March 15, 2015
I am writing this on the flight home from Bolivia after an intense week in Santa Cruz. Though our presence brings valuable training, we also bring extra work for all involved. Nonetheless, the Bolivian medical team at San Juan de Dios Hospital welcomed us very warmly and we were very touched to be included in their family-like spirit.
Of all the patients we helped this week, Jose Luis and his family will continue to hold a very special place in our hearts and in our prayers. Jose Luis is the father of three children, aged 14, 13 and 9. Ever since his wife abandoned the family after the birth of their youngest child, he and his children have lived with his aunt—his Tia Alejandra—and her family. On weekdays, Alejandra sold grilled meat from a street stand, while her husband and Jose Luis travelled to Cochabamba to work in construction. Jose Luis was strong and healthy and a very dedicated father.
Two months ago, Alejandra’s beloved mother died. At that same time, Jose Luis began to have trouble eating and drinking. Nothing would stay down. His condition deteriorated very quickly and soon he was dehydrated, pale, and very thin. Alejandra sold her grill to obtain money for medicines and medical care for her nephew.
Finally, our Solidarity Bridge team arrived and Dr. Magued Khouzam performed laparoscopic surgery. What he discovered was that Jose Luis has stage four stomach cancer which is spread throughout his abdominal cavity. All Magued could do for him was to put a simple drain to relieve pressure in the stomach and insert a feeding tube so Jose Luis will be able to receive nutrition directly into the intestines. These measures are by no means a cure, but they will make his remaining weeks or months more comfortable.
Even through her many tears, Alejandra expressed tremendous gratitude for our presence. In the midst of her sorrow, she was comforted knowing that we, and she, had done everything possible for her nephew. Just knowing that our mission team had come to Bolivia from the U.S. to help them, knowing that their suffering was not unnoticed, that they are not invisible to us, was in itself a tremendous support. Having someone from the mission team pray with them for peace and strength to face the difficult journey ahead meant a great deal to them. Their strong and simple faith and their love for each other will strengthen them to face what lies ahead.
What can I tell you about the people we serve in Bolivia? It’s very hard to communicate what it is like to spend time with them. In the poor of Bolivia I encounter a directness that I rarely experience in the United States, a simplicity of soul, a humble and powerful capacity for clear, straightforward connection. It feeds my soul to spend time with them.
In a few hours we will be home, very tired, and very, very grateful.