I have been preparing myself for this since Shelby left Cusco. After a couple of days of letting it soak in, I´m finally ready to write this blog post. The most bittersweet blogpost I´ll ever have to write. My last day volunteering was last Friday April 19. I moved out of the San Pedro house yesterday. The last couple weeks have been wonderful. Not to mention, Dra. Mildred working my butt off before I left :)
For the past couple of weeks, my fellow volunteer and fellow nurse, Sherin, and I conducted physical exams on the children and adults at Hogar de Madre Teresa de Calcuta. Cusco´s assisted living home for the disabled. There were 25 children. Their diagnoses ranged from Down´s syndrome, autism, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, and various congenital deformities, as well as malnutrition. Each morning we could only get through 4 or 5 children´s exams and it took at least the 2 of us nurses. Most of them couldn´t walk or talk. It was heart-breaking to see one child, who was 5 years old, but looked like he was barely 1 year old. He had hydrocephaly along with many other congenital deformities, malnutrition, and was years behind developmentally. He looked uncomfortable and in pain all the time. I couldn´t believe that he has been living for this long. It is rather impressive that he is still alive. However, I couldn´t help but question, why would God let this person continue living in such pain? It´s not that I don´t value human life. I do. But suffering from malnutrition and pain 24/7 is not living or humane.
The experience as a whole was very meaningful. These children were beautiful and had their own personalities and expressed themselves their own way. It felt rewarding to be able to put my nursing skills to good use. The following weeks we did vital signs on the adults. There were a total of 50 men and women. Most of them were high-functioning. We got through these patients much faster than the children.
The Sisters of the Charity (Mother Teresa´s order of nuns) run this assisted living home. These nuns, volunteers, and physical therapists are just amazing. They are all so cheerful and happy. El Hogar de Madre Teresa is one of the happiest places I have ever had the privilege to serve. In acute care, a lot of nurses get burned out working at hospitals. They get pretty unpleasant. These nuns and volunteers work there everyday. It is so inspiring to see that they are the opposite of being burned out. Their strength of spirit blew me away.
In the afternoons, I would spend time with my kids at the leukemia ward. My last week of volunteering was solely dedicated to spending my days with them. We had lots of fun making bracelets, playing Uno, and cards, doing their homework, and coloring or drawing. Last Saturday was our leukemia unit´s 4th anniversary. One nurse told me to arrive Saturday morning at 9, and another told me to arrive at 10. Naturally, I arrived at 9:30. Of course, I walked in late to the mini-Mass service at the entrance room. It was a lovely service by a funny priest. The kids got in line and brought in the offerings. It was precious. At the end of the mass some of the kids performed by singing or dancing, or both. I´ve got some good videos of them. The unit even hired a musician to come play music for the kids. So we spent a couple hours dancing and singing with him. No Peruvian party is complete without alcohol and food. They served some wine and some pretty good chicharon and potatoes. There were lots of doctors and hospital administrators that came to the party, too. The kids and I had a lot of fun.
Dra. Gladys, the main oncologist at UTLI
(Unidad de Tratamento de Leucemia Infantil)
Our brave new girl
I was hoping I would be able to keep myself together when the time came for me to go and say goodbye to my kids. They have known for over a month that I was leaving. We were all counting down the days to the final goodbye. I gave my first hug and immediately started crying. Her mom gave me a pair of earrings, any pair that I wanted from the box, as a remembrance gift. I couldn´t tell her that I´m allergic to most metals, so I just picked a pair of little moons. It was very thoughtful of her. Then another mom gave me an alligator keychain (I think I have one from almost every kid now lol. They make them with beads and string) and then she started crying too! Oh what a bittersweet, lovely mess it was. I made each kid a goodbye letter with a picture of us attached. I handed them out, gave them all tearful hugs, and said goodbye. Only at the end did the little ones realize that I wasn´t coming back.
Group picture on my last day
Dra Mildred. Maximo Nivel´s medical placement directora
On my last night out on the town with my housemates. We ALL went out. We also dubbed it alpaca sweater day. I don´t know why, but it was great. We were a mob of 16 gringos strutting down Cusco in our alpaca sweaters and poncho. We went out to eat at a Korean restaurant. A legit Korean restaurant! There were real Koreans cooking! It was spicy and wonderful. We were all sniffling our noses throughout the entire dinner.Used up all their napkins, haha. Then we danced the night away and I came home with a falafal from my favorite little falafal restaurant. It was a successful ¨last night out¨.
San Pedro alpaca day family photo
My last night out AND Juliana´s birthday!
6 months living in Cusco and what have I gained? I have made many new friends from the volunteers that have come and go in my house. It has been inspiring to meet so many people with good hearts who want to make a difference in the world. The wonderful women who work at San Pedro house who have been with me through these months have become my Cusco family. I love them. They have taken good care of me, especially when I have been sick. I have learned Spanish. I have made Peruvian friends who love to help me with my Spanish and who want to practice their English. I have fallen in love with my kids at the leukemia ward. I learned how unique a child´s love is and how much it means. Most of all, after becoming so jaded working in a hospital in the states, and seeing more bad than good, I have rediscovered what it´s like to hope again. To have faith in people again. To see Good again.
Thank you Cusco. Thank you fellow volunteers. Thank you doctors, nurses, and especially the kids at UTLI. Thank you Maximo Nivel. I have been changed for good.
Now off to exploring South America! But I have left my heart in Cusco.