Looking Up: From Sympathy to Respect

sydni heronToday’s post comes from Sydni Heron, a fellow with our partner organization Global Citizen Year. She is spending part of her gap year as a nurses assistant at a small health clinic in Ecuador. 

Patronato is an agency of social character, created to provide social protection to the most vulnerable groups of the canton. The action part of the policies laid down by the Cantonal Government Puerto Quito are to strengthen prevention and treatment projects in health, improve the quality of education, promote human development, social welfare and equity to achieve better a quality of life for the population.¨

Thirty to forty patients cycle through El Centro Medico Del Patronato Munical, a small health clinic in Puerto Quito, Pichincha, Ecuador, each day.

21I am a Nursing Assistant, which puts me on the bottom of the medical food chain. With the exception of emergencies and procedures, patients only see me for a brief period of time prior to their consultation. In those few minutes, I try to give my brightest ¨¡Buenos días!¨ and politest ¨Levantense aqui sin zapatos, por favor,¨ but I know my smile will do little more than make one annoying part of a typical consultation (height, weight and blood pressure) a little less annoying.

There is one patient, though, I have been working with since I came here three months ago.

Her name will remain anonymous to protect patient confidentiality.

She is an older woman. Her fragile and wrinkled skin tells me that. She is reasonably tall for an Ecuadorian, but short to an American. Her legs and arms are very thin, but she holds extra weight in a bulging belly – a sign of malnutrition.

Her skin is a light brown but now is painted with darker brown age spots. Often times – most times – when she comes into the clinic, she is dirty.

She is missing two of her front teeth. She always wears a baseball cap. A loose shirt. A colorful skirt that falls to her ankles. On one foot, she wears an old, tattered sandal and on the other she wears a once white bandage now stained brown from dirt.

This patient has diabetes. She developed an ulcer (skin sore) on a portion of her left foot which led to the necessity to amputate the middle toe and surrounding area of that foot.

087I clean and rebandage her foot each day. I have been for the last few months.

Had I heard this woman’s story from the United States, I would have pitied her. I would have imagined her life hard and her courage brave. I would, though, have imagined her unhappy. How could she achieve happiness – ¨a state of well-being and contentment¨ – with so much weighing her down?

I am not just ¨hearing¨ her story, though. I am learning about it through her own words, her own eyes and her own ideas. I am living in it. I hope, through my assistance to Patronato, I am playing a strengthening role in it.

When I say that, it is easy to assume I know her life story – how exactly she got to this point, what probably caused her diabetes and maybe how exactly poor she really is. Through our conversations and her records, I have seen glimpses of all of these, but I do not think that is where her story lies.

She loves novellas (Spanish soap operas).  Sometimes, we put one on in the waiting room just for her as she waits for a mototaxi to pick her up. She likes horses. She doesn´t like cloudy days. She has strong faith that there is a God and He has blessed her very much. (Every time someone praises her healing foot, she says it is all thanks to God.) She has a loving daughter who takes to the clinic every day, without fail. She smiles a lot.

She seems happy.

I respect her. I admire her. I look forward to seeing how she is each day she comes into the clinic. And I am embarrassed that at one time in my life I would have felt sorrow for her – looked down on her when, now, I so often find myself looking up at her.

Having lived in a ¨third world country¨ for three months, the most important thing I have learned about poverty is that the people who I am trying to help do not need my pity – ¨sympathetic sorrow for one suffering, distressed, or unhappy.¨ If they need anything from me (and I stress the word ¨if¨), it is my time, my care and my equal treatment.


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