Thursday, February 12, 2009
Yesterday PeaceHealth President and Chief Mission Officer Alan Yordy and his wife Joan flew in to spend a few days with our Comasagua mission. This morning, because Alan has a noon telephone conference, I'm here at our Base House so I can drive him up to Comasagua after his conference finishes. Happily, this gives me time to do a little longer posting on the amazing experience of our health mission.
Primero Díos. Yesterday I logged in 14 candidates for cataract surgery during our April 20-24 surgical mission - and because Eleanor was picking up Alan and Joan at the airport, I did this on my own, with only occasional need for help from one of our interpreters. A bit of a baptism of fire, as each candidate was a senior citizen, a couple were hard of hearing, others had strong campo accents, and I had to explain the whole process of the surgery - getting to the hospital, what happens in the surgery, and the after care - in understandable Spanish. It all went well, and was quite a boost for my confidence in Spanish. At the end of each interview, I said "nos vemos 22 abril" - we'll see each other April 22nd. And each Salvador responded, "primero Díos," God first. God first, meaning that our seeing each other in April is first of all in God's hands. God first, meaning let's not get too invested in our plans and programs. God first: what a great lesson for a North American who's used to making plans and carrying them out.
When I wasn't logging in cataract patients, I was delighting in watching our PeaceHealth volunteers connect with the people of Comasagua. Their loving, respectful attention to each person is the very essence of great healthcare - and it's healthcare at its most essential, stripped of the technology and supports that all our providers are used to in the United States. The love and respect is joyfully returned, as can be seen in these photos - of Dr. Dale Heisinger being hugged by a young patient and 4th year medical student Jenny Semadeni-Malcom consulting with a family. It's hard work, long hours, lots more patients in a day than our providers are used to seeing - and everybody loves it.
We've also been blessed with great local volunteers who log in our patients, keep the lines organized, keep people moving through the process, and cook delicious lunches for us (yesterday was bean soup, rice, avocados, and glorious local fruits). Doctora de Larios, the Executive Director of the Comasagua Unidad de Salud, where our clinics are located, has completed many referencias so that patients whose health issues are beyond what we can diagnose and treat will get attention at the national hospital.
Will those who have been referred really get the attention they need? Health budgets are bare bones in this country, and poor patients often have to pay for their medications (which means that they are likely to go without). We can't do everything. Reforming the Salvadoran health system is not within our scope. We do follow up with particular cases when we learn that crucial care cannot be provided (for example, our optometrists will be taking home glasses prescriptions for several patients whose needs can't be met with our donated glasses). We do what we can. Primero Díos.