Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Distracted in Guatemala

Amongst all of the amazing encounters and experiences here in Antigua, I feel distracted.  When I am active - praying in pre-surgery with patients or visiting on the ward - I'm focused.  But in those moments

idleness - of quiet - my mind wanders and tears threaten.

While here in Guatemala, I heard from my brother Paul's daughter-in-law that his wife, Dee, was going into hospice.  At the same time, Leigh and Dave were exploring moving Paul into hospice as well.  His dementia continues to progress.  He has a myriad of health issues following his major stroke and by-pass several years ago.  He's not eating much and he's dizzy.  Most certainly, they have both lived longer than expected because of the love and care they received and continue to receive from Leigh and Dave.

During some "down time" at Obras, I went into the sanctuary of the cathedral.  I inhaled the sweet aroma of incense.  I lost myself in the brilliant purple and white swags as well as the art.  But when I saw the votive candles left by parishioners - petitions to God - I started to lose it.  I so wanted to light one for Paul and Dee but my quetzales were in my locker.  

Although I have never had an "easy" relationship with my youngest older brother, I fondly remember the big brother who liked to brush my hair, who took me to a Styx concert, and who drove my friends and I all around Downers Grove so we could Christmas carol in subzero temperatures.  While remembering the past, I also acknowledge that Dee was the best thing that ever happened to Paul and I weep some more.

As I grow older, I realize that grief is not an "event" in our lives but a constant.  We are always working through one loss or another.  Death, loss of physical capacity, dreams that will never come to fruition because we've run out of time.  Grief, however, is that state which can also make us stronger, more reflective, and grateful.

I have no answers.  I have no words of wisdom.  But in the pew of the old cathedral, I acknowledge that I am not the only one.  If we listen attentively, we hear the echoes of our own grieving in the stories of others.  As we relate our stories of loss to one another, may we find support.  Love.  May we acknowledge the God who knows all about grief.

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

First Day of Surgeries

 First, I apologize for not posting last night.  I was exhausted.  One of the docs today provided me with grace-filled explanation: the elevation was probably to blame.  I'll take it.

So the first day of surgeries.  There are too many stories for one posting, so I'll try to focus on just a few thoughts.  The professional organization from Sunday's triage day, continued yesterday.  Yes, there were glitches and supplies that needed to be sourced, but considering the coordination necessary between Obras, Faith in Practice staff, our mission team, and another smaller mission team, things went very well.

Personally, I had to maneuver through feelings of initial awkwardness and hesitancy.  As the day progressed, I found my groove, praying with patients before surgery, finding the ward where patients went after post surgery, and getting to know our team better.  I even was feeling more confident with my Spanish as far as I could go.  

Monday, though, was about observation for me. I am one of the few "older adults" among energetic, younger people on this trip.  While I do not have a tat - not that I haven't thought about it - many of my young friends have tattoos.  In my role as staff chaplain at Meridian Park, I always ask about someone's "ink" when I visit with patients or staff.  Tattoos come with stories!  

Case in point: in post-op, one of the young nurses has a sleeve tattoo.  I had been admiring it from the start of the trip. I would catch glimpses of it as she walked by during meals or on our walk to the hospital.  I finally asked her about it on Monday.  The tattoo, which runs from shoulder to fingers is a gorgeous cacophony of flowering plants.  She explained that all of the plants on her arm were medicinal - echinacea, chamomile, night shade, and others.  For this nurse, the night shade represents her belief that people should have the right to choose the time of their death when facing life-limiting/threatening illness.  She went on to say that she was getting additional training in mental health nursing. "I want to counsel people about their own end-of-life."  She became animated when talking about her dreams and how she might help people face their own mortality and live as fully as possible.  She didn't know if it was a recognized speciality but, "if it's not, I'm going to make it one."

Observing ink. A life-giving conversation that would not have happened if I had not observed and been curious.  There are many other things I am observing during my time in Guatemala and hope to share those in the days to come.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Triage Day

All I have to say is that today had its ups and downs.  You know- life.  As we walked to Obras Sociales del Santo Hermano Pedro,  I made the mistake of looking straight ahead instead of at my feet, thereby facilitating going down hard on a  typical broken cement sidewalk.  No lasting damage but a bit embarrassing.  

The hospital, which is part of the Cathedral complex, is so much bigger than Hospital Hilario Galindo, my previous experience.  We were given a quick and detailed orientation that addressed infection control, documentation, and the proper way to dispose of narcotic bottles. Things were professional and well coordinated.

Everyone had their roles to play today in readying patients and surgical rooms. I was to meet and support patients and their families.  It did not take me long to realize how much Spanish I forgot.  Faith in Practice, however, had a whole crew of volunteers including a young woman and later a young man who interpreted my prayers.  Very quickly I got in a groove. 

I brought various things from home that I thought might be useful, including about 18 rosaries. Unfortunately after I handed out the first one, it seemed like the entire room wanted one.  I even went to the cathedral gift shop where I was only able to get 5 more.  What I appreciated most was the graciousness of people who laughed and made jokes about my lack of rosaries.

I was able to pray with about everyone who came in for triage. One woman began to cry during her prayer. I reminded her, in fairly intelligible Spanish, that tears are a gift of the Holy Spirit.  They say the things for which we have no words.

