Save My Baby

Buena Vista Jornada- held in the public school (When school was on vacation)

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I have wanted to put this experience down in writing for some time now. But I have been so busy up until this week and haven’t had a chance to do it… Now that I have sat down to work on it, it is so hard for me to put into words, for a number of reasons. Let me just say it how it is, and then go back and put a disclaimer on it.

During our last two weeks with the SPU students in Magdalena (and thus our two students in the clinic) we held a “jornada medica” in Buena Vista. That means we went to this town about a mile and a half outside of Magdalena and set up shop in the public school to see a large number of patients at rapid-fire speed. This was our second jornada in Buena Vista, and we did not get nearly as many patients as we did last time. Our two students (Amanda and Sarah) plus a visiting nursing professor from SPU helped us out so much and made it go so much smoother than our first jornada. But something happened with our last patient that really left our jaws dropped and a burden on our hearts.

One patient who came through the jornada went back to get a lady she knew who had a very sick daughter, just weeks old. When the mom came in with her girl, wrapped up and slung over her back, you could see in her face that she was distraught. Like any other patient, we wanted to first do in take for her baby (I don’t think she had named her yet, which is actually pretty common) which includes weighing her, measuring her head, and temperature. But mom was trembling in fear when I went to help her un-swaddle her baby so I could weigh her. She was terrified to unwrap her! This is a very common misconception here for the moms that has been passed down for generations and is thus very hard to correct. When a baby or toddler is sick, moms will throw on many layers of clothes and wrap them up so tight to keep them warm. They think that if they are exposed to the air for even the shortest moment that they will, literally as they say it: get to much “aire” and die. We have seen countless babies sweating and very agitated because moms are covering them up so much when they have a fever and we are always in a state of educating moms on how to take care of a sick baby and clearing up these long-held myths. Well, our sweet, kind nurse Paqui was able to talk her down a little bit and convince her that we know what we’re doing and we also just want what is best for her baby. And with trembling hands, mom sweating even more now and looking very pale because of how worried she was, she let us unwrap her baby and weigh her.

Then when she passed with Dra Sara to have her baby examined, it was the same battle to get her to unwrap her so Dra Sara could listen to her lungs. Dra Sara immediately diagnosed her with severe bronchial pneumonia, which is one of the leading causes of infant death, and told her that she needed to take her daughter immediately to the hospital. Obviously, mom was very stressed and worried. You could tell it in the way she was touching her baby like she was so fragile and delicate. This was her first baby. There was another lady with the mom, who I think was her sister maybe. The whole thing happened so fast from the time mom came into the jornada that I did not get really any of their names or anything! This other lady sort of erupted at Dra Sara’s order to take the baby to the hospital and she stormed out pretty fast, saying something along the lines of Dra Sara not knowing what she was talking about, let’s take her to another doctor. You could tell the mom was afflicted and Dra Sara started explaining very plainly to her what was happening inside of her baby’s body and why it was important to take her to the hospital. She told her that her baby’s life depended on it. But mom dejectedly wrapped her baby back up, slung her on her back and followed this other lady out of the jornada, not going to the hospital.

It was a tough experience to accept because more than likely, that poor little girl died within a couple of days. Why did mom refuse to take her to the hospital? It is completely free at the public hospital, and not very far away. Well, Buena Vista is a very poorly educated community where traditional customs and practices are maintained. Undoubtedly, mom had heard from many other women (supposedly older, wiser, and more experienced moms) about how babies were brought to the hospital just to die. Unfortunately it is true that a lot of babies brought into the hospital when they are very sick die in the hospital, but it is not because of poor care in the hospital. It is because the baby is so sick by the time they are brought in that it is really too late. Just like with this baby girl: if mom had taken her to the hospital right when Dra Sara told her to, she probably would have been ok. However, it is very common for moms to seek any other option to get their babies healthy, including mythic home remedies and witchcraft, before taking their baby to the hospital as a last resort. We saw the same thing back when I had first arrived to Guatemala and we found that burn victim in the street, 8 year old Katherine, and her mom Nancy was too scared to take her to the hospital. Some moms will try anything before taking their child to the hospital and these things that they try will often be the thing that ends up killing them. Like when I was in the hospital for a night shift with Dra Sara one time and a lady brought her 6 month old baby into the emergency room because she had given him 10 times the dosage of aspirin for his body weight. This mom at the jornada in Buena Vista just did what she thought was best, but unfortunately, her daughter most likely died. Infant mortality in Buena Vista is very high. We are always hearing about how another baby has died. It breaks my heart.

I was afflicted in putting this experience into story form and sharing it with all of cyberspace due to my fears of it being blown up and generalized over all Guatemalan women. Since I do not have names for any of these anonymous characters, mom, baby, and sister, I don’t want to let these characterizations get projected on any of our other poorly educated patients. Yes, there is a big need in this community for health education. The SPU nursing professor who was helping us during the jornada will most likely be bringing down a group of over 10 fourth-year nursing students to do community assessments and health education projects in Buena Vista, San Miguel and El Gorrion. This is a huge need and we just pray that God would have mercy on these people. I don’t know how exactly to ask you to pray for this community. But I know that if you will faithfully pray, even when words don’t come together right, God will be faithful and respond correctly. Please lift up this Guatemalan mom and many like her.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. PW
    Dec 04, 2012 @ 21:17:08

    If it comforts you, they do that because they love their babies. Some ignorance of course, it’s the same ignorance expressing in different ways in different part of the world. I don’t know an exception yet. Beyond ignorance it is the reality of life. Like in my dad’s generation they had many children, not all of them survived. It’s still like that in parts of Guatemala. One cannot succeed in providing every need, curing every one and correcting every ignorance. Jesus didn’t come to do that either. But I’d rather die in the hands of whom loves me. That later action is what God sent his son to do. And for a time, the Bible said, he wept, for the loss of life. Peace be with your brothers and sisters. I admit that some lessons have to be learned through death. The ones who ignore it are the truly ignorant.


  2. Eric H
    Dec 05, 2012 @ 12:14:15

    Reblogged this on Eric's Random Thoughts and commented:
    A moving story of love and the need for Christ and health education. Read and pray for Brittany and the great Students International work in Guatemala.


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