New School Year and Next Steps in Health

Today was our first day back at school. Hard to believe the boys are in grades 4 and 5 now, with Dominic doing a mixture of preschool and kindergarten work. Seems like they were just getting started last year! But no, now we are entering the world of higher math, where Irving will be called upon more often, and writing reports and doing crazy science experiments.

We started off slowly, with just a few pages or a simple activity in each subject. Dominic was thrilled to start school and worked diligently, writing out his answers in his book and eagerly taking everything in. Funny to think how his schooling will be different because he has much older brothers!

The older boys are learning about hoaxes and will later move on to Guatemala’s history. We plan to take a few small field trips this year and the kids are pretty excited about that idea.

On the health front, I’m done my treatment, which was nearly as bad as the infection. I took the last antibiotic yesterday and I’m feeling much better. In fact, yesterday, I even spent the morning climbing stairs and walking around the hospital on a tour, something that would have been completely impossible for me a week ago. Thank goodness for modern medicine.

The next step is to see the doctor in a week or so, to get checked out. I’m going to have to do some tests to see if any permanent damage was done from the infection going untreated for so long, then we’ll get a plan in place to get my immune system back on track. So far, so good!

One of the fringe benefits of being so sick is that I lost quite a bit of weight. I doubt it will stay off, but you never know!

 

What a Way to Start the New Year

Well, 15 days in and 2016 is already a doozy of a year. No sooner had we celebrated the new year, when I started to feel . . . not-so-great. I figured it was a normal issue that would resolve itself in a few days, but when it didn’t and I started getting chills and was in intense pain all day long, we thought it might be time to see a doctor.

My doctor wasn’t available, so we went to see one that was recommended by my sister-in-law. He quickly dismissed me with “your pain is caused by your weight, plus you’re old, so you can’t expect your body to work the same way anymore.” Um, okay. I’m 36, didn’t realize that was falling apart age . . . He sent me home with a prescription for Vitamin E and painkillers.

Well, I was still feeling pretty sick. The pains spread up my stomach and I was vomiting, too. We saw a second doctor, who told me that I probably had a form of endometriosis. He seconded the Vitamin E and painkillers/anti-inflammatories.

Unfortunately, nothing was getting better. I was in constant pain and so worn out that I could barely stand for more than a few minutes. The boys were wonderful during this period. Dante cooked most of the meals for the family and Dorian kept Dominic entertained. Irving was here, of course, but he didn’t have to do too much apart from supervise, plus he was running into town to try and find something to help me.

Finally, my doctor was available on Monday and we went. He took a quick look at me and listened to the story and was able to rule out the whole uterine lining business and found points of infection in my ears, throat, lungs, GI tract, kidneys, etc. So, basically, a massive, multi-system infection that had been allowed to go on far too long. He started me on antibiotics and told me to come back when I was done to work on rebuilding my poor, shattered immune system.

So, this means that so far, I’ve spent the year sleeping, in extreme pain or waiting for a doctor. Pretty sure the rest of the year will go better.

 

Guatemala’s Hospital Crisis and What We Can Do About It

18 women wait for C-sections in Antigua's national hospital . . . but there are no supplies to operate. Image via La Noticia en Guatemala.

I’ve written previously about Guatemala’s public hospitals, but it’s something that has been weighing on me heavily lately. Last week, my niece, Sofia 3, was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia and we had yet another chance to see what the public hospital is like. While they were surprisingly well equipped for children, the very basic items had to be purchased. Her father, Irving’s youngest brother, had to go out to buy the supplies for an IV to be run. Oxygen and medication were supplied, but the actual supplies were unavailable.

Irving went to visit the little munchkin (who is recovering nicely and should be home today) and I asked him to talk to the hospital about donations. He talked to the Chief of Pediatrics and discovered that they need just about everything, but are particularly interested in the following items:

  • Gloves
  • Syringes
  • IV supplies
  • Suturing supplies
  • Gowns and clothes for children
  • Diapers
  • Towels

This was for the Pediatrics floor only. In Maternity, they are in desperate need of supplies for C-sections. Families are being asked to find the supplies while their pregnant loved ones wait and labor in the hospital. Doctors are weary of the complete lack of supplies to treat their patients with, though they do the best they can with what they have and what families can bring.