Tomorrow we begin the first of our 102 surgeries scheduled for the week.  I will don scrubs and circulate through pre and post op.  Think of us tomorrow

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Our First Day in Antigua

Faith in Practice surgical trip #798 has begun!  We gathered at PDX yesterday, boarded a very crowded flight at 12:40pm and arrived in Guatemala City on time at 11:00pm.  By the time baggage was claimed,  customs did their worst, and checking into the hotel, it was 1:30a.m. local time when I went to bed. So a long day.

We arrived in Antigua fairly early this morning and after a few brief words, we were let loose until a team meeting at 5:00pm then dinner.  

I'm sure everyone is impressed so far. . . 

Being back in Guatemala after 10 years is weird.  For one thing, I'm 40 pounds heavier (thanks COVID). But it's the dichotomy that always gets me here in Guatemala.  Last night we stayed at a luxury hotel and had a most luxurious buffet breakfast.  After loading on the bus, we made our way to Antigua while we watched beauty and poverty race by the window.

A group of nurses and I (three young women and one grandma) walked about and had a delicious lunch at a microbrewery.  We sat on the roof where we caught cool breezes and admired the scenery.  As the women prepared to wander and shop, Granny had had enough walking so I left our little group.  They gave me good directions and a peek at Google Maps. After I received helpful directions on how to get back to the motel I began to walk.  Unfortunately, I was hot and my hip hurt and I obviously did not digest all they told me.  Three times I asked for clarifying directions from strangers before I got to the motel.  But three times I was graciously given instructions with great gesticulations.  No one snubbed me.  No one looked like at me like I was an idiot.  I was just taken care of by strangers.  I'm back in Guatemala.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Missing Lil' Tommy

I’m sitting here at the Tualatin Panera, after my initial appointment with my spinal surgeon.  Current plan:  wait for insurance to approve cortisone shot to spine to see what that will do.  If it doesn’t work, there will be surgery although it doesn’t sound as extensive as my last spinal surgery. Wear and tear, I guess.  

So I’m sitting here, in pain, sipping on a cappuccino, realizing that my brother Tom died almost a year ago.  I decided to make a Find-a-Grave entry for him.  After I wrote a short biography, I sorted through photos.  Find-a-Grave allows only five photos per person. I concentrated on photos that I remembered -either from being present at the time or from sorting through that enormous box of black and white photos that sat in my mother’s closet.  I figure that others in the family can pick their top five.

The result?  I’m sitting in the Panera in Tualatin, Oregon with tears streaming down my face.  I hurt like hell in body and spirit.  God, I miss him.  I miss calling and having that lilting voice ring out, “Wellll, hello there.”  Or his calling me and announcing, “Lil’ Tommy here.”  I miss his stories and his hugs.  I miss knowing he was there to protect me - even in my 60’s.  I just miss him.

So I sit in the Panera wishing I could down some Vicodin for the physical pain and realize that I’m just a mess.  I hurt too much to sit with people who hurt in the hospital.  I hurt too much to put on a positive face and deal with staff and patients.  I just hurt too much today.   I miss the big brother who was always there.  The big brother that could relate to my spinal pain and maybe give me an encouraging word.  

Friday, January 13, 2023

The Screams


It’s the screams actually.

  Howls that come from 

  the very depths of the soul

  wails that physically hurt bystanders

  with crushing, disbelieving pain.

Such visceral screams are

  most often followed by

  desperate pleas for a different outcome.

  “No, no, no, no, no …”

  God-awful ripples slamming into strangers.

There is nothing for it

  but to stay with them.  To just stay

  and make sure they don’t

  hurt themselves as they thrash.

  Silent witnesses to bone deep wounds.

The mother of the 24 year old

  who overdosed despite his assurances

  to her that he didn’t need help.

  She knew what the doctor would say

  but begged for different words.

The mother of the 4 year old

  who succumbed to some illness

  despite parents who tried everything

  Words in an alien tongue - they

  slice deep tracks that will never heal completely.

The father of the 7 year old

  who died from the flu.

  He punches his fist through the drywall

  knuckles bleeding, tears flowing, 

  following the wall to the ground, head in hands.

The daughter of the middle-aged man

  whose heart stopped, just stopped.

  She continues to encourage her papa

  to keep fighting even as compressions

  are ended and the time of death called.

It’s these awful, fucking screams

  that I hear in the night, in my dreams, in daylight

  haunting sounds of pain so great

  that they reverberate through the air

  waves of hurt that slap.

Ear plugs do not help deafen

  a sound that now inhabits

  my memories and every cell in my body.

  Secondary trauma that accumulates

  and burrows deeper within me.

It’s the screams that loop and replay.

  Haunting notes that I must

  honor and release in order to survive.

  Let the divine take care of what

  I can no longer hold.  


And so I scream and wail

  and cry “no, no, no, no. . .”

  and I punch the air instead of a wall

  and collapse and beg for different sounds.

  “please make it stop.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Three Inch Squares

Three inch squares

remnants from shirts 

and pants and skirts

and costumes

The rotary cutter ran over

reds and greens

browns and blacks

multicolors and yellows

Assembled in rows 

two rows of each color

ten squares across

eighteen rows down

Created during autumnal nights

for someone yet unknown

a comfort quilt to provide

comfort for those who grieve

Three inch squares 

bordered in a cream print

with blue edging and

white backing

Three inch squares 

This afternoon now wrap

around a still body 

held by wailing arms

Three inch squares 

for a three year old

who got sick and then

too sick and then . . .

Three inch squares

absorb the tears of 

mother and father

brother and sister

uncle and aunt

Tonight I look at scraps

and remember a little body

and wonder if I have

the strength to make more

Three inch squares