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.