I’m just one person. But this crisis is being reported everywhere. Here are some links that may help shed more light on the situation.

English

Daryl Fulp, a missionary who lives in a town near us, wrote this sad post about his own experiences with the hospitals. He also blogged about desperate parents pleading for help for their children, often just a few dollars for medicine or supplies.

Spanish

This article in El Periodico shows that hospitals across the nation are in trouble.

This short report gives more info on how things came to pass . . . the money was stolen by the government.

The following is a video that shows some of the difficulties that the hospitals are faced with, including a woman who had to find the money to buy surgical supplies for her daughter who needed an emergency C-section.

How We Can Help

I often feel helpless when I read these stories of families desperate to help their children survive, or women trying to have their baby. I’m not rich enough to help many people and sometimes it feels pointless to help just one, though it’s really not!

There are few things that can be done and every bit helps. While I hope the government steps up and the new president will work on fixing this problem, people are suffering and even dying in the meantime. We can do something about that for one or two people . . . maybe more.

1. You can donate money to Daryl Fulp’s mission fund. He lists it in his blog posts. He has a proper organization, so that may be the simplest method for many. If not there, you may find another organization that you trust in Guatemala and ask if they can do donations.

2. You can donate directly to the hospital. If you’re in Guatemala, or visiting, you can drop off medical supplies and clothing for the hospital yourself or contact me and I’ll meet up with you to collect and deliver them.

3. Donate materials. Irving and I eventually want to set up a small clinic here where families will be able to come when they need specific supplies for their loved ones, but at this point, the need is too great and we are not equipped to handle that. So, for now our solution is to start small and take the items directly to the hospital. Here’s what we’re working on right now:

  • C-section kits: Small kits that include the syringes, gloves, IV items and stitching supplies for a C-section. 
  • Hospital gowns: I love sewing and so it makes sense to create some hospital gowns. I’m already doing small burial outfits for preemies, but am expanding to hospital gowns for both adults and children. These can be made from sheets, which are easily found in the pacas and come in some pretty cute designs, as well as flannel.
  •  ER kits: Stitching equipment and thread, gauze and gloves are just a few of the things we’ll be collecting as we can to donate to the ER.
I’m still debating whether or not to open a GoFundMe to help out with this, but of course, we’re happy to accept physical donations of fabric and other supplies to take in. Contact me for more information or leave a comment with your thoughts.

Edited to add: We’ve created a GoFundMe account for those interested in donating. You can follow the progress on the new Healing Hearts Guatemala site.

That Doesn’t Need Refrigerating!

There are so many cultural differences when you visit a new country, but here, my biggest challenges have always been food. I’ve always been a picky eater and I think most people figured I’d starve in Guatemala! Over time, I’ve overcome many of my food issues, but there are a few things that I still don’t get. One of these is the lack of refrigeration for things that I have always been taught to keep cold.

So, without further adieu, here are some of the items that are regularly NOT refrigerated in Guatemala.

Mayonnaise: Everyone knows that mayonnaise needs to be kept cold, right? Growing up, I heard horror stories of people who left their sandwiches with mayo in their lunchboxes for a few hours and got horribly sick or even died. So, when I started working in a cafe here and they kept their mayo in a squeeze bottle on the counter, I was horrified.
Fast forward a decade and while I do keep mayo in the fridge, it’s not a big stressor for me anymore. There are no eggs in the mayonnaise that we buy, and I’ve never gotten sick, so I’m going with “it’s okay.”

