MEXICO CHANGED MY MAJOR
A cultural / medical volunteer in Mexico by Kara Mayfield
Today I woke up at 5am for the beginning of one very long day. I started this journey in St. Louis, the first of four airports to be visited today. St. Louis to Dallas to Mexico City was just fine but Mexico City was where the day got interesting. I think it was my look of stupidity; possibly the sweating or maybe that I was shaking when I approached the nice young man with “Information” written
across the back of his jacket… He was wonderful! If ever lost in a Mexican airport, search for these people in the red jackets, they speak English and can calm a crazy American in less than a second. Next was the gate issue, you know they really are not where the signs point to but thankfully I made my way to the correct one. This is where you sit on a train like thing that once full, delivers you to a plane parked on the ramp. Interesting! So, the 4th airport and the final destination was a brand new Tuxtla Gutierrez aeropuerto. And my luggage made it too!
Upon arrival I was a little nervous, OK very nervous because all I had was a picture of Jesus, the doctor I would be staying with, but as soon as I looked up past the baggage claim area, there he was with the most handsome little boy and possibly my new best friend, Leo. I could tell this was the start of a great experience when greeted with hugs and kisses from Jesus and Leo at first meeting.
The first big adventure was Jesus’ driving, 120 mph is about his average pace, 100 mph if I started to look pale in the face. ( Note: I found out later its NOT in miles, it’s in kilometers..opps!). Really, he drives commercial vehicles like they are race cars. After an hour of winding roads I knew my stomach was still back at the airport but it was all wonderful because the ride was filled with great conversation. Jesus told me not to worry about anything and that he was going to teach me lots of things and most of all that I was family! Basically, I found him to be the nicest person ever with an unbelievable hospitable manner. Something everyone should learn from this amazing man.
Once we arrived in Villaflores I saw Jesus’ clinic office, and his very comfortable and charming home. I loved every bit of this quaint village. We went to look at his construction site, also known as the unfinished rooms above his house. They were to become patient rooms once completed. However, the means of transportation were quite interesting; a ladder leaned against the wall, going up in a skirt…no problem but coming down was interesting. I was thanking God that he was a doctor because I thought that for sure, I was a goner. After some patient errands to see a newborn and a few others, we
went furniture shopping and then to dinner. I think that “sin pollo,” without chicken; will be my most used phrase since I am a vegetarian. I met Jesus’ wife Heydi, and their daughter Naomi before bed, both of whom are very beautiful and kind. I think I’m in love with this family and Villaflores.
Día 2: Rough Starts make for great endings. Today began with a surgery to move a new mother’s bladder up? I’m not really sure.
Sometimes along the way the translation from Jesus to me got confusing with what exactly was being performed in surgery. BUT..I never made it to this surgery. Suddenly the room went dark, I began sweating out an ocean, and little stars appeared to dance around my head. Immediately prior to the surgery I staggered out of the operating room and collapsed in a heap on the floor. Great start! We had lunch and departed for home before returning for another surgery, a C-Section (an emergency surgery to deliver a baby through an incision in the abdomen). I can proudly say I watched most of main event but the dizziness returned and I had to leave the room again. It was amazing; I have never seen anything like it before. Unbelievable! Only in Mexico could someone who is not in medical school, a doctor, a surgeon, etc. be allowed to witness a miracle such as the one just witnessed with the caesarian birth of this
baby. Jesus gave me a wonderful gift by allowing me to present the infant girl to her father fir the first time. What a moment! I even spoke in Spanish!
I’m really intimidated / scared to speak Spanish but I am trying and learning so much already.
In the evening, Jesus, the kids, and I jumped on the trampoline forever and then I gave Leo his gift, a soccer ball. He played outside all night. I love it here, the people are wonderful and I’m never leaving.
We went to the clinic for surgery but the patient did not show up! We had planned on going to Guatemala for the coming weekend so we left for home at two pm to begin our next big adventure, a trip that was supposed to take three hours. Apparently in Mexico that translates into eight point five in American hours!! We ferried across two rivers and saw ALL of Southern Mexico. I think I watched about four movies in Spanish and had Jesus’ daughter, little Naomi on top of me the whole time we bobbed up and down and sloshed side to side from the crazy roads…if they could even be called roads. We
stopped to eat at a gas station along the way and finally arrived at the Hotel del Prado by 10:30 PM. I was exhausted and quickly fell into a deep sleep.
