She arrived in a wicker basket carried on the back of a young man. Barely able to stand, she was nearly collapsed in the few feet between the basket and the waiting bench outside the clinic. I took a blood pressure and temp while the other nurse (who speaks fluent Pelawan) interviewed her husband since it was difficult for her to talk. Her temp was 39 °C (around 103 °F). As we discovered, she had Malaria, left untreated for over a week.
She looked terrible: matted hair, filthy clothing, and skin caked with dirt; but she sounded worse: a rattling cough and rapid respirations (over 40). We ‘admitted’ her to one of the two inpatient rooms and they asked me if I wanted to start an IV on her. Feeling a bit nervous (one of the nurses was an ICU nurse), I got ready and found a likely-looking vein. It was hard to see the veins in her leather-like skin and her extreme dehydration didn’t help matters. Finding a vein that looked good, I grasped the needle: one poke and it was in! Praise the Lord!
At 5:00am the next morning, I awoke to my alarm and walked to the clinic in the dark, my headlamp making a small pool of light on the trail in front of me. In addition to the elderly lady, we had two other inpatients: an elderly man (her husband), and a baby with respiratory issues. After taking vitals on all of them, I handed out the medications that were due: Malaria meds to the husband, malaria meds plus antibiotics for the wife (she could also have pneumonia), and two different syrups for the baby. The mother, for some strange reason, is really resistant to taking her medications. The IV meds she doesn’t really have a choice with and those went in with no problem. Her PO meds, however, proved more difficult.
Using my limited medical vocabulary (acquired this past week at the clinic), I tried to coax her to take the three pills in the cup I held out. She wouldn’t take them. I finally took her hand and dumped them into it. She sat there, eyes closed with her hand out stretched, the three pills sitting motionless in her palm.
“Minan (Aunty),” I pleaded, “Ubat (medication).” For literally 20 minutes, I stood by her bed holding the cup of water trying to get her to take the medicine. How I wished I had a broader vocabulary! After what seemed like an eternity, she opened her eyes a slit and fished out the smallest of the three pills and took it; a few minutes later, another one, and finally the third. I gave a sigh of relief and went to give the baby her syrups. She cried, but took them much easier than ‘Minan’ had.
This and many other stories have made for a memorable week.
The people of Palawan are wonderful. Friendly, yet shy, they’ve welcomed Shama and I into their circle without hesitation. While my mind is a whirl of names and faces, I know that I have already found many friends. There is the family who gave us green mangoes when we visited their house, the family that gave us boiled cumbaheng (a starchy root), and the girls that tried to teach us to weave baskets.
We’ve had many funny experiences trying to learn the language. There was the instance that I told someone I had one child, instead of one sister, when trying to explain my family to them. There was also the time when I tried to explain how I fell on the trail and ran out of words half-way through. They looked at me expectantly, and I fished frantically for the words I needed. “Istaku! (I don’t know!)”, I finally gasped in desperation and we all laughed.
From heart-wrenching scenes in the clinic to hilarity while visiting in the villages during language learning: I’ve already been blessed with a wide variety of experiences.
Please continue to pray for Shama and I as we learn how to communicate and reach out to the people of Palawan!
Until next month!