I’ve always associated flies with things that are dead. They swarm over roadkill, port-o-potties, or even a plate of food that’s been sitting out. Basically, things no one ever wants to touch. Here in Peru, they are everywhere. Of course, the people pay no mind to the flies that inconspicuously land on their furniture, their food, and their bodies. To a foreigner like myself, the flies are more than noticeable, and I swat them away instinctively. Although I’m getting used to it, they are still the enemy.
To the elderly gentleman sitting in front of his house in his wheelchair, the more than 40 flies swarming around him are merely part of the scenery. The “home visit team”, which consists of Daisy the nurse, Meg, and myself, arrive at this man’s home to do the routine: recording vital signs, a haircut, a shave, and a wash. However, after about five minutes in front of his home, I realize that nothing about this visit is routine. Up until today, all of our clients have been relatively happy, and if sad, consolable. This man sobs whenever we talk to him, and he is barely understandable with his lack of teeth. After a struggle, we understand that he is sad about his inability to walk and the pain in his knees. We try as hard as we can to console him before we begin our work, but it is without gain.
I’ve never cut anyone’s hair before, let alone someone of the opposite sex. I’ve also never imagined haircutting as a nursing skill, but it is one here out in the community. While Meg washes his feet and hands, I begin snipping away at his salt and pepper hair. I am successful, though I feel like a fool swatting away at the flies that surround us. He continues to carry his sad expression, though smiling once when we tell him he looks “guapo”, or handsome. I carry on, beginning to shave and wash his face. Again, I’ve never shaved anyone’s face before. However, he trusted me, a stranger. I wipe the shaving cream off his face and begin to uncover the lines and wrinkles that have presumably resulted from the stresses of life. I’ve heard people say: stress kills. Here in Peru, this certainly rings true.
Yesterday, I took a woman’s blood pressure, and it measured up to 170/110. This is extremely high, for those who don’t know blood pressures. Hypertension (high BP) usually results from eating a ton of salty foods, and in America, this is typically the case. In Peru, the hypertensive people I have come across have all been victims of extreme acute stress. This particular woman was so worried about her sick daughter that she became sick herself. This is when my English-Spanish medical dictionary comes in handy, because we need to look up how to say: “You’re stressed out and you need to relax. Just breathe”. It’s stressful when a child is sick. It’s even more stressful when a child is sick and there is no money to cover the medical charges.
The home visit team and I take these cases as they come. The people here are so willing to listen and learn, and it is amazing to teach. Next week, I will most likely be working in the hospice, and I am ready for the new experience. We will work through new battles and old ones, including the fight with the flies. No matter the temporary struggle, I am always enthralled to work with a culture based on love.