Images of Sickness
Today I am working in the pharmacy-a station consisting of two folding tables and seven or so trunks of donated medicines. We are sharing the same room as the nurses. Doctor Hector is set up in the corner. Screaming children bury their fevered cries in between their mother's legs. A few older men sit stoically along the wall in kindergarten school chairs. They have walked far and waited long for this-for all the nurses sitting before me, for the doctor in the corner, and for the hodgepodge of medicines they are trusting will alleviate their pain. I stand along the wall, prescriptions in hand, completely baffled. Several are written in spanish, some in scribbles, others have so many medications that I do not even know how to start filling them all. Meanwhile, the mothers watch with their unwavering gaze. Every time my hand reaches for infant Tylenols, or topical gels, or calcium pills they watch with intense hope. As the day continues on and I gain clarity towards my task, I begin to look up, to look out...and realize why.
There is a woman sitting 3 feet in front of me, talking to Julie about a skin condition on her neck. I watch Julie's face. It is evident she has never seen a type of infection like this. She asks the translator to have the woman explain how long it had been going on. I watch again as she talks, motioning to her neck, then spreading down her arms, her stomach, and to her leg. She lifts up her skirt over the edge of her kneecap and I stop breathing. The main portion of her calf is entirely blistered, scarred and black, an appearance completely unlike the "rash" that was plaguing the rest of the body. Julie asks, "What is this? What happened here?" The translator answers: "Her leg, she has had this infection for 8 years. Very painful. Someone tells her there are bacteria. To kill it, pour on the boiling water. So she did. Those are the scars."
Lunchtime. It is raining heavily. Over the din of the water on the metal roof, Anna tells me she has been massaging the muscles of a woman who makes up to 400 tortillas a day and barely breaks even. Her back is twisted and swollen and her hands are cramped and calloused from years of this work. This reminds us of another woman, who's scoliosis is so severe she stands at a 90 degree angle, all because she has swept the streets every single day of her life.
Break is over. Everyone is pointing for the liquid medicine, the one we have "guarded" on the far left table, for patients with worms. Jolene says they all have them, and that if we can, we should recommend dosage to everyone who comes through the door. She says they are often asking her for something to "kill the snakes", for "axes to kill the big snakes." She tells me of a little girl who feels them crawl up her throat each night out of hunger.
Hour after hour passes, and the apparent need for healing grows with the late afternoon shadows. Each prescription filled is done with a mixture of regret and gratitude. Gratitude that we are able to give them something, regret that this is not enough. This one vile will not heal, it will only alleviate for a short time. And these trunks of vitamins may help build up their immune, but their bones will still be weak, their children will still lack nutrition, and their parents will still endure back breaking pain. This muscle treatment may loosen each tendon for a time, but after we leave tomorrow she will go back to her job and right back into her disability.
Evening has come and the bus pulls away. The townspeople are waving goodbye. It is pouring now and I can barely see their faces through the sheets of water on the bus window. I cannot pray, and so I write:
Lord, Great Physician. It is clear that had we all the doctors in the world, all the nurses in the field, and all the medicine pharmaceutics had to offer-it would still not be enough. So please, do here what we cannot, restore all the broken bodies...