Navigating the Clinics (July 20, 2010)

Maria (on the left) with her father and mother

When I got to Hermano Pedro today, Dick asked if I would help Maria, a young widow with four children, work her way through the clinic process.  I'd only done this once before, but that was one more time than Maria had.  Her mother and father had come with her from Comalapa, a small aldea (village) about an hour and a half drive from Antigua.  I was particularly happy to help Maria, since the Josiah Foundation has taken a special interest in this family over the past few years.
I didn't know much what to expect from the clinic, except long lines and lots of waiting.  I wasn't disappointed.  First Maria had waited for the doctor, then for an ultrasound.  I joined her when she was waiting for the doctor a second time.  This time I went in with her to make sure everyone knew what was going on.  Dick had asked me to do this, but why he thought I'd understand with my limited Spanish was beyond me.

I soon learned why I was there.  The doctor spoke quickly, giving much information in about one minute.  Maria sat there smiling and nodding her head.  When I asked her if she understood, I received a "deer in the headlights" look.  So I began asking questions, and you could see on Maria's face that things were becoming clearer to her.  We also needed this information for a sponsor from the States who has offered to help pay for her surgery.  So I learned why I was there--because I was not afraid to look stupid by admitting I didn't understand what was going on.  Of course, I've had years of practice at this!

We stopped at a secretary's desk, and she wrote down some information in a ledger, and we were sent to another secretary's office.  Here there was a 30+ minute wait, to get a piece of paper to take to the office of a third secretary, this time on the second floor.  (For the life of me, I couldn't figure out how to get to the second floor, and then I realized there were clinics up by the malnutrition ward.)  This time we received an appointment to see a surgeon--Sept. 12th! 

I asked Maria if she would be able to wait this long, as she's been in a lot of pain.  She replied that really wasn't a long time at all to wait for a doctor.  So she'll come back down then, and hopefully receive surgery the following week. 

It never ceases to amaze me the patience of the Guatemalan people, and their good manners, while waiting so long.  Dick got stir crazy after about 5 minutes and went to take one of the boys back to Chimaltenango for school.  I on the other hand am known to be much more patient--it took me a full 15 minutes before I wanted to start banging my head on the wall!

So why do we do this?  Picture a young woman, who until only a few years ago spoke no Spanish but only Katchical (one of the 26 Mayan dialects in Guatemala).  A woman who seldom has gone outside of her aldea, and never had been to the city.  Picture her coping with a large hospital, multiple secretaries, unfamiliar doctors, and the fear of having to have surgery.  Can you imagine what it would be like to go through this alone?  A couple years ago it became clear to me what was a distinctive part of how Bethel Ministries offers medical care.

Most mission organizations tell folks they will pay for medical care if the person can figure out how to get themselves to the city and the hospital, and then navigate the "system of care" of that particular hospital.  And we wonder why these folks don't take advantage of this generous offer.  It would be like me going to the moon to get medical care from a martian--the environment of a city and large hospital is just that unfamiliar to these people from villages.  (I need to point out, however, that most of us from big cities wouldn't survive 3 days if we had to live in a small aldea on our own!) 

Bethel is different, though, thanks in large part to Dick Rutgers who picks up or meets many of these families at the bus, and walks them through the clinic process. I am grateful that I can be part of this important ministry to the sick and injured. To many this might seem like a waste of our time, but without this individual attention I believe many would not receive the care they need. It kind of reminds me of the Good Samaritan who didn't hand the injured man some money and tell him where he could get help. He engaged with him and brought him to where he could receive care. A good reminder to all of us that we are called to invest personally in those we seek to help.

Pictures from January, 2009, the first time I was with a family in the clinics.
Unfortunately, Lisvi died shortly after these pictures were taken.

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