Monday, February 21, 2011

Feeding the 5000...or maybe just entertaining a hundred

On our 3-day clinic expedition, I packed my scrub pockets full of balloons and stickers for the kids as usual. As a last minute thought, I threw in a few extra handfuls of balloons into my bag. Usually I only give out to kids coming through as patients to avoid the mobs. On our last clinic, though, out in the furthest village of Polo, I felt more the remoteness and little chance the children have to see much out of their village.

About halfway through the clinic, my group was taking forever on a family. Since only one person can question at a time with only one translator in our group, James and I moved on to the other 2 kids in the family. We had fun playing with them while checking them out, listening to their lungs, making a big show of breathing deep so they would imitate, looking down their throats and in their ears. Really they were a healthy bunch, but since they never have access to medical care out there, every family in their entirety were coming in to be looked at with some rather bogus symptoms or just a couple family members actually sick. All of the kids definitely needed worm medicine. We got the funniest descriptions from moms of the different sizes and colors of worms coming out in their kids' diarrhea, mouths, and noses. One mom even said her boy had moths coming out! We exchanged some dubious looks at that one.

With the current family, James and I gradually gained the kids' trust and they began to show us all their little cuts and bruises. After finding a fungal infection on the boy's foot and prescribing some Clotrimazole cream for him, I finally pulled out some stickers to keep the kids entertained while their parents were being checked. Before I knew it, the girl had run off and brought back friend after friend for stickers too. With a group of 6 girls gathered around me, I tried to talk a bit with them in limited Spanish and Miskito. Soon they were all shyly repeating "hello" and "how are you" in English as I taught them. Wanting to keep the learning going, I grabbed a balloon out of my pocket and tried to get them to say "balloon". It was fun and soon each of the girls wanted their own balloon with a face drawn on it.

You can't go very long handing out colorful balloons without kids noticing. Soon I had a crowd around me of kids, big & small, watching the production and hoping for one. It was crowding out the clinic so I grabbed my bag and sharpie and headed outside. The mob grew, and I began to wonder if this was a good idea or not. There was no way I would have enough balloons for them all. So I tried to make the best of the experience, making a show out of it by making exaggerated faces while blowing the balloons, taking the time to draw a specific face on each one, and making the older kids pronounce "balloon" before they could have one. All the parents began forming a ring behind to watch and caught on that I was drawing specific faces. So they all started guessing which kid I was drawing next from the hair style, etc. Great fun. Sometimes I'd get a dud balloon that just didn't want to expand. I'd blow and blow, until all the moms would start yelling Ai! No! She's going to blow all her air out and die!

I kept on, kid after kid, and really began to worry about running out with all the kids so eager to have one. I never looked into my bag, just stuck my hand in and rummaged around until feeling another balloon. Over and over I did that, praying each time, "Please God, give me another one." It went much longer than I expected until finally, the dreaded moment where all I could feel was my headlamp, knife, and other supplies at the bottom of the bag. No balloon. My spirits plummeted. Looking up, there were still 10 kids I could count who hadn't gotten anything. Reaching in my scrub pocket, I found half a sticker page and started handing those out. That was quickly gone and I was at a loss for a moment before I realized that the sticker page outline had little clouds printed on it. I started tearing those out like little stickers, feeling rather apologetic for giving such a measly gift compared to balloons, but the kids were grinning still, just happy to be included. Got down to the last cloud, looked around and spotted one last little boy, shyly standing back. I beckoned him forward and planted the last that I had on his sweaty hand. The perfect amount. There's nothing like perfection to tell you that God was a part of it in our non-perfect world.

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