April 11, 2013

Count Your Many Blessings

This week I tackled the big project of organizing our crawl space (PS This 5'9" girl is not a fan of crawl spaces!).  I went through box after box and came upon a case of old CD's and began sorting through them.  I found several CD's filled with thousands of pictures from my nursing student internship to Argentina seven years ago.  I had never uploaded these pictures onto a computer and certainly hadn't seen them for years.  So I eagerly uploaded them onto our new computer and have spent several hours looking over these pictures of experiences I had in an Argentine maternity hospital that changed and bettered my life.

Experiencing healthcare in a different country was eye-opening and humbling.  While I don't pretend that there aren't problems in our own country's healthcare, all it took me was a few minutes in that Argentine hospital to be reminded just how good we have it here in the US.  Our access to education, information, nutrition, hygiene, clean water, transportation, etc is so beyond what the citizens of that city could imagine, and their lack of the above definitely has an effect on their health and access to needed medical care.
The maternity hospital where we worked served a large (1 million+ people) city and an even larger surrounding rural area, so mothers would often travel from very far away to deliver their babies at the hospital.  It was sometimes crowded, usually understaffed, and nothing like even the dingiest of hospitals you would see in the US.......
The walls were full of holes where plaster chunks had fallen off.
The hallways smelled of cigarette smoke where all the doctors and visitors took their smoking breaks.
The linens were stained and full of holes at best.
There was one labor room in the entire hospital with five beds in it.  If we happened to have more than five laboring women at one time (which happened!), then they had to double up and share a bed.
There was no option for an epidural and family members were not permitted in the labor room (there was simply no room for them!).
We had to bring our own gloves.
Soda bottles were used to dispose of sharps.
Several times a day, the blood/bodily fluid-splattered floors would get "cleaned" by a custodial lady who dumped a bucket of water on the floor and then squeegeed it over to a drain in the floor.  
The average age of the first-time mom was between 14-15 years old, premature births were the norm, and we cared for quite a few sick babies.
Many of the NICU babies' mothers had to return to work and many of them lived outside of the city.  With such limited means of transportation for the mothers to be able to visit the hospital, many of these struggling infants were usually all alone most of the time.
When we first arrived to the hospital, we were told that the government had not been able to pay the NICU nurses' salaries for many months, so most of the nurses stopped coming to work.  A few nurses couldn't bear the thought of leaving their little babies without anyone to care for them, so they chose to stay and work without pay.
There were no labor & delivery or postpartum nurses.

While I was inspired by the medical staff who worked hard (often without pay) and still managed to save lives despite such limited means, it was heartbreaking that so many mothers and babies suffered or died from complications that would not have been a serious issue had they lived somewhere where nutrition, clean water, and proper medical care were more readily available.

(A hallway in the hospital where we were hanging up some simple educational posters for moms and their families to read)

(with one of our little preemies.  During the four weeks we cared for him, I never saw his mother or any relative of his visit.)

In the afternoons and evenings, we visited children in the city's poorest communities to teach them simple health and hygiene lessons, do simple health screenings, and provide them with milk and crackers (sometimes the only thing they'd eat the entire day).
It was heartbreaking, but also humbling to see how much joy and hope these children still had despite their circumstances.  Words can't say enough how much I learned from our days spent with them.

(helping the children to pick up the trash in their neighborhood)

(someone's backyard)

(heartbreaking to see a little girl playing in the trash-infested canal)

(one of our sweet girls)

(these kids had never seen a camera before, they were so excited!)

And then after 6 weeks, we came back to the US where we have closed sewage systems, clean medical facilities, smoke-free environments, an over-abundance of food, public school for our children, and access to a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips to help us live healthy, happy lives.  It's amazing how contrasting our worlds are............

I have been stalking a blog authored by one of our valley's best OB doctors and his wife (who happens to be a midwife).  They are amazing practitioners who run a wonderful practice together and appreciate and acknowledge the importance of both the medical and natural approaches to health and maternity care.  They are currently on a trip in Haiti working with the "Midwives for Haiti" program in a hospital.   I have been devouring every word of their blog updates (to read about their experiences, go here).  Their triumphant and heartbreaking stories have brought back many memories of my experiences in Argentina;
such sad, humbling but rewarding experiences.
I am amazed at how quickly after returning to the US I slipped back into old habits of a self-consumed life filled with complaints--school is hard, work is harder, my boyfriend broke up with me, I have acne and an injury from running.  I'm sure my Argentinian ninos only wish they could have had those "problems"!  And even today I'm ashamed at how often I fail to be consciously and verbally grateful for all that I have--a nice warm home, two vehicles that are paid for, stable careers, healthy children, plenty of food, great friends and family, strong faith.  Reading the Elrod's blog has been a great reminder to me of how blessed I am and how great of a responsibility I have to serve others less fortunate.
Garrett and I have always dreamed to being able to take our family on service trips to foreign countries someday in the future.  The Elrods are living our dream. :)  Though our time to travel and serve in that capacity may be far-off, I hope I can be better about remembering that I can still offer service not only through donations of time, supplies, and money, but also by living a life of gratitude and teaching my children to do the same. 


Taffy and Tony said...

Great post, Holly. It's so fun for me to be able to hear a little about your experience and all you learned from it. We truly are blessed here in the USA!

rawhide said...

I think I want to go to Argentina!!!! I have been looking for a new trip this year for humanitarian aid.....maybe I will look in to this one. Loved the pictures with the kids.

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