I understand it, is that Lay Missioners will work directly with a local community on a development project that can later be turned over to the local community.  I'd agree that this is not a good description of our work in PazSalud.

By the time that Maryknoll reached this conclusion, though, Darren had already spent some months working with us.  He'd come to know our program and our people in El Salvador.  He'd even come to the Northwest to meet the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace and the PeaceHealth Board of Directors.  He loved the PazSalud program and was convinced that he was called to do this work.

So Darren had to make a choice between PeaceHealth and the Maryknoll community who were his friends and his primary support system for his first year in El Salvador.  The Maryknoll Lay Missioners wisely ask a Missioner who is considering leaving to enter into a formal process of discernment, and Darren entered into that process wholeheartedly, praying through the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises with the help of a Maryknoll spiritual director.

He has been in that process for most of the month of January, and on February 4th finally told his Maryknoll Lay Missioner group that he would no longer be a Lay Missioner, but would continue to be their friend and would continue to carry the Maryknoll spirit in his work with us.

We in PazSalud and at PeaceHealth are sorry that Darren had to make this choice, but we are glad he chose to come work with PazSalud.  It's wonderful to have his positive spirit, his joyful energy, and his great commitment to the people of El Salvador working for us again.  We missed you, Darren, and it's great to have you back!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Maria del Carmen in the hospital

On Tuesday I took Maria del Carmen to the National Hospital in Cojutepeque, where she had an appointment with the orthopedic surgeon.  I know the Cojutepeque hospital from our eye surgery week there in 2011 - it's a beautiful hospital, recently built after the 2001 earthquake damaged the earlier site and well run.

We got there at 9 am and were met by Maria del Carmen's sister, Ana Maria Melendez, who has worked at the hospital for 32 years.  She brought a wheelchair and an orderly who huffed and puffed and barely managed to lift Maria del Carmen from the car to the wheelchair - my respect increased for Alcides and Darren, who have both carried her greater distances without breaking a sweat.

The orthopedic surgeon was supposed to be seeing patients at 10.  He arrived at 1 PM, after getting out of surgery.  In those three hours, we got to know some of the other patients and practiced our patience, an essential act in El Salvador.  He looked at Maria del Carmen's X-rays and agreed that her leg needed surgery and pinning, but said that he did not have the equipment for that in the Cojutepeque hospital.

I said that I would be glad to purchase the pin or other equipment needed, and was surprised to hear his answer: the Ministry of Health no longer allowed families or friends to purchase materials needed for surgery, and this rule was being strictly enforced.  I didn't know whether to cheer or weep - it's truly an act of justice that all patients in the national health system are being treated equally, that those who can find some money don't get to jump the line.  But I had so hoped to help Maria del Carmen get her surgery early!

That was not to be.  The surgeon said he would admit her to the Cojutepeque hospital where all the preliminary tests would be made.  Then she'd be transferred by ambulance to the hospital in San Vicente or Usulutan, where she'd have the surgery, and be transferred back to Cojutepeque for rehab.  It did occur to me that it might be more efficient and more effective to move the pins to Cojutepeque!  There was no clear date when the surgery would be done, though I'm hoping that having a sister in the system will help insure that Maria del Carmen doesn't have to spend any more time than necessary in Cojutepeque.

We then took her through a couple of stations for tests - chest X-Ray, blood tests - and up to the surgery ward, to a room with eight beds, where I left her.  We've talked the last two days - all her tests came out well, but she hasn't yet heard anything about when or where she'll go for surgery.  May it come soon.