Sunday, April 26, 2009

Saturday April 25, 2009 – Day 5 Clinic

Somalia is a slum. It is a collection of 750 families, living in huts made from any combination of scavenged metal, wood or canvas, in an inner city squat in San Salvador. Some families are fortunate enough to have 10 by 10 feet huts with some basic furniture and electricity stolen from the city. Others have significantly less; sometimes only a small pallet on the floor for the whole family, in less than 4 by 6 feet of space, with no electricity, windows, water, or washroom facilities.

Their story is a sad one. Some time ago, a man claiming to be the landowner came to Somalia offering to sell the families the land their huts were on for $15 USD each. Hopeful to be landowners, many managed to scrape this significant amount of money together. After paying, they discovered that the man was not the landowner at all, and that they had devastatingly lost their hard-earned money to a con artist. He fled and was never found.

Today was a very difficult day for the team, both physically and emotionally. Physically, medical, dental, pharmacy and distribution were set up outside under tarps in the few open spaces to be found in between huts; having to rely on a gas generator to power the dental clinic. At one point, ominous clouds and thunder threatened to cut the dayshort. Emotionally, the team was overcome by the extreme poverty we were witnessing, and many of us had to take a moment to pause, to collect ourselves and continue on.

We met Alex, a 34 year-old man with a bullet still lodged in his head from the civil war. He requires anti-convulsive drugs daily. We met Mercedes, a 23 year-old woman with a rare allergy to the sun. Any area of her skin exposed to the sun becomes swollen, dry, painful and split. Her face and hands have the scars from suffering this condition her entire life.

There was also Dorotea, a 46 year-old woman whose right leg never developed properly, and is significantly shortened and misshapen. When Dorotea was 14, she fell and broke her good leg; after surgery to repair it, she developed gangrene and had to have it amputated below the knee. Today we were able to treat her for parasites and an infection, and also to make her a little more comfortable in an unexpected way. The tops of her plastic crutches were extremely hard and hurt her under her arms. We were able to modify her crutches with carefully wrapped layers of bandages and gauze to provide padding. She was very happy.

But perhaps the patient we were most affected by was Maria, a 52 year-old woman who came to see the dentist. After having a tooth extracted, Maria became faint, dizzy and was shaking. At first doctors thought this was due to an untreated blood pressure problem and heat exhaustion. Upon further investigation we discovered that moments before having her tooth extracted, Maria had learned that her 10 year-old grandson had been shot in a drive-by gang shooting, and was currently at the hospital in surgery.

Today’s clinic in Somalia was the final day of the FTC Canada 2009 El Salvador project. The medical and dental teams saw a staggering 889 people today. In four trips to Central America, over a period of two years, FTC Canada has provided care for over 12, 600 people.

After a long, tiring, often emotional but always rewarding week, these numbers remind us why such trips to countries in need are so very important. And so very much appreciated.

[About the El Salvador Blog: Julie Puckrin was a member of the team to El Salvador and contributed the photos and blog entries throughout the week.]

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