Friday, January 4, 2013

All for One and One for All

Jewish and Muslim traditions both have explicit teachings that when one saves a single life it is as if that person had saved an entire world. Christian tradition similarly celebrates the saving and sanctification of every single life.

Our work in Guatemala brings these teachings together in a beautiful way with the Mayan teachings of a person's obligation to the earth, God and humanity.

Our students are incredible - from the first professional welcome in triage to the last stop in our teeth brushing dental area (one of two sometimes functioning bathrooms) our students elevate each patient and do what they have come to do - heal our broken world one person at a time.

But Wednesday brought a challenge to our team that was unexpected. A two-month-old boy was brought to the clinic with a 103-degree fever and a respiratory infection already one week old. Dr. Lauri and her team of student shadows assessed the infant as best they could, given the absence of X-rays and certain hospital tests. Dr. Lauri was faced with a dilemma. If the infection was viral, a normal course of antibiotics would suffice. But if it was bacteriological, the baby could die in a matter of days or hours. She knew what her practice and her medical insight would do in the U.S. The child would immediately be taken to the hospital for tests and special evaluations to determine the microbial cause of the fever and illness. But our little mountain village was two towns away from a hospital.

We knew what needed to be done. Katie, our student fellow, called our driver Pedro and our van was at the clinic in minutes. The mother and child, a local clinic worker and I jumped into the van for a very fast mountain ride to the hospital. Every few minutes I turned to the mother and smiled as if to say, "I know this is scary, but we have to do this and everything will be OK." It was easier to smile that expression than to try it in my very broken Spanish.

When we got to the hospital my green scrub shirt with the Xavier logo gave our van access to the emergency room gated entrance. We rushed the child into the emergency room and a nurse immediately put us on a hospital cart. Dirty curtains separated us from the next patients. The hospital cart was covered in a torn striped sheet with stains of many previous visitors. An armpit thermometer check confirmed how sick our baby was and we heard a call over a speaker for a pediatrician to come to the ER. We were relieved by the speed of the attention. Fifteen minutes later we were told the pediatrician would be delayed because of the shift change. Every minute was an eternity. My heart beat with the labored breathing of the baby boy. My eyes wandered to the dried old blood on the floor and the absence of a clean environment at the table which served as the ER nurses' station. The mother nursed only long enough to quiet her child - she too was anxious. After about a half hour the curtains opened and a blue scrub-uniformed man came into our curtained area. I did not understand him at first. Then I realized he thought I was a doctor and was in the ER looking for a doctor to help him! We need some help ourselves," I thought.

A half hour later a well-dressed pediatrician pulled aside the curtain and immediately took over. I was dismissed with the clinic volunteer leaving only the mother and baby with him. I reiterated what was written in Dr. Lauri's prescription for medical services and tests. I walked out of the ER and boarded the van for our quiet ride back to our clinic in Patanatic. We all went to sleep that night not knowing what had become of the baby.

This afternoon we received word from the family that the baby would be hospitalized for 3 - 7 days for intravenous medicine and testing. In all likelihood that course of treatment is reflective of a very severe life-threatening infection.

Every one of our students, every one of our professional medical team, everyone who had donated to our mission sent us to save a world which we did in the life of a two-month-old baby boy. In the village of Patanatic and in the hospital of Solola, we did not disappoint.

Gracias a Dios.

Rabbi Abie

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