Yogurt: A few days ago, I was walking through the supermarket in Antigua and there in the dairy section was a stacked display of drinkable yogurt. Just sitting out in the aisle, no effort made to chill. If you head to the market, many stalls sell little cups of yogurt, which are stored in boxes sitting in the sun. I’ve never tested these and I never plan to. However, technically yogurt is cultured milk, so maybe it just keeps culturing instead of going bad? I really don’t know.

Meat: At the same supermarket, we went to buy some ham. There were displays of ham sitting on top of the display case and a big plate of pork chops. In the market, again, you’ll regularly see stalls in the meat section with slabs of beef and chicken carcasses laying out on the tiles or hanging from bars over the counter. This grosses me out no end . . .but again, there is a precedent for this. When you hunt or butcher an animal, you can let it hang for a bit to age. Personally, I prefer fresh meat that is frozen right away, but I’m also not a huge meat fan.

meat in the Guatemalan market

Eggs: Another thing I always figured you needed to keep cold was an egg. Take a stroll through the market in Antigua, though, and you’ll see bags and cartons of eggs sitting out. I did some research on this and it turns out that you don’t need to refrigerate eggs . . . as long as they aren’t washed. Also, if you DO put them in the fridge, they have to stay there or they will spoil when taken out.

Milk: This one is cheating, since the milk here comes in tetra packs very often. These can be left out and will stay “good” though if you ask me, packaged milk is extra gross (I’m not a milk fan anyway). I tasted it once and it was horrible, but certainly not rotten. If you’ve never seen this, though, the thought of boxes of milk sitting out is very odd.

Seafood: “Camarones! Camarones grandes!” is a shout you may hear near a speed bump in Antigua, while men with buckets of prawns wave handfuls of the smelly seafood at passing cars. In the market, you’ll find piles of shrimp heaped over little mountains of melting ice on slabs of wood. I don’t eat seafood, but even if I did I would be very, very careful about purchasing warmed raw shrimp.

 

 

A Season of Sickness

We’ve been hit with one illness after another around here. It all started with a common cold that escalated into something far more serious for me, though the boys got over it fairly rapidly. However, once our immune systems were compromised, that was it! We were fair game for every little virus. The kids all came down with nasty colds again a week after the first one, Dorian’s GI tract has been acting up and we’ve had multiple consults with the doctor about how to manage his issues.

Then the night before last, Dominic woke up vomiting and vomited for several hours before falling asleep, completely empty, and waking up just fine in the morning. I’m not sure what happened there, since we eat the same food!

Finally, we’re getting over all these colds and tummy bugs and whatever else seems to be thrown our way. Here’s to it actually being the end for a while! Now to rebuild these immune systems!

Kefir and Growing Cultures

A friend of mine recently gave me some milk kefir grains. I’ve made water kefir before, but my BIL drank it and tossed the grains, thinking they were just junk. Oops. With the milk kefir, I’ve been making “yogurt” and using it in smoothies and ice cream. This is the way to get it into little bellies!

The boys haven’t realized yet that the kefir is what is making their yogurt, but with some fresh fruit and a little honey, it tastes pretty much like the normal yogurt, but with super amounts of probiotics. We’re hoping this will help Dorian’s intestines, but I think it will be great for the whole family.

So far, I’m still learning. My first two batches overcultured rather quickly. I suppose a tropical country isn’t ideal . .. the kefir is done in about 24 hours here! However, the thicker kefir is great for making yogurt and I want to try draining it to create “cheese” but that hasn’t happened yet, since we’ve used it all up in other dishes. The main issue with culturing the kefir for so long is that it gets a little sour. Nothing a bit of honey won’t fix, though!

On the topic of cultures, I’ve also started a sourdough culture so I can begin to offer sourdough bread in the bakery. I suspect it will be a big deal, since it’s not something you see around here. Next up? Sauerkraut! I’ve been dying for some good sauerkraut and need to find a crock or something similar to make it in, since my last attempt went bad due to using a poor container. We’ll see what happens!

Do you have a favorite culture?