I woke up at 7am to accompany Jesus and his family on an excursion to Xocomil, otherwise known in English as “Raging Rivers.” It was very relaxing watching Heydi, Jesus and the kids play in the pools all day. However I definitely struggled with a communication barrier ( I can not leave out of this journal because it is absolutely important to understand how patient and strong you must be to immerse yourself in a place where you HAVE to try and HAVE to be accepting of all new experiences). I knew that everything was not going to be perfect, like my struggle to speak with people, and in the end, I found just how perfect imperfections made this volunteer opportunity an extraordinary experience.
Yesterday after breakfast at the hotel we hit the road and headed for home. I was really missing home and its’ comforts but I’ve realized that I must enjoy every part of this trip. So I tried my best to take pleasure in race car driving on bumpy, curvy winding roads and temporarily set aside my new appreciation for bridges, speed limits, and no passing zones because after twenty two hours in a car this weekend with Jesus’ driving only exacerbated my dizziness. However, because of this…I can say I truly saw Mexico and Guatemala. Natural waterfalls, beautiful green rolling hills, and many unique people. And all the while I wondered what their lives were like and why some have so little yet seem more content than many people with so much.
Just some ponderings!!
Día 6: Trials and Tribulations of doing Laundry
What an emotionally packed day, the only place I can think to begin is the first surgery on a baby boy with a hernia, but it wasn’t so much the surgery that hit home and tossed my paradigms aside..... It was afterwards when Heydi and the other nurse took the time to cut the little boy’s fingernails. I thought to myself. “Wow, I really can’t see anyone doing that in the US.” But it was even more touching when she got a pair of scissors and trimmed the bits of hair growing over his ears. Jesus said to me, “It’s all inclusive.” I like the way the doctors and nurses treat their patients here, with dignity and respect but mostly as gentle living souls who have grandchildren, children, and future children. It is a very family oriented place and I like it!
Next up- Surgery number two was a lady with the bladder issue; I still don’t know the name of this procedure… After the operation we had lunch near the clinic and Jesus and I returned to the house.
This is where everything changes. I, Kara Mayfield, had to do laundry and the results were….very colorful. Lily, Jesus’ assistant, showed me some products I “could” use BUT I understood that I should use all of them. Not being familiar with laundry lingo in Spanish I didn’t realize that one of items was bleach. Once the horrible results of my labors became apparent it was too late. I broke down and cried out about 70% of the water in my body. Not because I cared about the clothing but because I felt so frustrated not to fully understand the language, the culture, and the food.
The conversation that followed with Jesus was worth the suffering and embarrassment. He told me it was all OK, that he understood how I felt, and then he gave me a hug. Sometimes a bad situation is really something good in disguise! Small things like a hug and the understanding of another can bring positive changes into our lives. This afternoon after the talk, I was able to watch every bit of two whole prostate surgeries and congrats to me for not getting lightheaded! I can only hope tomorrow will be full of more new adventures.
We began the day seeing a few patients at the office. A six year old boy had his tongue stuck to the bottom of his mouth since birth so Jesus separated it and put in sutures. He also had another patient with chicken pox, a little girl, poor thing! Then at the clinic, we had a gallbladder stone surgery. Back at the house, I met Jesus’ nephew, Manuel with whom I could actually carry on a conversation! We played outside with the neighborhood kids and looked at a pharmacy Jesus is building across the street from his house, along with a garage for his fire truck. I asked why he needs a fire truck. He said, “the town doesn’t have one so now we do.” I love the way he thinks!
We went to the clinic and had a gallbladder stone surgery followed by a C-section. Afterwards, Manuel and I walked back to the house and I got to see some of Villaflores. More importantly, I spoke Spanish! He helped me learn by speaking slowly. I’m glad he’s here because I feel more confident now. The other doctor, Acosto speaks Spanish with me as well and is teaching me the names of the instruments in Spanish.
