Tuesday, January 5, 2016

My First Day With Sergio - by Ethan Hartman

After breakfast, Patti runs to call a taxi as I wait with the medical supplies that we have gathered for Don Sergio. The taxi takes us to Sergio’s museum, which doubles as his clinic. We unpack the supplies that we need for this morning’s house calls, and we leave almost as soon as we arrive. The taxi driver, a very good friend of Sergio’s, greets us at the door. “You’re late,” Sergio bellows. The two of them laugh and embrace. I receive a handshake, and notice that he has no thumb on his right hand—an amputation? “Me llamo Juanito, mucho gusto” he says with much gusto. “Soy Ethan, es buen conocerte,” I reply with a smile.
The four of us jump in Juanito’s taxi and begin an unexpectedly long journey.
It is possible to tell the generosity of a person by many measures. As we drove through the mountains, I begin to realize the true generosity of Don Sergio, a man willing to pay for a taxi to travel an hour and a half just to change the bandages and clean the burn wounds of a man he barely knew. The roads twist, rise, and fall, as we go deeper towards our destination; the town of Chanal. Patti feels nauseous and I hand her a plastic bag just in case.
I enjoy the long periods of silence between small talk when I just sit and think. I imagine myself living in Chiapas, writing medical blogs or working at Bela’s to pay for my rent. Above all I imagine helping Sergio with his work. I think about Brazil, and how much I long to visit the friends I made last summer. There is something about travel that I find so romantic, it truly is the greatest teacher. Learning a language introduces a new way of thinking, and a knowledge of 3rd world medicine is difficult to get in the 1st world. Maybe I can do all this in my year off between graduation and medical school…
No sei.
Plans are difficult to make in such an uncertain future.
When we arrive in Chanal, Sergio leads me into the home of burn victim, and I see what real 3rd world looks like. An entire family of 8 lives in 2 rooms, with no shoes, no clean water, and few sources of light or heat. One light bulb illuminates the room where a 41 year old man lies, cachectic and moaning. After greeting us with a weak smile, he uncovers himself to reveal his naked lower body. His legs, thinner than arms, are wrapped in bandages, oozing with green pus. My job for today is to hold the LED light, retrieve supplies, and take pictures. As Patti and Sergio take off the bandages, we can see that most of his right leg and half of his left is covered in 2nd and 3rd degree burns. This man had gotten drunk and fell into the fire at the center of his home. This story is all too common in Chiapas, and Sergio knows from experience that these wounds take a long time to heal without surgery. As we packed up to leave, I notice Sergio leave 100 pesos for the man on his dresser without saying a word.
The rest of the day is very busy. Juanito delivers us to people with various problems including diabetic ulcers, venous/arterial ulcers, and burns. I am thankful for my strong stomach, because many things we come across would destroy most of my friends’ desire to eat for days. 
After about 8 patients, Patti and I return to Bela’s for lunch; beet soup with salad and pepper empanadas…tan delicioso! After a quick nap, we are off to Sergio’s museum again. Only this time, patients are coming to him. Sergio also has other helpers, an 18 year old man who wants to go to medical school, and two 20 year old girls that are studying to become nurses. I struggle to get into the flow of where everything is, and I quickly become overwhelmed by all of the supplies, and how to get organized. I learn the ropes, however, as Patti scolds me a few times, and I observe how the other volunteers work with the patients and Sergio.
A child with terrible burns to his face from a firecracker accident is brought in by his parents. His face is inflamed and covered in pus. He sniffles slightly as Sergio cleans, debrides, and wraps his wounds, but he does not cry. What a champion. Another kid, who had cut his thumb open and received stitches several days ago, cries and thrashes as if we are torturing him when we take out his stitches. Not quite the same level of champ in that kid. I can’t blame him, I was the same way as a child.
Throughout the night we see infections, fistulas, eczema, ulcers, burns, and scabies. It’s amazing that Sergio can send these people home with some sort of treatment, from a limited amount of antibiotics, to various topical medications and wrappings. It’s great to know that people believe in his work and send things from all over the world. The end of the shift working with Sergio and his team brings a warm feeling to my heart, and I can’t wait to play a larger part in it.
Patti and I leave just before 7pm. I buy us some sandwiches and we walk home. After a quick workout, I head to the kitchen to eat my sandwich and Meli stops me, asking me to help her translate what a man named Jose is asking her. Why she asks me, I haven’t the slightest clue. I probably know less Spanish than she. By the end of our conversation, however, Jose asks for my email, and wishes to stay in touch with me. As I write my email down for him, he expresses interest in my pen, which has a flashlight at the end. I tell him that it’s his, and his face lights up with delight. How wonderful to make someone so happy with such a simple thing. Whether it’s treating a burn, or giving a gift, we can all make a difference.
Patti and I meditate on this before we chow down our sandwiches and discuss the clinical presentation and treatment of ulcers. You know that you are medically inclined when you can eat and look at disgusting photos…

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