A Smile, A Kiss, and a Machete

The language barrier was intimidating and elicited one of my worst fears: being imperfect. 
Striving for perfection seems to be a common attribute amongst medical professionals, so when traveling with a team of them as well as future ones, I have never felt more understood. Personally, I am terrified to fail, or disappoint at all times of the day. Terrified to the point where I do not allow any sense of true humanity to live inside me— blocking any and all emotion that would allow me to stray from what I define as “perfect.” Coming to Guatemala, I knew I would be imperfect, I knew the experience would be imperfect, and I knew my fear of not being being good enough would be a hinderance when using my Spanish. Today, I saw that it did not matter if I could not correctly ask someone what their medical history was, what their need for glasses were, or what was troubling them. My guarded feelings crumbled at the opportunity to experience something so visceral, true, and humane. That something was laughter. The laughter and smiles shared between each infant, child, woman and man was a unifying force that diminished all language barriers, pain, and timidness in order to reveal the purity of humanity. The idea of perfection diminished as the human condition was ever present with each smile. Reflecting on perfectionism, KK and Dr. Steph reminded us that we can be enough in any realm if we work together as a team and do not dwell on past mistakes. 

Today, the children were far from imperfect. There were 9 year olds patiently waiting to be seen by the doctors by themselves. They had the responsibility of needing to know their own medical history, what was bothering them, and the responsibility of picking up a prescription and take medicine. Although it was amazing to watch, it was equally as sad. These 9 year olds that look they are 6 are taking on the responsibilities of adults and are unable to just be children. And yet, they persist. People are doing more for me than what I am doing for them. Today in pediatrics we saw many children who fell short on the growth curve. I never understood the importance of filtered water more than I did today. These children are three years smaller than where they “should be” on the growth curve. Learning that their stunted growth was because they did not have access to filtered water during the most critical times of their life was heart- wrenching. I feel helpless knowing that these people could have a better outcome if they had the one thing we take for granted the most. 

It was as though I was meant to be with Dr. Lauri in pediatrics this morning. One of the first patients we saw was an 8 year old leukemia survivor who was diagnosed when she was 15 months old. I instantly gravitated to her and shared my chemotherapy port scar with hers. It was a moment where she didn’t need to feel so alone or sick. Her beautiful soul has been through much more than any child should ever face and I’m grateful that her mother is ensuring that she is getting the best medical treatment. 

In the afternoon I had the privilege of being in glasses with Rabbi Abbie. It was one of the best gifts from God to be able to give someone vision. Accurately fitting used glasses to these beautiful people was UNREAL. Their eyes might have smiled and gleamed more than their mouths when their vision was cleared. It was an instantaneous fix, rather than patiently waiting for medicine to make a difference. There was an instant transformation and gratification when the patients tried on glasses that changed their entire outlook on life. Today we had a patient who reminded the entire team of Mama Coco from the movie “Coco.” She came in only speaking her Mayan language which was an even further language barrier. The community around us came together to find someone that could help us translate from English to Spanish to Mayan in order to treat this woman. The sweet old lady walked in carrying a machete that we would later see her use to whack down grass for her cows. When fitting her for glasses she softly giggled, laughed, and embraced us all. Although we were unable to talk to with each other, she changed our lives by her love, resilience, and serenity.

Today my mind and soul transformed in a way that no one will be able to understand. I am still having difficulty grasping the love and blessings I have encountered thus far. As Jose Roland asked us, what are we going to do when we encounter the burning bush? Take off our sandals to reach the holy ground? Today I learned the importance of keeping the “wheel turning” in our ordinary life.

Keanna Capener


  1. Your like a breath of fresh air and a inspiration to many keep up the great work.


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