At the clinic today, we had three surgeries. The first was a gallbladder stone removal from a 95 year old man. It was easy to watch compared to the bladder operation that followed performed by doctor Macias…this one was really bloody! Next was a c- section which is by far my favorite surgery. Afterwards, Manuel and I went walking to find a special earring I was
looking for. Not an easy task! It was nice to have someone to talk with in Spanish. I feel like I am starting to open up more.
Día 10: Remind me to ask for lots of anesthesia
Today doctor Acosto and I walked to the clinic. As we were preparing for surgery, he taught me the instrument names in Spanish. The first of three surgeries was a c-section, my first baby boy! Sadly, he was very tiny and had to be ambulanced to Tuxtla because the clinic here is very small and does not have the right equipment for him. The 2nd surgery was a hernia and the third was a prostate gland removal.
I thought I was going to die when a nurse’s phone rang and she walked out to answer it! But then again, I am in a different world now. After surgery, I walked to find food BY MYSELF AND I SUCCEEDED; what an accomplishment. Maybe my Spanish skills aren’t so bad after all!
Later I met Jesus at his home and we went to see patients in his office next door. There was a man who entered the clinic but I couldn’t understand what he wanted. When he left, I asked Jesus what he had said. “He was selling me gas, he’s a reporter or something, I don’t know, he was drunk, didn’t you see his eyes?” Jesus replied. I was a bit confused and asked if he was actually going to buy gas and Jesus responded “yea, tomorrow…he’s drunk but not stupid, ha!”
When we finished up in the office Jesus took us to his “other house.” I can’t even describe this unbelievable little paradise. There was a swimming pool with a water slide, two houses, a jungle gym, five dogs, go-karts, etc…oh, and he wants to put in another pool with a waterfall! The compound had huge stone walls for privacy and beyond the back wall was a river. The only problem was that they had no electricity and to get it turned on would cost $15,000! Can you imagine if we had to pay this in America to get electricity? I can’t imagine how amazing this place will be one day when the work is completed.
I woke up late today since it is Saturday and found everyone gone. I watched TV and passed the time relaxing, I got a little worried because no one came home until 11 pm. They had just been out all day getting things done.
Not much to report, slept in late and we went to test some jet skis in a nearby lake, came home had dinner, watched some TV and I talked with my mom on the phone. At first I kept getting a busy signal and asked Jesus why. He said, “oh, maybe I didn’t pay the phone bill, ha, ha.” He makes me laugh everyday!
Today being a Monday was a very long day. The morning began with a walk to the clinic, alone! I was so proud…first thing I did was to help Dr. Acosto get ready for a c- section. He’s been teaching me the names of the instruments in Spanish and the nurses
showed me how to open the sterile packages carefully and cleanly. Also, they taught me how to use the oxygen tank. Today we had five surgical cases; three C-sections, a gallbladder stone removal and one new surgery dealing with the removal of a gland ( I asked about it but the translation was a bit rough). We returned home to lots of patients in the adjacent office, one patient was a young girl with hemorrhoids, but the greatest part of her visit was her entrance. She came over to me, shook my hand and kissed my cheek; no one has ever done that to me before! The day ended with watching Patch Adams in Spanish. Gotta love subtitles.
The day began like any other, I walked to the clinic and prepared for surgery. We had two hernia surgeries and a C-section. You would think, ok 3 surgeries…that’s good for one day! Oh no, 6 more to go after lunch! 2 hysterectomies, a huge tumor in the lady’s stomach the size of a football, and 3 gallbladder stone removals. The last one was a crack addict and she was nuts, it took two me and nurses, each holding an arm and one of the legs to keep her semi-still. 12.5 hours later…I was home!
Día 15: Bathroom Difficulties…
Today Dr. Acosta and I walked to the clinic to begin surgery numero uno, a man who apparently had some gauze left in his abdomen from a previous surgery, I wasn’t sure. However, we found no gauze inside but there was a little piece of metal and in broken English; I discovered there was also a hole between the liver and intestines, maybe?
Afterwards, we had a gallbladder stone removal and a C-section delivery, a little boy! But the day’s highlight was getting stuck in the bathroom!
