Tuesday, September 22, 2015

For This One

It is going to be difficult for me to describe this past Saturday in a way that is orderly and makes sense. But I really need to try, because it was one of the most challenging and impacting days of my life in Guatemala. Please stay with me as I try.

IMG_1720[1]For the last three weeks we have been in back and forth communication with Lucia’s family. They live in San Pablo La Laguna, about 20 meters from where my daughter, Brittney, lives. Lucia has severe Cerebral Palsy, and we have been working with her for almost three years. She developed a respirator infection that turned into pneumonia, and they hospitalized her in the national hospital in Xela (Quetzaltenango). (That is about 1 1/2 hours away from San Pablo by car and three hours by bus.)

We were very concerned when we learned this because, as you have read in this blog many times before, most national hospitals are nightmares. When she had not improved after a week there, we began to investigate other hospitals. Brittney took the bus to Xela to visit Lucia and her mother, Maria. While she was there, she also visited several private hospitals to arrange for her to be transferred. However, most hospitals said they could not accommodate her because they do not have the facilities to accommodate the intensive care that she needs. She did find one hospital that agreed to take her, but they told us it would cost Q.33,000 a day (about $4350.00). While that seems normal by US standards, that is an astronomical price by Guatemalan standards. However, she was told by the administrator of one private hospital that the Intensive Care Unit in the national hospital in Xela was very complete and that it would be best for her to stay there. So, we dropped it.

This past Friday, however, I received a call from Brittney. She informed by that Lucia was continuing to decline. Further, Brittney’s home was filled with family and neighbors who were concerned about both Lucia and her mother. At this point they had been in the hospital for 18 days. They were in a communal room with other patients, and the only place her mother could sleep was in a straight-backed chair beside her bed. She was exhausted. And, to make matters worse, the hospital had accused her of being a bad mother and called in Derechos Humanos (Human Rights) to investigate. (They had based this accusation on two situations: 1) Lucia was malnourished. This was not due to a lack of attention and provision, but due to the difficulty of giving enough nutrients to a child with severe Cerebral Palsy who struggles to swallow. 2) Maria’s unwillingness to allow them to surgically install a G tube. She felt her daughter was too weak to tolerate the surgery. She also felt it was unnecessary because her daughter was eating. She was right on the first issue and only needed someone to explain the second issue to her in a way that she could understand.)

As a result of these accusations, they were threatening to remove Lucia from her mother’s care. Her friends and family gathered at Brittney’s home begging for our ministry to intercede. They stayed there until almost 10:00 pm seeking Brittney’s counsel and help. So, we jumped into high gear.

We spoke with the national hospital to find out what was required to remove her from the hospital. They told us we needed two things, an ambulance to transport her and a letter from the receiving hospital stating that they would take her. By this time, the hour was late, so we had to put everything on hold until the follow morning.

Saturday morning, one of our faithful workers in San Pablo communicated with the Bomberos to arrange for an ambulance to transfer Lucia from Xela to Antigua, which is about a 2 1/2 hour drive with sirens and lights. Meanwhile, Joel and I headed into Hospital Hermano Pedro Privado (not to be confused with Hermano Pedro Obras Sociales, the special needs hospital in which we work) to get a letter. This proved to be far easier than I expected because I know the hospital director, having worked with him several times before. We left 30 minutes after we arrived with letter in hand and an ambulance preparing to meet us at the hospital.

IMG_1725[1]We arrived three hours later at around 2:30 pm. When we entered the room we found Maria exhausted and Lucia with an estimated fever of between 102 and 103. The previous 19 days had taken their toll on both of them, and I wanted to get them to a better place quickly. We gave our letter to the doctor and informed her that the ambulance was waiting. She left and then returned soon after to inform us that they could not release her. Because they were under investigation by Human Rights, they needed them to provide the okay to leave. Unfortunately, no one was answering the phones in their office. Of course, they had not informed us of any of this when they told us what we needed to get her released. Thus began a three hour wait.

IMG_1728[1]Finally, they agreed to release her to us if I would sign a form assuming all responsibility for Lucia’s care and supervision. In essence, I became her guardian, responsible to protect her. And then we were freed to leave.

Just a note: As we were leaving the room I asked for a list of medicines that Lucia had been given. When I looked at the list I noticed their was nothing for fever control. So I asked the head nurse if they had given her anything for fever. To which the nurse replied, “She doesn’t have a fever.” I insisted that she did, and her mom confirmed that she had had one all day long. The nurse again insisted that she did not, and stepped over to prove us wrong. As soon as her hand touched Lucia’s face, her expression changed from annoyance to embarrassment. She looked down and said, “I’m sorry. We don’t have anything to give her for that.” Understand the significance of that story. Lucia had been in INTENSIVE CARE, running a fever all day, yet none of the staff had checked her closely enough to notice.

