One of the many things that has always drawn me towards primary care medicine is continuity. To be a primary care doc you have the privilege of following patients over time, building a relationship, forming a partnership with them in their health journey. You learn their story. You become a part of their story. It is a remarkable gift.
And one of the many things this project in Guatemala has taught me over the last 12 years is to let go of any sense of control. This is the place where I see the gentle hand of God at work in my life more than any other. A year ago I met the dynamic 5 year old boy named Fernando. Having been born prematurely and blinded by the oxygen that saved his life at birth, just like Stevie Wonder, this little boy wonder burst into clinic last year and stole all of our hearts. He feels the world with his hands and talks to anyone. He bounces constantly on his feet, leaving the ground by a few inches over and over again. Watching him today I couldn’t help but marvel at his jumping bean nature. If I was blind I would probably be terrified to have both feet leave the earth simultaneously. Clearly, that doesn’t bother him.
After we returned from last year’s trip, I put a call out to friends to see if anyone had materials in Spanish in Braille that we could bring down for Fernando. One of the student alumna from the 2014 Xavier trip, Sarah, answered right away. After finishing her undergrad at Xavier, Sarah became a Braille educator and works for the center for the blind in Cincinnati. I also called the Spanish teacher for the center of the blind in Denver during the fall. My next door neighbor is a teacher and she put the word out in her school district to collect Spanish Braille resources. And Mary, one of our wonderful interpreters who comes with us. started collecting Braille resources. So with all of these people engaged in the same pursuit of finding Spanish Braille materials we came to Guatemala this year with a trove of books, playing cards, and alphabet cards for Fernando.
I have been a pediatrician for more than 2 decades now. I don’t have any blind patients in my practice in the US. And I had not seen any blind children the past 12 years in Guatemala. Fernando was the first. I met the second one our first morning of clinic this year. Ashanti is a 13 year old girl who has a syndrome that affects her eyesight and she is going blind. She just began special education but none of the teachers know Braille or have Braille resources. Knowing we had plenty of duplicates and books to spare for Fernando we gave Ashanti’s mom alphabet cards and a book that day. Her mom began weeping. She did not expect to come to clinic and go home with her first Braille alphabet. We told her about our little Fernando and why we had these specific items. We also let her know the walking stick we sent down for Fernando last fall was way too big for him, so we brought a smaller one for him this trip. We arranged to give Fernando his new smaller stick and give the larger one to Ashanti. So I will see her tomorrow and give her her first walking stick and more Braille books.
Diana, my interpreter and very dear friend these last 12 years looked at me when Ashanti’s mom was so overcome with emotion. Diana said, “Dr Lauri, how do you always know what people will need?” I said, “Diana, I absolutely had nothing to do with this one - this was the gentle hand of God that brought Fernando into our lives last year so we could help him and in helping him we are helping Ashanti too.” God just works that way. Providence whispered and we answered her call.
Lauri Pramuk, MD