Sunday, May 27, 2007

Meyling's Story

Last week I went to Hospital Mascota (a public children’s hospital in Managua) with four of our summer volunteers (Thomas, Laura, Mike and Bailey) to shadow in the ER for the morning.

At 7:30 am we hopped in the Manna microbus decked out in scrubs (donated by a recent medical brigade) and drove 30 minutes to the hospital while listening to Manu Chao’s “Me Gustas Tu.”

Hospital Mascota has dated architecture from the 70’s and cream-colored walls decorated with bears, butterflies and balloons, giving the building a child-oriented feel. The place is bustling with coughing Nicaraguan kids, fathers wearing cowboy hats, anxious mothers fanning themselves with newspapers while nursing their babies, doctors in white coats, and a few over-worked nurses. The air felt humid and sticky from the recent summer rains and smelled like, well, hospital. We walked through the busy, winding hallways until finally we made it to the ER to meet Dr. Guido, the attending physician.

Dr. Guido led us to two rooms that make up the ER. One room has two beds and is where patients are first brought in with their emergencies; it’s where doctors figure out what’s wrong, and then stabilize the patient. The second room is where kids go after they’ve been stabilized. It’s kind of like the “wait until there’s a doctor available who can tell you what they’ll do next” room- it has 20 beds. Some people have been waiting there for days. This room is where we met Meyling.

Meyling is 14 years-old, has beautiful, light brown skin dusted with freckles, brown hair that falls to her shoulders in loose ringlets and striking golden-hazelnut colored eyes. When we walked into the room I saw her laying on one of the hospital beds holding her mother’s hand, and with much effort, she sent a weak smile our way. We walked to her bed and introduced ourselves. Her sparkling nail polish caught my eye and when I told her how much I liked it, she struggled to respond- she couldn’t get the words out of her mouth- stuttering and slurring her speech, it was apparent that she had lost motor control of her tongue and mouth. When she tried to raise her head from the white hospital pillow, she couldn’t do that either. Her hands flopped around in clumsy, uncontrolled movements. I glanced down at the chart hanging from the foot of her bed and it said “diagnóstico: tumor del cerebro” which translates to “diagnosis: brain tumor.”

Apparently just a few months ago, Meyling was a healthy, happy sophomore in high school. Her favorite subject was math. She has four sisters, is the second eldest and loved spending time with her friends. Meyling was excitedly preparing for her Quinceaños on June 10th, which is pretty much one of the most important days in a Latin American teenage girls’ life (the quinciñera wears a big princess dress and hosts a large party of family and friends for her coming of age). Two months ago, Meyling’s mom noticed that she was walking a little funny, and having trouble moving her hands. Every day, Meyling’s motor control got worse and worse, until 25 days after the onset of symptoms, she could no longer walk. Her family, worried sick, took her to several doctors near their home in southern Nicaragua but because of the lack of technology in the area (namely, no MRI’s), nobody knew what was wrong with her. Once Meyling could no longer speak or focus her eyes on an object (she lost visual motor control as well), her mother brought her on a 6 hour bus ride to the ER at Hospital Mascota in Managua. After a few tests, doctors told her that she had a massive brain tumor pushing on her motor cortex. They said it was too big to operate. They referred her to a physical therapist. And when we met Meyling, she was waiting to be discharged from the hospital. Her mother, tears streaming down her face while she told us this story, had no other choice but to take her 14-year-old daughter, who’s invasive brain tumor was causing the rapid deterioration of all brain function, home. And this is when my heart broke for the thousandth time for this sweet girl and her terrified mother.

Meanwhile, Laura, a rising sophomore pre-med at the University of Kentucky and MPI summer volunteer, was making a new best friend. Meyling quickly attached herself to Laura, very much drawn to her sweet and gentle nature. Meyling held Laura’s hand, smiling and so happy to have a friend. They sat that way for a while together- hand in hand- sometimes giggling, sometimes crying, while we asked Meyling about school and her friends at home. They had formed an instant connection, and when Meyling managed to say to Laura, “you’re my beautiful friend,” Laura, Meyling’s mother and I all fought back tears. When it came time to leave, we borrowed a pen and drew a small heart on Meyling’s hand, “para fuerza,” for strength.

The van ride home was pretty quiet. It’s hard to know what to say after an experience like that. Meyling’s story broke our hearts. As an aspiring physician, I know that moments like those light small fires in my desire to not only become a great doctor but to bring great healthcare to families like Meyling’s. And I’m not hesitant to say that meeting Meyling sparked a similar flame in Laura’s heart.