I am now going to step away from Lucia’s story to tell you about events that unfolded during our wait for that release. You see, it did not take long for the word to spread that there was a gringo in the intensive care ward that was helping a family. So, soon I was overwhelmed by needs.

IMG_1736[1]It started with a man who approached me with tears in his eyes. His eight year old son, Adolfo, has had eight surgeries on a brain tumor. His previously healthy and happy child at age six is now in a coma and on a respirator. He needed medicine and the hospital informed his dad that he needed to buy it, but he had no money. Before I walked away, I had given him Q.200.00 (about $26.00 USD).

IMG_1734[1]The next thing I knew I had a crying mother leading me by the hand to show me her three month old daughter, Dafry. She, too, is in a coma and on a respirator due to complications from pneumonia. She wept as she begged me for help for the medicine and blood tests that the hospital told her she needs to pay for. When I returned home, we transferred money to help with those costs.

IMG_1731[1]Then it was the mother of another three month old, Jessica, that was leading me to a bedside. They believe her daughter has leukemia, but they need more blood tests to be sure. She and her husband do not have the money for those tests.

And the stories continued. I prayed with each one, and made arrangements to help when I could. When we finally left the ward at around 5:30 there were people lining the hallway on both sides. As I was pushing Lucia’s bed with one hand and carrying an oxygen tank in the other, there were people reaching out and touching me as I passed. I only heard snippets of their pleas as we moved down the passageway.

“My daughter is sick…”

“My son needs surgery…”

“We need money for a test…”

“My baby is dying…”

When we finally made it inside the elevator, away from the begging, I put down the oxygen tank and wiped my tears. I realized that this one little girl that we were helping was not even a drop in the ocean of need. At that moment, everything felt completely hopeless. We could work a million years and spend tens of millions of dollars, and we would only scratch the surface.

IMG_1726[1]I have never known or experienced such hopelessness as I did in that dismal hospital ward. For most of those families, they saw me as their only hope. And I just wanted to scream at them and explained how misplaced their hope was. I am one man. We are one ministry with very limited resources.

When we got off the elevator I simply told myself, “You can’t save them all. You can’t care for every child. But you can make a difference for this one.” And so I focused on the child in front of me and keeping her alive for the next 2.5 hour hospital ride.

I rode in the ambulance as sirens blared and lights blazed to get us through the city traffic. Joel drove my truck and detoured to San Pablo to pick up Brittney.  I was concerned about the toll the ride was taking on Lucia, as she would regularly begin to cry. We administered medicine through her IV every 20 minutes, and she arrived very weak at her new hospital.

IMG_1737[1]As soon as the doctor saw us enter, he rushed us to a room in the emergency ward. Within three minutes, he and three nurses were working on her. Once they had her stabilized they transferred her to a room, and when I left her she was sleeping peacefully in her new bed.

The cost difference between a semi-private room and a private room was only $6.50 a night. So we decided to splurge so this exhausted mother could have a comfortable reclining chair in which to sleep and some privacy.

Yesterday afternoon I visited her and her mom. She was still battling with a fever, so I spoke with the doctor. He explained that her infection is very severe and he is not sure if she is going to make it or not. I expressed my concern about her fever, so he decided to add a second medicine to help control it.

Please pray for her in the days ahead. Her life is truly hanging in the balance.

Today I received a contact from some people who live in the Department of Retalhuleu. They are begging us to expand our ministry into their area of Guatemala. It is a very poor region, and the crisis for those with special needs is great. They have offered to help us set up a headquarters and even provide us with a psychologist to assist families. Meanwhile we have people waiting in Santa Rosa and Chiquimula for us to expand to those departments. The needs are so incredibly great.

I have committed to never ask for money for our ministry, and I am not breaking that commitment now. (We do seek sponsors for children, but we never fundraise for our ministry expenses.) But I do want use this opportunity to make the following vow to our supporters:

If you feel led to give to our work, we will use every penny you give wisely and for the glory of God. And we will save Every. Single. Life. Possible. while proclaiming the glory of Jesus Christ. And I, personally, will invest everything I have in order to do so.

This, you can count on.

I can do more. We can do more. We will do more. And we will make His name famous!

Thanks for every prayer, every dollar and every encouraging word! Blessings from Guatemala!

Daryl, Wanda and the Crew