Saturday, January 31, 2009

an update

So first I want to start off with a moment of silence for Alba* who I discussed in my last blog last month....

Since I returned, Alba was recuperating okay from her condition, and an infectious disease doctor from the States came and diagnosed her with Stevens Johnson, a skin disease that basically causes the person to shed their skin and it has major implications for the tissues of the organs inside the body as well. Well once they diagnosed her, Alba was willing to go to the hospital again after having spent almost 2 months in her bed. They treated her and her skin cleared up but still continued with a lot of pain. But there was hope. She was recuperating.

This Monday we received a call saying that Alba has passed away. It was really tough for the personnel, we gathered together and cried and mourned and tried to pull ourselves together again. I realized then, that I would have to tell the workers in the workshop. While I was thinking about how I was going to do that, I all of a sudden heard screames and shouts coming from the workshop--who told them?? I thought.

As I ran over to see, one of my workers, Orlando* was on the floor convulsing from a seizure. While we took care of him and tried to deal with the situation, everyone in the workshop was shocked and scared and really unstable emotionally. As I started to calm them, I ask what exactly had happened, how did he fall, why, etc. They responded saying that he had mentioned something about Alba and then turned really red as he was working and then collapsed. While Orlando was sleeping after the seizure, the women started asking me about Alba...they had heard some of the staff crying. I had to tell them that she passed away and it was really difficult. We sat in silence, and then started talking about how we were feeling, the good things we remember about her. It's really important to deal with events like this emotionally and talk about it. The workers are often very passive and keep their emotions on the inside...but with that kind of reaction, their mental and emotional health suffers immensely. When Orlando woke up, I comforted him and asked him how he was feeling and what he was thinking. All he said was, "I'm thinking of Alba. She passed away didn't she." I didn't even have to tell him, after hearing our cries, he used his intuition to figure it out and all that emotion built up and resulted in a seizure.

Tuesday was the funeral. Though obviously a sad time, it was interesting experiencing a funeral of a family of different economic means. I felt, through a lot of it, like it wasn't fair. For example, the family commented on how much they had to spend on preparing the body, yet it was almost disturbing the job they did to "prepare" her. Her eyes weren't entirely closed, her mouth was still left fairly open. It looked like thye had stuffed toilet paper in her nostrils and you could see the gangrene starting to set in and change her color. I don't mean to say these things so bluntly or to judge, but it was almost upsetting to me to see her that if there was little respect for her body and burial. But it's not at all a lack of respect, but rather the simple fact of money, and the investment of money in a process of someone who is already passed. I'm not sure what to take from this experience, but it was something I never really thought about before and I felt really sad and convicted morally about how we treat our dead.

I'm not sure how to end this post. It's a difficult issue. But as they say here, "Tenemos que seguir adelante" (We have to move forward). Because the lives of the patients of clinic and the workers in the workshop will continue on and they need the support and the encouragement and empowerment to think positively, to move forward, and, well, to live.