We came to know Marta Magdalena through a tragedy. Her mother came to us with the sad news that Marta Magdalena’s 6-year old brother had died during the night. Ronnie, had awakened at 4 AM with severe stomach pain, diarrhea and vomiting and became gradually worse.
At 7 am, the father desperately went to a neighbor who had a pick up truck to take Ronnie to the hospital. But on the way to the hospital little Ronnie died in his father’s arms. They returned to the village, grief-stricken to share the news with the mother, Faustania.
The pickup driver then drove the father to buy a coffin, but on the way the pickup driver lost control on the steep and bumpy road and the truck flipped over and landed on the father. The tires rammed over the father’s legs. He was badly injured but refusted to go to the hospital.
When I entered the simple two-room house that was home to eight people, I saw the father lying on a wooden frame bed with a wooden board for a mattress, moaning quietly. Near him on the ground was a small white coffin containing Ronnie’s little body, surrounded by pine needles and candles and a picture of Jesus. It was all I could do to not to burst into tears. I hugged the mother and proceeded to examine the father.
He was in much pain and his legs were swollen and bruised with many cuts; he was not able to move his legs. I told him we must get him to the hospital to get X-rays, bute said he would not leave till they had buried his son.
The custom in Guatemala is to spend almost 24 hours beside the body of the deceased and receive family and friends. Embalming is not customary, so the body must be buried within 24 hours by law. They family of the deceased serves several rounds of coffee and bread to all the visitors. Many times when some one dies we prepare a package of coffee, sugar and bread to give to the family. In the morning, they have a service and the person is buried. In the village areas, the body is buried in the ground with a simply grave marker. There is a formal cemetery is in the next town farther down the road. If they have money to be able to buy a spot in the cemetary, then they family and friends will walk the 10 km to the cemetary, carrying the body. If they have enough money, they will hire one or more pickups to carry everyone and bring them back.
Ronnie’s father insisted he would not leave his son’s side until he was buried, and no amount of persuading could move him. I made him promise to go to the hospital after that. I explained how to take some pain medicine and elevate his seriously swollen legs. I left money for a pick up to take him to the hospital, praying his lower legs were not broken.
When I came back the next day to visit the family, the father told me he had gone to the hospital and thankfully, his legs were not broken. However, he sadly related to me that he had been treated very rudely at the public hospital. I could see the hurt in his eyes as he explained how he was treated. At this time when he was hurting so badly from losing his son, why does the doctor have to be so rude? This rude treatment is another reason that it is so hard for us to get people to agree to go the hospital. Many times I accompany them so they get better treatment.
While I was in their home I noticed a baby of about 10 months, a beautiful bright-looking little girl who was coughing a lot. I asked the mother to come back to the clinic so I could examine the baby, Magdalena. On examination I concluded that she had pneumonia and a serious leaking valve in her heart. The mother burst into tears on hearing the news’ I hugged her to comfort her.
I assured her we would go together to the heart hospital to have her examined by specialists. There is a good heart hospital in the city that is semi-private. The family was too poor to even pay the reduced amount that they needed for the surgery, as the father could not work for 2 months as his legs healed. We were able to pay for the heart valve surgery through several generous donations. Magdalena came through the surgery very well.
A few months ago the family invited us to share in Marta Magdalena’s 2nd birthday. They prepared a native chicken stew, Pollo Pepian, which happens to be one of my favorites. They had bought a paper tablecloth to decorate their very simple home for this celebration. One decorative and customary touch, was tht the floor was strewn with fresh pine needles. I feel so honored, yet very humbled, that they were so gracious to the staff from the clinic and me.
However the true joy that we celebrated together that day was the life of a precious little girl, Magdalena, all dressed in a clean little “typica” outfit and braided hair as she amused us with her antics. She is a really bright and inquisitive little girl who seldom cried through all her surgery. I thank all of you who have sacrificed to help keep our clinic going with your donations.
May God bless you.