Dentists and Dinosaurs Part II

paul on dental brigade

I’m writing a second blog immediately following the first.  The earlier one feels a little bit like cheating to me since I wrote it for our Shoulder to Shoulder blog.  The story was true enough and personal enough (hoped you liked it), but there is more going on for us right now that is not necessarily appropriate to share in the NGO blog.  You can consider this a bonus blog.

At the end of last week, a very dear friend of ours died.  He’d been ill and his passing wasn’t entirely unexpected, but losing someone, under any circumstances, always sets one reeling.  We felt ourselves fortunate to have seen him at Christmas.  He seemed very tired and we both felt he was readying himself.  We thought we might try to go home when he passed.  We are close to his family and would have liked to be near them physically in their mourning.  But it was so soon after our Christmas trip.  It would have been a very expensive and exhausting journey.  Instead, we remembered him here and sent our condolences on to the family.  We’ve been thinking of them since.  It’s the only real hard part of being here in Honduras.

As it turned out late Saturday and early Sunday I developed a very bad ear infection.  Those of you that know me well know how bad my ears are and that I’m prone to ear infections.  I’m about three-quarters deaf in my right ear.  The left ear is simply challenging.  Of course it was the left ear in which I contracted the infection.  It hurt tremendously, and though I still felt a little guilty about not making the trip back home for the funeral, I dread how I might have felt if the infection had erupted on a plane.  I wanted to fight my way through it as is my usual response.  I thought I could get by without needing an antibiotic.  But by Sunday it was really bad.  By Sunday afternoon I desperately wanted an antibiotic and pain killer.

kids shaking toothbrushes

Honduras is quite different from the States when it comes to pharmaceuticals.  You don’t need a prescription for most anything.  You simply walk into the pharmacy and tell them what you want and buy it.  The pharmacist, theoretically, should be able to tell you what the drug is for, its side-effects, and the proper dosage and how long to take it.  The drugs are relatively cheap because there is no insurance, but there are also few controls.  It’s a bit of a crap shoot.  We were in La Esperanza on Sunday afternoon looking for a pharmacist.  La Esperanza is always a busy town with all the traffic from the surrounding small towns coming to purchase supplies.  It’s like the Dodge City of rural Southern Honduras.  Busy that is except from Sunday afternoon through Monday afternoon when everyone is hurrying back to their little towns for the work week.  There were no pharmacies open.  We planned to return to Concepcion on the 6:15 AM bus on Monday morning, but we decided to delay that until the 10:15 AM bus so I could find the drugs.  The pain and a fever kept me up most of Sunday night, but we went out in search of a pharmacy at 7:30 AM on Monday morning.  We passed three pharmacies that we felt were more or less reputable that were unfortunately still closed.  The fourth one would not have been my first choice, but it was open.  The short, aging woman found an antibiotic and some ibuprofen with relative ease among the dusty, poorly organized shelves.  She seemed very certain in telling me to take the antibiotic at six-hour intervals for three days, and the ibuprofen at eight hour intervals as needed for pain.  I purchased the drugs, feeling more confident than not.

The ibuprofen gave me some relief from the pain right away.  Still, I had the bus ride ahead.  I know I spend a great deal of time talking about bus rides in this blog.  It’s a big part of our lives here.  The bus ride from La Esperanza through the Frontera is really something that cannot be appreciated without experiencing it.  I was fine for the first hour and a half.  The ibuprofen seemed to be holding up well.  But, the combination of the constant jostling, the dramatic loss of altitude, the wearing down of the efficacy of the ibuprofen, and the intensity of the infection, did me in.  The pain returned with a harsh vengeance.  Screaming in public is considered as culturally unacceptable in Honduras as it is in the States, so as strong as the impulse was, I restrained myself.   I barely made it off the bus and up the short hill to our house.  But I did make it.  The drugs have been working fine and I’ve been slowly but surely improving.  Of course, I can hardly hear.

On Thursday morning I had finished my regimen of antibiotics and ibuprofen.  I felt much better, but my ear was still impacted and I sensed something was wrong.  I saw one of the docs at our clinic and asked her to remove the wax from my ear.  She took one look and declared that my ear remained infected and inflamed and queried me as to why I had stopped the antibiotics.  As per the instructions of the pharmacist, I answered.  What a surprise, the pharmacist had given me incorrect directions for the medicines.  I needed to take the antibiotics and the ibuprofen for a full week.  The length of time between doses was also incorrect.  I’m on the right track now, however, and I’m certain I’ll be fully recovered by early next week.  Last week, before my infection, we had a group of pharmacology students from Buffalo here.  Timing is everything, I guess.

girl sitting pensively - dental brigade

In the midst of all of this, I’ve been reflecting on loss, disappointments, discouragements, challenges, and the fragility of life.  It seems life is as beautiful as it is delicate.  It needs to be attended to and appreciated.  Laura and I had the joy of visiting the school with the dental brigade on Wednesday.  I loved those dinosaurs (see last blog).  They had a great deal to say about what is truly special and sacred about life.  I think our friend whom we’ll miss would have very much appreciated the children at the school.  How important it is to be present to all of that.  We don’t always do that.  We often get caught up in ourselves.  We are fragile and we do suffer, but oh how beautiful it is to be alive.


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