Tuesday, December 13, 2011

En El Tercer Día

'Mena,' as how the Emberá would say hello!

Today is our fourth day, or our third day of class-scheduled activities, here in the tropical paradise of Panamá! At this point it seems that everyone has acclimated to our new environment, except maybe not to the cold showers or the lack of our smart phones, and we’ve all found how great of a group we are and how well we all get along. I’m truly grateful for this and it’s been such an enjoyable trip for me so far because of this!

Our adventure began at a visit to the Hospital del Niño de Panamá (see picture of us below) where we were graciously given a guided tour by Dr. ‘Jo’ Young, who’s currently in the 7th month of her residency.  An interesting fact: Dr. Jo comprehended English much better than she was able to speak it, but more so, she spoke quickly with few pauses. I think that I can speak for the majority of the group when I say that translating for her was rough. Although she was able to reply in English with some rudimentary responses, even some of our fluent speakers had difficulty translating some medical terms.  Regardless of the deficiency in sharing information, perhaps due to the large group in a hallway or the translations, we were all indubitably left with a strong imprint of our experiences there.

If you happen to scan the website for the Hospital del Niño de Panamá (http://www.hn.sld.pa/) I’ll tell you that, in proportion to the reality of what we actually saw, there are too many smiling faces and the impression that you may get of a clean hospital is inaccurate. Although I haven’t been in many Hospitals to get a better comparative understanding, we received an overall shocking and emotional experience throughout our tour of the emergency room and the many services, specialties, and wards offered to the public. At times we felt that we were invading the privacy of the patients and their families but at other times we couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the lives that we observed and shed some tears for them. Something about seeing the tiniest babies requiring extensive care in the neonatal ward was especially difficult for me.  I was shocked by the number of babies that were in there and to find out that most stay between 3-4 months and some are still there for their 1st birthday. I found that the cost is extremely minimal, less than approximately $30 for long-term stays, and “families only pay if they’re able” –says Dr. Jo! I also found that their mothers aren’t allowed to visit for more than an hour due to the exorbitant number of babies in the filled-to-capacity room. This neonatal ward is built for the care of 70 babies; however, they’re able to even double the room capacity in times of need and we were assured that if that wasn’t enough, they would make room or find other space in the hospital to accommodate the baby. See picture below.

We also had an opportunity to see and visit with a 23 year old (see the picture below of him when he was 10 in the black sweatshirt) in the dialysis ward that had been abandoned by his family many years ago. Although we had been told of his story beforehand as a previous Honors class recalled their meet with him, it was still shocking to actually place him and his environment and find out about the commonality of familial abandonment at the Hospital.

Another such abandonment case was a 4 year old, named Roberto (in the picture below), who had excess water in his brain (for a lack of proper medical terminology). It was especially challenging for me to cope with the reality that he was abandoned. Although it may be my ignorance of his families’ circumstances and/or how strongly his disease interferes with his development, I felt that if he had been my son, I wouldn’t have given up the idea of improving his social skills, motor skills through physical therapy, and just being there to comfort him as he had confused reactions to our presence there. One particular question that was posed by our teacher resonated with me.  Paraphrased, “what will eventually happen to Roberto?” to which Dr. Jo responded that he could potentially, but improbably, be adopted or join a type of foster home at the hospital. Hopefully a good future is in store for him.

We ended our tour in the Emergency Room, where we learned of the structure of how patients are categorized and then some of us got an opportunity to speak with a new mother who had just come into the hospital because her baby was sick. This was an especially distressing and compassionate period for some of my peers in comforting for the mother.

I think that, out of all of our experiences thus far, this Hospital is in most need and would be able to stretch any donation as far as they could.  There was a clear distinction that this was a Hospital to serve, rather than one for business purposes, like we saw later in the day at the Hospital Punta Pacífica (http://www.hospitalpuntapacifica.com/).

-Alexandra Wallmueller

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