A Third World Hospital

Just what is a third world hospital like? It all depends on where you go. I’ve had quite a few experiences with the public hospitals in Guatemala, but most of those were years ago, when I miscarried our early babies and when the two older boys were born. Dorian’s later surgeries and Dominic’s birth were in private hospitals, so dealing with my mother-in-law being in a public hospital was a return to a familiar world.

Most people know that third world hospitals aren’t going to be that great, but what other option do people have if they don’t have money? Something I’ve learned is that the system has gotten far, far worse than when I was giving birth in San Felipe’s hospital. Or perhaps it was simply because I was there for something natural and normal, rather than needing special help. Either way, here’s a look at what a public hospital in Guatemala is like these days.

1. Bring Your Own _____

The hospital will give you food and a bed. That’s pretty much it. The food is very basic, as is to be expected. There’s no fancy JELLO here! You’ll be served a spoonful of beans, a piece of bread and a melamine cup of atol (a thick drink, like gruel). If you’re lucky, you’ll get a side of veggies or a piece of plantain. It’s not filling, but it will keep you alive. Let me just say that this tiny amount of food is NOTHING when you’ve just had a baby and haven’t eaten in 12+ hours!

Now, while this is provided, there is NO water offered in the hospital. You will need someone to bring you a bottle of water or you will have to drink from the unfiltered taps in the bathroom. Which I’ve seen many women do, since there is only one visiting hour in the day. If you have your baby or go in early in the morning, you’re kinda hooped until 2pm.

2. Call Buttons, Shmall Buttons

Don’t expect to be able to call a nurse when you need one! There are no call buttons here and if you do get up to find a nurse, you’ll most likely be scolded and sent back to bed without any real help. I suspect the nurses are jaded and underpaid here and are tired of being unable to tell a patient that a doctor is on his way or give out any concrete information.

3. What to Wear

You can’t take anything into the hospital with you. When you arrive at the ER, one person may accompany you and that person will be given everything you have on you in a plastic bag, including earrings, underwear, and shoes and socks. You will be given a gown that may be in pretty poor condition (my MIL wore one with a huge tear in the side and no ties).

During the visiting hour, family or friends can bring you flip flops and such. Until then, you get to show off your assets. ?

4. Need Meds? Buy Them Yourself

The hospitals here work on a very limited budget and have virtually no supplies. When Dante had to go into the ER a couple of years back, there was a child brought in who had drowned in a well. They were trying desperately to resuscitate this little boy and one of the doctors was pacing the hall, calling every resource she could think of to try and find a ventilator so they could try and save this little one. They were bagging by hand until they could get hold of one. Can you imagine? That’s a vital piece of equipment for a hospital that serves at least a dozen towns!

My MIL needs a metal plate in her shoulder. The hospital does not provide this. Instead, they give you a prescription for it, should you be lucky enough to get a surgical consult, and it’s up to you to go and buy it. If you don’t have the money, your loved one remains in limbo, waiting until the family can get the pieces and the medications they need. The blood tests she required were also extra out of pocket costs.

As Irving put it, “This is basically a public hospital now, because you have to pay for everything except the bed!” This makes it extremely difficult for families who are unable to raise the money for a necessary operation.

 5. Doctors Off Call

When I had Dorian, there were no doctors in the hospital. Since the hospital in San Felipe is a teaching one, it’s full of interns and residents who seem really resentful of their need to be there. When things go wrong, there isn’t always a doctor around to step in and that can be dangerous. Fortunately, I never had an issue with that, but there are people who have.

All that being said . . .

I am very grateful that there ARE public hospitals here. They aren’t the best and they have many, many faults, but they also provide medical care to those who can’t afford it elsewhere. There are some doctors, like Dorian’s surgeon, who are true to their oaths and are willing to help their patients and make life better for them.

While most of my experiences have been bad, Dante’s birth was a wonderful experience with the help of two amazing female doctors in the same hospital where I had such a terrible experience with Dorian’s birth. So, I think there are a number of people working in these poor conditions, trying their best to help, but without the necessary resources to do so. That’s sad, but it gives me hope that things can get better.

