Up at 6:00 again and feeling a cold coming on, Liu and I dressed and made our way down to the dining room. By day three we had begun to settle into groups - sitting at the same tables and lining up for the buffet at the same time. Funny how this happens. Humans like to be organized! Breakfast was fried eggs piled high on a platter, flat buns that opened like pita, bananas, cereal, liquid yogurt and juice. We all ate well, since lunch would be small and wolfed down - when possible.
The people who came to the Mennonite clinic (la Fuente- "The Fountain") were for the most part healthy and well dressed. The ones in real need had badly worn clothing and looked malnourished. The clothes these folks wear is often all that they have. In a way, I resented seeing people who had regular check ups. There's no discrimination of course - it's first come, first served- and serious cases had priority. But, we were there to provide for those who had few resources and really needed the help.
I think Liuba, working with Erin in pediatrics, saw the majority of people seriously in need. Young mothers trying to raise children alone have a lot of trouble - as they do everywhere - and again, sometimes just telling their story to another woman was as soothing and as important as headache pills. Erin was also able to connect these women with a network of social workers in the area through MMI.
The cast of characters we saw was so interesting! It appeared to Pam and I that many of the older Quechua women must sleep in their inner garments (the outer garments kept fresh to wear during the day) because in order to get to their chest and back with a stethoscope, you had to peel them like an onion!!! I think seven layers of undergarments was the record.
These dear ladies allowed us to pull up their clothing with a good deal of humor. They were soft spoken, appreciative and eager to comply. The family members who came with them to help with translation fit nicely into our confined space and we marveled at our efficiency despite the conditions. Bloomers, underskirts, overskirts and aprons made a tiny little lady look huge and I remembered from past visits watching them out in the fields with their alpaca, like ornate lampshades drifting through the grass!
A gentleman who had a problem resulting from riding a bicycle with a small, hard seat was relieved to hear he was not suffering from a serious ailment. He was also happy to know he could keep his delivery job - he just had to get something more comfortable to sit on! We were unable to do thorough physical exams, so Pam was concerned about having to prescribe broad-spectrum treatments for vaginal infections and the like. We could do blood and urine testing and some patients happily brought us jars of urine they'd prepared at home. If we did need a specimen, it would have to be "fresh", but Pam would accept the jar anyway, so as not to offend the patient. Sometimes, a patient was given a cup, told to give a sample, and didn't come back! This was always interesting and made for the occasional "blip" in the lineup.
In the tiny space next to us Pam's husband Norman- also a physician - was seeing patients as well. One in particular was in bad shape. A young woman of about 25 had an infected wisdom tooth, resulting in a huge swelling in her neck and throat. If not treated immediately, she could have serious breathing difficulties. People have died from this, so it was important to get her onto the right antibiotic immediately and refer her to the hospital in Cuzco. Making this happen required the help of the people who ran the clinic and the MMI staff as well. Expenses could be covered for serious cases, which was a relief for everyone.
Liuba and I went for a walk at lunch. The local market was a block away and as we meandered past the vendors, we recognized people we had seen earlier in the clinic. Piles of yellow pumpkins, open bags full of grains, pale coloured corn with huge kernels boiling in open pots are a local treat. Large, flat loaves of bread piled like small tires smelled delicious. We wished we could try everything, but had been warned not to eat anything not prepared for us and definitely not to drink the water. Local water was so likely to cause a problem, we were warned to keep our mouths closed in the shower!
The market people are hard workers. Those who came to us from the market had calloused hands, aching backs and arthritic hands. They had problems sitting and standing and everything in between. I stopped trying to "bargain" with them after awhile, knowing how hard it is for them to earn a living. Giving them a bit extra is easy for those of us who can afford to travel to their country... and it means so much to them!
Back at the clinic, Pam had just taken a man of about 50 into her "office". He too had work related woes, but the thing most affecting his health was his drinking. I mentioned the drink "chicha" which is made from corn. The red chicha is non alcoholic, the yellow chicha is. All over Peru, yellow chicha is responsible for poor health and broken relationships. More men than women suffer from alcoholism, though we did have a few ladies smile, blush and confess to liking their chicha! Pam asked this man if he felt guilty. He told us he had left his wife and children, had lost his job - and was lost himself. All of this played a role in his physical health. Pam asked if he would like to pray. "God won't listen to me" he said "because I drink chicha". He was afraid he was already ostracized from heaven. Pam comforted him by saying that God understood. People make mistakes. She told him he was loved and still a child of God. He suddenly went down on his knees in front of her and cried as she prayed for him and his family. Even she was unprepared for his open surge of emotion and we both hoped he would soon find some way to get his life back on track.
Understand that I have not attended a church service in years! I have had my own thoughts and feelings. I do believe in God - I believe we are here for a reason - perhaps to learn through adversity to be better people! I believe in giving back. I believe in the power of positive thinking. Here was an example of faith and religion doing what it is supposed to do; comfort, support and heal.
We arrived back at the hotel with all the supplies, prepared to set up in a different location the next day. The young Doctor who had set up "le Fuente" joined us. He had made a remarkable dream come true. He and his wife were providing help where it was badly needed and his children were growing up in a most interesting environment. It had been another exhausting, but memorable day.