The other day I had a random opportunity to visit the national hospital here in town. You know when you have a ‘why not?’ opportunity - something that isn’t really planned, and you haven’t given it much thought and really have no expectations, but then it turns out to be absolutely amazing? This visit was THAT. The day after Christmas we went to the National Hospital to deliver Christmas cards as well as a few little items for new mamas such as diapers, personal items, and filtered water.
Let me paint you a picture of what it’s like at the national hospital. It’s government run, so saying it’s bare bones is an understatement. We walked up the cement steps to the metal bars at the entrance of the hospital, and let the armed guard know we were authorized to come in for a little visit. Side note for you- normally they don’t let volunteers or groups into the hospital but we got a lucky inside contact to get us in. As we sailed by the entrance, it felt wrong, as there was a crowd of dozens of family members camped out on the stairs of the hospital waiting to visit their sick mom, sister, or husband inside for the one hour the hospital opens its doors for visitors. Who knows how long they had to take a bus or drive to get there, most people travel at least 5 hours.
Once we got inside we were told to go upstairs to the maternity ward where the new mamas and babies were staying. As we climbed the stairs, it was weirdly silent, with no movement or people around. Once we got upstairs, the grey concrete walls and dim lighting made the silent scene all the more strange and a little creepy. When the nurses at the maternity ward saw us with our heavy bags full of diapers and cards, they waved us forward- all the moms were over thorough that hallway, the hallway with the barefoot lady in the hospital gown stamped at the shoulder with “PROPERTY OF THE NATIONAL HOSPITAL” watching us curiously. Just start at the first door and work your way down the nurse said. When we rounded the corner into the first room (which was smaller than a room for one person in the States), it was packed with six metal beds, head to foot lining two walls of the room. All the mamas laying with their babies tucked in the crook of their arms under a light sheet turned and looked up at us, their swollen eyes kind and welcoming even though they were tired. Each of the beds with a single striped sheet, no pillows, blankets, or cozy comforts, the silence still invading the room despite the crowd. I head over to the first mom closest to me and in my broken Spanish say, ‘hi’. Let’s be real for a minute ok? These kind of things are always awkward at first. ‘Hey you’re here completely exposed and feeling crummy, and I am a strange white girl with horrible Spanish standing over your bed looking like a dummy’. Here’s a Christmas card with a sparkly snowman on it. God Bless.
Her name was Paula, she said, instantly gracious, making my self-consiousness melt away. When I asked where her baby was her voice cracked and her eyes welled up – ‘she died’. Is all she said. What do you do when the raw pain of an absolute stranger startles the breath out of you, instantly brings you to tears, and makes the before-felt distance between you vanish? Here is this new mama, surrounded by the soft sounds of other moms around her, soothing and feeding their babies, and she is silently breaking, crying on her bed for her sweet little daughter that she carried nine months and had to let go. I took her hand and asked if I could pray for her, not knowing what else to do or say… stroking her hair, holding her face and breaking with her.
This kind of stuff makes me go introspective and question myself. Did I help at all? Did I make it worse for her? What am I even doing there? I hope- that just being with her, telling her she is not alone, mourning the loss of the life of her daughter with he makes some kind of a difference… That giving a short minute where it is ok for her to be raw and weep and cry and mourn what was and what should have been along with someone else who acknowledges the pain did something good. Crying as I write this now, I still don’t get it… The bigger question, apart from my selfish analysis of my own involvement is – why? Why did this happen to Paula and her daughter? Why does life suck so much where she is laying in this metal bed without a pillow or even a blanket, separated from her family, mourning the loss of not being able to experience the life of her daughter alone?
As I walked away, Paula gave a tired smile and squeezed my hand. I am sending you so much love right now Paula.
As I mentioned before, this hospital is run by the government. The way it works is that you can stay there and get free care if you are income elligible, but if you want medication, you need to bring your own or buy it from the hospital. If you want toilet paper and water? Bring it. Want diapers and a blanket for you or your new baby? Bring them with you. The list goes on.
The visit continued with room after room, story after story, each more impactful than the last. Life here in Guatemala is a constant state of being faced with situations like this that leave you with so many emotions, questions and no resolutions. Why am I not the person with a broken heart in that freezing dirty hospital bed with one stained sheet, my head inches from my other roommates smelly feet? How can I help that person, in some small way ease the pain and the unbalance and (let’s face it) my own guilt?
I am a solutions person. Give me a problem, and I want to figure out a way to fix it. With so many situations in life, there is no way of doing that, no way of making things better. Life is hard and unfair and horrible and ugly in so many ways. It can also be beautiful and soft and surprising. So how do we respond? To take a quote from a song ‘Now that I have seen, I am responsible’…
I was talking to a friend yesterday, trying to sort all of this out and she said, you know Katie? Everything that we truly need, God put in us, so just BEING with someone is not being cliché, it’s being a conduit of peace and comfort. Helping someone know they are not alone, and speaking life and hope into the other person. So in the emotional and spiritual sense, I feel ok about that now.
In the physical sense, we have committed to go back to the hospital and visit every month. Bringing with us love and sensitivity, supplies, medicine, and sweet mercy, toilet paper. If you want to help us out with this, let us know! We don’t know how we are going to do this every month, but we’re going to make it happen.
Now I want to challenge you - what do you walk by every day where if you could just slow down and insert yourself into the situation, you could, in some small way, make it better? Think about it. Then, DO something
Sending you guys so much love, especially if you made it all the way through this rambling post.