Esperanza

Any long time readers know that I don’t exactly get along with my mother-in-law, but I also don’t want to see her (or anyone for that matter) hurt. This morning, we received a call saying that she’d fallen in Antigua. The sidewalks and cobblestones there are rough and prone to holes, so this sort of thing happens frequently.

Thinking she had just been banged up a bit, Irving headed off to pick her up. When he got there, he realized that she was hurt far worse than just a few bumps and bruises, so he took her to the ER at the local public hospital.

They did X-rays and discovered that not only did she break her arm, she’s shattered her shoulder and it will require surgery. While the public hospital offers basic free care, Irving has already had to pay for the tests and her immobilizer. Any medications are going to be out of pocket, as well . . . including those for the surgery.

Since Esperanza hasn’t had much work lately, she’s pretty upset about losing her job while she’s recovering, so we’ll see what happens. Hopefully it won’t come to that! In the meantime, we’ve set up a GoFundMe page to help out with medical costs and getting her back on her feet. If you’d like to donate, feel free. If you just want to share the page on your Facebook or Twitter, that would also be awesome. And of course, prayers for a quick recovery will be a big help.

You can click here to donate or share. Thanks!

Esperanza's medical fund

Yes, I’m a Special Needs Parent

My children look perfect to the naked eye. If you were to see them walking down the street, you’d never guess that I’m a special needs mom. But I am. You’d never guess that one of my kids has serious intestinal issues and struggles daily to stay healthy. But he does.

Dorian was born with an imperforate anus, which basically means his intestines weren’t attached to the outside of his body at all. His poop had nowhere to go. At one day of age, he had to have surgery to give him a colostomy. There’s really nothing in the world that can prepare you for the shock of having a child with an undetectable (before birth) birth defect.

Over the years, we’ve found a new normal. Dorian has had four surgeries in his nine years, which really isn’t that bad, but has been stressful each time. Lately, he’s been needing more and more enemas to keep his intestines functioning. It has been scary. We’ve gone from one enema every 4-6 months to one every week. I started researching alternatives. None were great, but we decided that we would do what was necessary.

Yesterday, we had a visit with Dorian’s surgeon. I was very nervous about this consult, since we were going to talk to him about a Malone procedure.It’s not ideal, but we thought it might be the only chance for Dorian to have a normal life.

You can’t imagine my relief when the surgeon checked Dorian out and told us that he was fine and didn’t need surgery at this point. We discussed the various options and he told us that at this point, a surgery, either to remove the piece of intestine that is not working or to do a Malone, would only lower Dorian’s quality of life. He also told us that he’s seeing a lot of kids right now dealing with constipation, because of the weather!

This is something we never considered, but the hot weather causes everyone to sweat more and that causes light dehydration. When kids don’t drink enough, it causes constipation and eventually, in kids like Dorian, blockages which require enemas.

Dorian was pretty relieved to hear this, too, as you can imagine. He also talked with the doctor about his sugar intake and was told that little boys need the occasional candy, but the first priority is liquids and fiber. :) I love this doctor.

We may not look like a special needs family, but we very much are. It’s easy to see someone walking down the street and think they’re perfectly normal, but we all have our stories and our pain. For us, it’s the stress of keeping Dorian healthy, with all his intestinal issues. It’s harder than it might seem. I don’t write much about this, but Dorian has given me permission to publish more information on his disabilities, in hopes it will help other kids and parents like us.

Oh Look, More Oil Classes!

Are you tired of hearing about essential oils yet? Last post for a while, I promise.

I’ve got another 101 class starting tomorrow for those who want to learn more about essential oils and family health. If you missed the first one, you’ll want to get in on this one! Click the image to sign up.

Also, if you’re more interested in the business opportunity side of things, I’m offering a business class starting tomorrow, as well. NO obligation to join up, but you can learn a bit more about the doTERRA business and how to make money with the oils. Click the image to sign up.

Both classes begin tomorrow and run for 4 days. See you there!