Sticking my head out of Consultorio 1, a simple cinderblock room with a small wooden desk, floor lamp and bed where Doctor Tom has been seeing countless patients over the past few days, I see a scene of volunteers in green vests shuffling patients around. I see kids squealing in delight as they play with bubble wands, trails of benches and plastic chairs posted outside of the other visiting rooms filled with waiting patients, young women from the high sierra with men’s baseball caps covering long braids and simple pants sticking out under their shiny, pleated aquamarine dresses. Every once in a while, doctors step outside of their doors to hold X-Rays up into the light to better see the intricacies of the human body. All around me is life and the different phases of it. Newborn babies with eyes pressed firmly closed as they drift away in sleep in their mother’s arms, the elderly whose every step is deliberate and well thought out. I think about the surgery team across the street at the hospital who are busy transforming life with far more simple equipment than what they are likely used to in the United States. All around me is life and healing. And I here I am, partaking in a beautiful show of love where a team of more than forty doctors, surgeons, pharmacists, and nurses give their knowledge and specialties to the communities of the sierra and the various campos and towns around Chulucanas.
I hear Doctor Tom behind me, “Kiely, bring on in the next one!” Looking towards the long bench that has been placed in front of Consultorio 1, I lock eyes with a little girl, no older than four, sitting nervously with her father waiting to be seen. Trying to preemptively reassure her, I try to make my eyes and smile as warm as possible when I ask if they are ready to be seen by the doctor.
Seating her up on the patent bed, giant saucer-like eyes stare at me from underneath an oversized baseball cap synched tightly in the back. Contrasted against fair skin, this beautiful girl was made even more striking with a set of ruddy cheeks that gave her almost an Asian appearance. I learned later in the evening that as a result of living high in the mountains, frost bite was often a cause of the ruddy cheeks. Her young father also had faint reddish marks on his cheeks but his skin had been darkened by the sun over the years. She too sported the clothing that gave the women from the sierra an air of almost antiquity ringed with mysticism. In a bright red drop-waist dress, little fleece pants poked out at the ankles. Despite the heat of this dusty desert town, she also wore a thickly crotched sweater around her shoulders. Doctor Tom and I, sitting on squeaky wooden chairs, sat facing the little girl with her young father to my right. Leaning forward in his seat, Tom stuck out his hand and in a heavily Iowan accent, introduces himself in Spanish. With a soft smile on his face, his hand gently floats between them as she first looks to her dad for reassurance before extending her own. Tom and I quickly learned that they had traveled more than eight hours to be seen by the medical teams, with a few of those hours on foot.
Her father launches into the reason why they have traveled so far today. He begins explaining that his young daughter, since she was little, has had a growth on the side of her chest that has steadily been increasing in size. Acting as the conduit, I switch quickly between English and Spanish relaying information and probing for more details. While I didn’t think it possible, his little girl’s eyes have grown even larger watching this conversation. She was especially bewitched by Dr. Tom as he indicates in English what he wants me to ask her father.
The father began helping his daughter remove her many layers. It turns out she was wearing a long-sleeved shirt under her dress as well! How she hadn’t expired from the heat was truly a mystery. Along her left side under her armpit was a bump the height of a water bottle and three quarters of the length of one. Dr. Tom put on his headlamp to better see the growth and as he did so, tears began welling at the bottom of her saucer-like eyes. Likely overwhelmed and frightened by Dr. Tom’s examination, her father leaned forward to rest his calloused hand on her tiny shoulder.
After several more minutes of poking and prodding at the growth, Dr. Tom swiveled in his chair, smiled and tells the father in English that the growth is not cancerous nor dangerous. Relaying this, the breath that the father had been holding inside his chest, whether consciously or not, quickly escaped and his body instantaneously relaxed. Looking across at Dr. Tom with a smile of pure relief, the young father exclaimed “Gracias a Dios.” Turning to his baby girl, with the same wide grin, he cocked his head slightly and repeated the phrase. There are certain phrases that when expressed in such a way transcend language barriers. And with the love and relief that filled this simple cinderblock room like a tangible cloud, this was truly one of those cases. Here was a young man whom with his little girl, had traveled hours and hours to bring to her relief and healing. Previously being unable to afford or access the care that his baby girl needed, fate and something a bit stronger worked to pair this American doctor with this relieved family.
Dr. Tom quickly grabbed his phone and sent a message to the surgery team along with the description and a photo of her growth. Dr. Tom confided in me that he was hoping to fit this little girl into the surgery schedule to have this growth removed as soon as possible. Several minutes later, Dr. Tom closed his phone with a large smile on his face. He began explaining that his little girl would be freed from this growth in just two days, the surgeons would be able to operate on her. If it hadn’t been a God-send to hear that the growth alone wasn’t cancerous, Doctor Tom, with his dedication to healing was able to coordinate a quick procedure that would forever alter this little girl’s life. Someone very powerful was present here with us. He was working through this doctor to my left and through the surgeon just a few blocks away. And I knew His steadying hands would once again be present two days from now during the operation that would bring her healing. I knew too that I was seeing God in this man’s profound dedication to his baby.
Overwhelmed by happiness and joy, the father too brings out his simple phone and begins showing me grainy pictures of his same little girl in an oversized hospital gown waiting for their consultation in Lima. Relaying this quick story to Dr. Tom, he slowly leans towards the baby girl and speaks to her in English saying, “You have a very special father who loves you very much.” Pausing slightly, I swing my head to begin translating to this little doll standing in front of me. But just as I begin, my voice catches and tears prick my eyes. Here was a father who had previously brought his baby all the way to Lima with the hopes of giving her a better life but was unable to afford the surgery that had been recommended to her. And in return, his little girl had entrusted her comfort, love and well-being in his calloused hands-translated simply through her giant eyes that gazed, ever-trusting, back at him.
Love is an overpowering thing. It can push us to travel hundreds of miles, hours by foot, overextending ourselves financially all to provide a better life for those we have enveloped into our hearts. I will forever be taken aback and taken off-guard by God’s overwhelming and often unannounced presence in our lives. And with that, I hope to never grow accustomed to the shocking beauty of this same power and this love.
And for those of you who are curious, her surgery went perfectly and this adoring father and his little girl made their way back to the mountains just days afterwards. :)
Chulucanas, Peru 2016