It was a normal sunny morning in San Rafael as Anita and Dr. Martinez were examining a patient in the bus. Suddenly, a young woman waiting in line fell to the ground and started screeching. The other women scooped up their children and ran off.
In this tiny village the people whispered “she’s possessed, she has demons”. The children in the village teased her. “Nobody will want to marry her”, lamented her mother. Bernadina was an outcast in her village and in her own family.
Bernadina, 20, suffers from epilepsy, a common but very misunderstood disorder. She had upwards of eight seizures a day, causing her to fall down and writhe uncontrollably, and at times screeching loudly. She couldn’t get a job except working in the field for her father, and everyone seemed to avoid her. When she had seizures in the field, she was simply forced to lie or writhe in the dirt until it passed– there was no help for her.
With proper medication, Bernadina can function perfectly well. But the medication is too expensive for her family to buy, so she went without it and was forced to bear these frequent seizures.
In our clinic we gave Bernadina the medicine she needed. But during a follow-up visit, Anita discovered that Bernadina still had one or two seizures during the night. The reason for these occasional seizures wasn’t solely medical, there was another, underlying problem. A family problem, really.
Bernadina revealed to Anita that she was having problems at home. She slept in a little bedroom with all her sisters; her brothers slept on the floor in the kitchen. She knew it was important to take her medicine at certain specific hours, even at night. (It gets dark at 6 pm here.) But the only clock they owned was in the kitchen, and when she went to check the time at night, her brothers harassed her and sometimes pushed her around. So, she often missed taking her medication at night. During the day, out in the fields, it was also difficult to know exactly when to take the medicine.
What to do? Anita told her that the following week she would bring a watch for her to wear, so that she could always know the correct time. The watch was one that Greg’s mother, Ruth, had donated to the mission with the words “I hope someone can make good use of this wristwatch.” Little did Ruth know what a wonderful gift this would be for a person who would never be able to afford one — a pretty young girl now had the opportunity for a normal life she desperately wanted.
The following week, Bernadina was waiting early to see if Anita had brought the promised watch. She smiled broadly as Anita carefully fit it around her wrist. Now she would never have to miss her medicine times again. What a great relief and help for Bernadina. One of the side effects of this medicine is bleeding gums for which we also give her toothpaste and soft toothbrushes.