My apologies for writing the final blog so late… but alas, when we returned three weeks ago, I was exhausted. After sleeping most of a week, I can honestly say— in my five years of leading medical mission trips, this was one of the hardest trips that weighed heavily on my heart. Was it successful? Yes! Did we accomplish all that we set out to do— another resounding YES! We had an amazing rain boot campaign on Facebook where $6 = 1 pair of boots. We raised $3,000 and purchased 500 pairs of rain/work boots that we handed out to the campesinos (workers) in the mountains. We also had a very successful fundraiser, "A Taste of Nicaragua" hosted by Lucia and Ricky Heros of Memphis, that underscored and launched our abilities to meet the needs of the Nicaraguans with our outstretched hands. Besides our 500 pounds of medications and supplies that we gave out in pharmacy to closely 1,000 patients this year in recycle tote bags— we also gave out over 4 tons of food. Rice, beans, salt, and this year— soup packets that could feed a family of 8. We brought over four duffel bags of gently used tennis shoes donated from friends and Fleet Feet of Memphis— probably over 250 pair. Whew… that's a lot of late night hours after we have had clinic all day, re-stocking the pharmacy, re-stocking the bags of rice and beans, re-stocking the shoes and boots, not to mention re-stocking the hundreds of stuffed toys and recycle bags that we brought to give out to each child/family. And then we wake up at 6 am to head out for a two hour ride to a remote clinic and start over again. I bet you are exhausted just reading this and that is how we roll each year. Call this our annual trek, running the gauntlet or marathon— yes, we're prepared.
But, one can never prepare for the psychological impact that might unfold, all in a day's work. This year, I was given the reigns to run a clinic for an entire day— our missionary and liaison, Joy Pulsifer who has accompanied my team and numerous medical teams in the field for the past ten years and lives in Jinotega and is the Director of the orphanage, was called away to the Ministry of Health in Jinotega. The clinic set up smoothly, my team in synchrony. Thank you G-d and thank you to my team of gringos and Nicaraguans. There comes a time in clinic, where we have to say we are closing our doors. We have "X" amount of hours to drive back to the mountain town of Jinotega before dark (the roads are dirt and quite trecherous) and we have seen all of the patients that were given "tickets" by the Ministry of Heath. This is usually about 2 pm and we are past our magic number of 200 patients. So, my new job (usually Joy's job) is to access the 60 people waiting in the "no ticket" line to be seen. They have been waiting patiently all day come rain or shine, in hopes of seeing a provider. I have armed myself with 20 tickets ( we can see about 20 an hour) and the third year Nicaraguan medical student and translator, Fernanda was by my side. We began our "walk" down the line asking each patient their chief complaint. I have done this "walk" with Joy for five years, but this year— it was my decision that held such finality. The elderly and the infirmed… yes, they come first. Yes, here's your ticket… yes… I have more. I'm still holding it together. Babies and children that are sick… yes… yes, be patient…we have more. We're almost done walking the line and we get towards the end and I have run out of tickets. I ask the remaining ten people their problems and I pick out two elderly women.. yes, intellectually, I believe I have made the right decisions but the yearning in the people's eyes of those that I have not chosen, are reaching deep into my soul. I know we can't see everyone, I know that the General Office of Health is free and open to them…but those are eyes pulling on me. Hard. I close the gates of clinic with those selected inside…. clinic continues. I walk to the back of the building where our pharmacy is housed and I burst into tears. One of the male interpreters embraces me and holds onto me while I weep. He has teased me all week calling me "mama"- it's only fitting that he is consoling me. I can't stop crying— at least it feels that way. After a few minutes, I compose myself and announce to my pharmacy, that I'm okay. A cathartic moment, yes— but more importantly, a reminder of what the philosopher Hermann Hesse said, "Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go." It is hard to "let go" sometimes as the team leader, but necessary to keep my sense of humility in check and to be genuine. Know that each of us on this team has has experienced "moments" whether in public or private…but I thought sharing mine would underscore what Russell Scheinberg said in his blog— our hearts are full. In true form, later in the day, a team member sang the song: "Let it Go" from the Disney movie: Frozen— a good laugh was appreciated for THAT one!
An emotional roller coaster this trip, but here are some of the highlights—
Watching the faces of those we gave rain boots and socks. Most of us think that they are just providing protection from the mud and rain. The boots mean protection from the snakes and insects, from foot fungus and most importantly — now being able to obtain work in the fields because they have proper protection.
Hugs, squeezes and kisses abounded this year from the patients. When I wrapped a hand-made shawl (I collected about 50 of them from knitters locally and across the US) around an elderly woman, she said to me: May you be blessed today, may you be blessed tomorrow and may you be blessed for the rest of your life.
Marveling at the way a small pueblo of men gathered stones and wood to help move our school bus inch by inch across a deep muddy impasse.
Equally marveled at my team of gringos and Nicaraguans working tirelessly each day.
Appreciating that MINSA was present at each of our clinic days, immunizing everyone for tetanus and providing PAP smears for the women.
Playing piñata with the children from the orphanage and showering them (literally) with about 30 pounds of chocolate pieces.
Always amazed at how humble, kind and appreciative our patients are.
Equally amazed how our team of interpreters take on multiple job descriptions because they
value our work and take such deep pride in their country and countrymen.
Connecting with Moises Ghintis and his brother from Ometepe Island who traveled by ferry many hours to meet with us for Shabbat in Granada. (Zachary and I met him two years ago). Moises' grandfather was the Rabbi in Managua- pre-Sandinista movement. An emotional morning with Rabbi Chana Leslie Glazer and Russell Scheinberg leading shabbat prayers.
Re-connecting with Mr. Gerald Smith from Managua on Shabbat, a member of the Nicaraguan Jewish community.
Giving thanks each day and gratitude for our strong relationship with Globe International and Joy Pulsifer, who is an extraordinary missionary and who has an amazing zest for life.
And so this year our hearts were full, as we touched the lives of those in need and in return our lives were transformed as well. Thank you to my tireless team and to everyone who has supported our organization both financially and emotionally and of course, for following our annual blog. Hasta el próximo tiempo! (Until next time!)
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!