Our guest bloggers are many today – medical professionals, a patient, social worker, and chaplain, along with Solidarity Bridge/Puente de Solidaridad leadership. Mary McCann Sanchez, Senior Director of Programs at Solidarity Bridge, draws together thoughts and reflections on a truly international day of celebration of the lives of women in Tiquipaya, Bolivia.
International Women’s Day is widely celebrated in many countries of the world, and Bolivia is no exception. On March 8, the customary hug or quick kiss on the cheek when women greet each other was followed by a glowing smile and felicidades: Congratulations! It is your day!
We walked into the public hospital in Tiquipaya on our fifth day of mission and quickly saw that the celebration here would be twofold. Colorful locally grown flowers of all kinds adorned the waiting room, and an altar was being built in honor of San Juan de Dios, the patron of hospitals, whose feast day was also being celebrated the same day. The smell of fresh bread from the hospital kitchen graced the air. We had heard firecrackers the night before, announcing the dawning of the feast day, and a jubilant band was tuning up for the celebration.
Women and health – hospitals and hope. The combination was poignant, as were the voices of women who spontaneously exchanged thoughts throughout the day:
Maria Eugenia, board member and chaplain on mission, shared with patients the enormous contributions of her mother – now 93 years of age – and the gift of her presence in the lives of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. That presence has inspired a niece to adopt a little girl with serious physical disabilities, and to replicate the loving care she had received as a child.
Maria Eugenia’s words of appreciation sparked an animated rendition by patients regarding women in their families. “My mother had 18 children,” said Sofia, “and lost several along the way. I am the youngest – and grateful to have survived. My mother suffered so much with incontinence and discomfort. She needed the surgery I am getting today but she never had the chance.”
Marizol, Puente de Solidaridad’s social worker, explained the meaning of the colorful Arco de Plata that adorned the altar to San Juan. “Spoons, plates, cutlery…kitchen tools that women use every day! They represent our hope for prosperity.” Jodi Grahl, Director of Solidarity Bridge’s Gynecologic Surgery program, drew the link between ritual and motivation. “Nurses have a tough job in Bolivia’s under-resourced public hospitals. It strikes me that celebrating together generates enthusiasm. It brings hope.”
Noelia, a Bolivian surgical tech, commented on the significance of the visit by the mayor of Tiquipaya to the hospital, roses in hand, as he greeted patients, staff and missioners. Noelia had generously joined our mission, providing critical services and skills gained through more than seven years of work in Viedma Hospital, where Solidarity Bridge led a mission the week before. As trust built in and outside the operating room, Noelia shared with us the joyous news that she is expecting her first child.
When Dr. Janet Tomezsko did her afternoon rounds and saw patients steadily recovering from the surgeries she performed, she commented on the resource gap between medical systems in the United States and our mission site in Bolivia. More than a dozen surgeries were scheduled for this week -- including endometrial ablations, vaginal vault and bladder suspensions, cystocele repairs, and a hysterectomy --- with medical evaluation and counsel provided to another 18 patients. Committed to sharing medical procedures that ensure faster and more secure recovery, Janet and her colleague, Dr. Ron Miller, take seriously the task of hands-on teaching with women and men alike in the operating room.
Patricia Vargas, executive director of Puente de Solidaridad, summarized the day in one word: transformation. Surgeries transform lives; mentoring enhances professional skills; praying together builds community. During this week in which we celebrate both International Women’s Day and San Juan de Dios, our mission recognizes the importance of female patients voicing their needs to seek medical care, without fear of shame. Most of all, we celebrate the power of women contributing to a higher standard of care -- and living longer and happier lives.