The Warmth of Guatemala

A big reason as to why I felt the need to go on this trip was because of my adoration for my grandma. She dedicated a significant portion of her life to service work as a surgery nurse. Traveling on the SS Hope, she defeated the English to Bahasa Indonesia language barrier and worked to bring healthcare to many living in Southeast Asia. But most importantly, she showed me solely love, warmth, and comfort when I visited her as an eight-year old.

Today, I finally got to work in triage! As I was standing and waiting for patients to be checked in, a familiar face walked in through the door. She had come yesterday, when I worked in dentistry with Dr. Christian. We found she had very advanced periodontal disease, and she only had a handful of bottom teeth remaining. Dr. Christian had asked us to feel her thin jawbone, and it scared me as to how fragile it felt. I couldn’t imagine as to how much she struggled to eat, and maintain a good diet without dentures.

Today, she was wearing the same black and white floral traditional dress that I saw in dentistry. Immediately, I waved and greeted her, and her face lit up as she returned the greeting. When Nurse Kristen passed me her blue clinic passport, I ushered her back to get her vital signs. She started asking me about my day and talking to me in Spanish. It got to a point when I couldn’t understand what she was saying and I told her, “Lo siento. No puedo hablar espaƱol muy bien.” She laughed and said, “¡Yo tambien! Yo hablo Quetzche.” Immediately, I felt welcomed back into the conversation. 

Then, it was time to take her blood sugar. I poked her with a lancet and a drop of blood formed on her left ring finger. I wiped it away with gauze, and massaged her arm for another drop of blood to form. But nothing was coming out! I kept nervously massaging, and she laughed it off saying, “¡No tengo sangre!” I felt relieved and asked, “¿Usted muerto??” She chuckled and offered her right ring finger, which worked wonderfully. 

Although we didn’t talk too deeply about ourselves, we were able to connect, regardless of the language barrier. She was so warm and welcoming. 

I shared at the debrief tonight about this older woman, and came to the conclusion that in her, I found the same warmth, love, and comfort that my grandma showed me. I saw my grandma in her, and I was reminded today, of the reason I came on this trip — to carry on this legacy of unconditional love that my grandma planted in me.

Naomi Lumban-Gaol


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