Tuesday Nov 09, 2010
Guest blog entry! From trip leader Deb Voulalas, M.D.
Our team is up very early -- 6 a.m. -- to join the clinic staff at 7:30 a.m. for their first "Natividad" celebration of this Christmas season. Dr. Fran, the clinic director, holds these once a week for her staff during the 2 months leading up to Christmas. We only clapped along to the lively Spanish Christmas songs but were able to join in and sing Silent Night together -- a lovely blend of Spanish and English -- accompanied by our interpreter Santo on trombone. It was a unique and joyful way to start the work day, and we headed off in high spirits to a new barrio being added to the NPS program.
Work for the team today involved visting 45 homes of families with children under 5 years old living in one of the poorest barrios in Consuelo. Armed with scales and stadiometers to measure the children, we must have been an odd sight. But at every door we were received warmly and often invited in -- even to the humblest of homes, some with only dirt floors. Imagine a group of 13 strangers knocking on your front door offering free health care to your children, asking if you can weigh and measure them in your front yard and offering you and your children antibiotics to treat intestinal parasites. I am struck by the sobering combination of trust and desperation. We were delighted that all 45 families enthusiastically agreed to enroll their children, and after each encounter, smiles, handshakes and muchas gracias were shared by all.
Excited to be nearing the end of our productive but tiring day, we visited the home of 11-day-old Carla and her young mother, who was in bed recovering from her c-section. We assessed the baby to be malnourished, and I was initially concerned that she did not appear as vigorous as I would have liked. The mother accepted my offer to examine her daughter, so there we were -- me, mom, and baby -- on mom's bed, my exam aided only by the scant late afternoon light from the open front door of their one-room home. It was the most intimate and meaningful newborn exam I have ever experienced.
A little unnerved to not have even the simplest tools to assess the baby -- not even a thermometer -- we spent a lot of time with the baby, then returned to recheck her before leaving for the day. Reassured the baby did not need further evaluation, my colleague Dr. Pam Mazzeo and I arranged follow-up for the next day in the NPS clinic. We exchanged smiles, handshakes, and waves goodbye with mom and her extended "family" of neighbors who were looking after them, then left this young mother and her newborn, both looking so vulnerable in the approachng darkness. I thought of the start of our day -- Silent Night, Holy Night -- and left hoping this would be an Uneventful Night for this mother and child.
Deb Voulalas, M.D.
UPDATE: Carla's mom stayed home recovering from her c-section this morning, which seems to be the local custom, but two of her young neighbors carried little Carla into the clinic this morning (on foot, probably about 2 miles) for her check-up, and three of our team members saw the baby yet again when they returned to the barrio this afternoon. She has started re-gaining her birth weight and looks great. -- P.M. 11/9/2010