So this is in honor of Meyling, the beautiful 14-year-old with golden-hazelnut eyes and sparkling nail polish.

It rained!

I'm happy to report that about a week ago, the first rains of the wet season finally hit Nicaragua. The dry, dusty, hot air has been replaced by cool, wet breezes and a humidity that makes my hair curl. The land is green again, and everything feels lush and tropical. So what if I've developed a fro'? I'm loving this change of pace.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Musically Minded

Every Tuesday at 1:30 in the Manna schoolhouse (called “El Farito”), Scott and Andie (short for Andrea) teach music class. They go equipped with tambores, maracas, una guitarra, instrumentos de percusión, and plenty of patience.

The kids come to class excited and antsy after being in school all morning; talking, laughing, playing around, practicing karate kicks, trying to mess with Scott’s hat (which is SO not allowed), arguing over which instrument they want, hugging Andie (over and over and over), etc. The kids are so wound-up, that the first few minutes of class could be spent trying to get them to calm down- but instead, Scott and Andie give the kids 5 seconds to make as much noise as they want. The kids jump up and down, yell and scream and flail their arms about frantically, and when Scott shoots his hand up, they’re suddenly silent (pure genius, I know).

Then Scott starts playing music on his speakers- sometimes it’s jazz, sometimes blues, sometimes something Nicaraguan. He asks the kids what feelings they have when they listen to the music, and what adjectives they’d use to describe it. The kids may say something like “aburrido” (boring) or “necio” (annoying) and then start whispering to their friends, but more often you can see them tapping their foot to Miles Davis, or listening calmly to Beethoven, or using words like “desorganizado” (disorganized) to describe a complicated jazz piece. And then occasionally, Scott plays a classic rock piece (think Led Zepplin), and the little boys stand up and start jammin’ out on their air guitars.

The class has been meeting for 8 months now. I go as often as I can, and the progress the kids have made in music class is truly remarkable. The (sometimes crazy) kids have learned how to identify time signatures, rhythms, they can read music (seriously), they’ve performed in a holiday concert and are currently learning songs for another concert in July. These kids, who before MPI had never had a music class in their life, now understand more music theory than the majority of North Americans. They not only know the difference between a half rest and a whole rest, but they also know how to write and identify them in a piece of music. Plus, they’re learning to love a wide variety of music. I asked 9-year-old Daniel (who’s famous for his air guitar impression) what his favorite song was, and he said “Money by Pink Floyd.” When I asked why, he said, “porque tiene siete tiempos” (because it’s in 7/8 time). And then he ran off and proceeded to practice more karate kicks with his friends, while Scott and Andie cleaned up after another successful music class.

playing Music Note Bingo

Friday, May 11, 2007

Mango Rains

The mango trees in Nicaragua are in full bloom; their blossoms are bright orange and red mangoes. Mangoes drop from the trees like beads of water from a leaky faucet. The streets are covered in fallen mangoes, smelling sweet and over-ripe. Kids can be seen walking away from a tree down the street, grinning, with shirt-fulls of the juicy, sticky fruit.

Sometimes we sleep outside under the stars for the cool, night breeze. There’s a mango tree that sits in the back yard, so large that its shade covers the entire pool house. At night, the mangoes drop from the tree and crash onto the pool house roof. When several fall in succession there’s a pitter patter banging noise... we call it the mango rains.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

(trying to) Beat the Heat

Right now in Managua, it's hot. Really hot. March, April and May are apparently the hottest months of the year in Nicarauga, and we're all well aware of it.

It's so hot that...

- I need to sleep with a fan about 10 inches from my face.

- The new style is "sweat marks," everyone wears them.

- We had to make a mini-pool for our Rotweiler puppies. The puppies can be found laying in the small bucket of water pretty much any time of day.

- Drinking about 4 Nalgenes of water a day is completely necessary.

- Little kids refuse to wear clothes. Really, any child under the age of 2-and-a-half can be found in only diapers.

- We haven't had ice in our freezer for about a month (because it melts so quickly every time we open the freezer door).

- Rather than drink the water during feeding program, the kids dump it on their head to cool off (ok, this only happened once).

- Rather than read on the bus, men and women fan themselves with newspapers, magazines, and school homework.

- I'll walk 45 minutes to the community center, for the sole purpose of buying one of their all fruit, FROZEN paletas (popsicles).

- We take trips to the gas station 25 minutes away just to stand in the air conditioning for a few minutes.

We're all dreaming of the soon-to-come rains that summertime in Nicaragua brings about. But in the mean time, I'm learning to love the every day humor that comes with men, women, children, MPI volunteers and animals all trying to beat this insane Nica heat.