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Editor’s Note: Our correspondent, Alex Farris, is a research writer with the Center for Hip & Knee Surgery in Mooresville. As part of Operation Walk, he recently traveled to Guatemala with a surgeon from the clinic, Dr. Merrill Ritter, and agreed to update IM with a series of dispatches. Read the first, second, and third here at Circle Citizen. The fourth and final installment follows.
On this last day, I am sure of three things.
The first is that I've gotten better at my translating job. Words that came to me so slowly during triage that first day ("No esta ... No esta ... eh ... No es una buena idea ...") now flow easily. It helps that I’ve told so many patients they need to take these iron supplements and stool softeners, or that they need to bend their knee this way ten times in a row, five times a day.
The last patient I talked to today, a woman named Rocio, has a long way to go before she can get home. Like many patients here in Amatitlan, she lives far from the hospital, so a car drive could take two, three, or even four hours. In cases like hers, we tell the patients (and, if they're present, the relatives who will be driving them) to pull over about halfway through the trip, get out of the car, and use those hips and knees for a bit. It would be a shame to get new joints and not put them to good use, right?
Rocio's husband was also there. He had visited earlier in the week, and he thanked me in both English and Spanish for helping Rocio to walk again. He called us angels, and while I insisted that we were only humans doing good things, I was touched by his gratitude. He gave me probably the strongest, most heartfelt hug I received all week.
Rocio thanked us as well. She thanked us as a group and then she thanked us individually, and her husband did the same. There were hugs all around. But then Rocio said something just to me.
She would name one of her sons Alex.
At that, I had to stop for a second. I questioned my translation, for what had I done to deserve such an honor? That kind of thing is often reserved for formative teachers or influential celebrities. Very quickly, though, I reassured myself. I went through the sentence again, and I came to the same conclusion: Some day, there will be a little kid named Alex running around Guatemala, his name a memento of the service that I, a twentysomething from the Midwest, was able to provide for people here.
"Wait," I said, then turned away and fought back a tear.
Which brings me to my second conviction: This Operation Walk trip is a very good thing.
Sixty-nine Guatemalans came to the Hospittalia Amatitlan this week. Some needed a foot fusion, some a new knee (or two), others a new hip (or two), and still others a cast so that his or her childhood would not be marred by a leg deformity. They would never have been able to afford the operations they needed by themselves.
To be sure, they do leave the hospital this week with the new joints, foot pins, and casts they came for, but they also leave with goodwill, blessings, and memories of a time when they were in need and people cared for them. The people who work with Operation Walk and our Guatemalan partner, Fundacion Fundaorto, are the reason why they will be able to walk, climb stairs, and maybe even dance.
I'm quite privileged to be a part of this, which is why I'm sure of the third thing: I want to do this again. Next year, the group will be in Nicaragua, and I can't wait.
For information about donating to Operation Walk Mooresville, click here.
Alex Farris (pictured) has worked as a photographer for the Indiana Daily Student and, currently, the Lafayette Journal and Courier.
Photos and video courtesy Alex Farris. View more at his website.
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