Once inside the bathroom I wasn’t able to get out. The door wouldn’t open and I was trying to think of what to scream in Spanish to gain some attention…but my mind could only think in English, HELP IM STUCK IN THE BANO!” So these lovely women waiting outside started screaming too…something like, what are you saying, I don’t understand you? Well, eventually one of them climbed a back wall and saved my life…I survived with little more than pit stains. I will forever be indebted to that wonderful lady!
Día 16: Lost in Villa Flores
Today I got up and waited in Jesus’ office adjacent to his home, but I realized he must have gone to the clinic because no one ever came…I walked to the clinic and we had 3 surgeries, 2 gallbladder stone removals and then a boy with his fingers stuck together. I told Jesus it looked difficult and he said, “no, it’s easy.” Later on, we had a C-section, a little boy who I got a picture with! I decided to walk home and stop to buy some food, I must have taken a wrong turn though and ended up lost of course! I used my “oh so good” Spanish and asked some men where Dr. Jesus Farrera lived ( Jesus told me everyone knew where he lived! So I thought I would try) and they were very helpful, I was really only 3 blocks away.
Jesus had a few patients at his office, one of them was an old lady who looked so sad. As she was leaving I told her that I hoped she felt better in Spanish. She gave me a quick
smile that showed she really didn’t understand but acted like she felt better from knowing that I truly cared about her. In the evening, I talked to the neighborhood kids or something like that. They all like to talk really fast and at the same time so I just responded “si” or “no.” 75% of the time it seems to work. The other 25% I just get blank stares. Maybe they are thinking “you crazy American!”
Not much to comment on today. We had three gallbladder stone removals and a hysterectomy. During one of the surgeries, I must have been looking a bit down…and one of the nurses came up to me and put her arm around me, Villa Flores is full of friendly people and I never want to forget the warmth I felt from this community.
I just relaxed around the house today, since my host family was gone again…this gave me time to reflect on some of the things I have observed that are different here from what I am used to. First, they drink Coke more often than water; it’s the staple drink at every meal at least in the household where I am living. There are no menus at restaurants and when the food arrives everything has lime in it, also all shower heads are just a spout on the wall. Interesting!
Today I spent time at a restaurant, watching Jesus and the kids splashing in the pool out front. Heydi and I sat together at a small table while I reflected on how much I will miss this place, the Spanish musica playing everywhere, the friendly people, and a wonderful laid-back lifestyle.
I walked to the clinic, we had 2 gallbladder stone surgeries and a C-section, I think that has become the typical day! Then, I rode in a broken down truck with some friendly men to Jesus’ ranch or so he calls it. I truly love that place! Apparently, Jesus bought a small hotel and sold some cars at the ranch so we went to give the men the cars. I really am not sure about what happens sometimes! Later on, I played secretary at the office, people were waiting for Jesus to return and I had the most wonderful conversation with my neighbor, a sixteen year old taking English classes. We both helped each other with words we didn’t understand regarding the others language, it was so rewarding to see my progress and be able to speak coherently with my new friend! I really have learned a lot here!
Día 21: Last Day in Clinic Macias- A Changed Heart
It was my last walk with Dr. Acosta to the clinic today. We had a gallbladder stone removal and a hysterectomy before lunch. While at lunch, a nurse came screaming for a doctor. We all went running upstairs ( ok, no I’m not a doctor but I like to pretend I was needed…) There we found a lady who had prematurely delivered a dead child with the umbilical cord still attached. She was such a strong woman. She wanted us there as she viewed her stillborn child …I felt absolutely horrible. Anyways, the end of the day was
perfect with my final surgery being my favorite, a C-section! I almost cried when I left the clinic for the last time.
While I have been here, I have experienced the beginning of life and the end of life, not to mention the many difficulties in between. I have seen more and helped more than I would have in any first two years of medical school in the USA. I have learned a great deal about the Mexican lifestyle. I have also learned a lot more about myself as well. I realized through this volunteer experience that I want to be a part of Hispanic culture always and I have decided to continue school after I graduate to get a master’s in Spanish and forget about Medical school as I had previously considered. This trip has changed my life and my major. I hope that with this small glimpse into what I have experienced others will be willing to take the challenge and enter into a different world like I did. I can not say that it was always easy and that the
language barrier was not difficult but everything, every little part of every day was well worth it.
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