There are a lot of hazards to health when living in this country. Everyday aches and pains are a part of life here.
Lots of people here have sore throats due to the environment and ever present germs. Idalia has a constant sore throat. She’s bought special honey, brewed homemade tea made from local plants, and sucked on ginger throat lozenges but nothing seems to help her kick it for good. Sometimes it’s better and sometimes it’s worse but it never seems to go away completely. It has never stopped her from doing her job and working with the others at the Pastoral House. Blanca also has a sore throat a lot of the time. She said that the inside of her throat on one side feels like it was burned. She’s not sure what it is and like Idalia, sometimes it’s worse than other times. She also continues to work and do things that need to be done for the Pastoral House.
Kathy gets a sore throat every once and a while as well. She had one in late February when there was a delegation here. But did she stop working? Nope. She struggled through the week even as her voice was disappearing. Aminta made her a special concoction which helped her throat but it took a while for it to go away. Like Kathy, several of my teachers are sick right now as well and continue to work and talk. Since they’re teaching and talking all the time their throats and voices don’t get a chance to rest. There’s just not enough down time for them to be able to get better.
Whenever we visit families in the cantons it seems like someone is always sick, especially with throat problems. I think it would be hard not to be sick all the time. In the dry season you have the dust, which dries out and irritates your throat. In the wet season you have the rain, and when everything is always wet people gets colds and infections spread like wildfire. But you might have a farm or a family to support so not going to work isn’t an option.
Balmore has bad knees. I’m not sure what specific problems he has but I know he’s often in pain. Sometimes it hurts to walk. But Balmore is the president of the Directiva in his community. He is also a part of the Pastoral Team. So he really doesn’t have to option to not walk or not work. Recently, I saw Balmore carrying 200+ pounds of shelled corn in a bag out of someone’s house to the pickup truck. Not only is that man incredibly strong, but to think that he did it with bad knees in amazing. I can only imagine the joint pain that people here have and how much it must hurt.
Someone else I know, though I will not mention their name, has a couple boils on their hind quarters. Now that is painful! But when you live in the cantons there’s not a whole lot you can do. Keeping the area clean can be difficult. If you are lucky, you can get over-the-counter medication to ease the pain and swelling. Unfortunately for this person, over-the-counter medication did not do the trick. After this person developed a fever that lasted almost a week they finally went to see the doctor. And all that time this person was going to school, sitting through class after class. Thankfully, this person's family could afford the medication they needed.
Mosquitoes, as I mentioned in a recent blog, are the scourge of the universe that cause extreme itching as well as dengue. Blanca and I both have had bad reactions to mosquito bites lately. Something you should not do is scratch your mosquito bites. More importantly, you should not use the corner of a chair to scratch your bites. This will result in a big piece of skin missing from the body part you’re scratching thus leaving you with an open wound. Not good. (Yep, that was me).
Machete accidents are common here. Last year Cecilia had an accident with a machete. We got a call late on a Saturday night, the one night a week Cecilia goes home to be with her family, saying she’d had an accident. Her brother, Alejandro, ran all the way from Alejandría up the huge hill in complete darkness to the Pastoral House to get antibiotic ointment. Thankfully, she didn’t have to go to the hospital. The next day she was back at the house working and even ironing clothes. She showed me her cut and it was really nasty.
Mr. Sun is also not your friend. Sunburn is very common among gringos that visit the area. Typically Salvadoran people don’t burn but there are always exceptions. A couple weeks ago Cecilia came home with distinctive sunburn. I’ve never seen anyone here burned like that before. She was actually red. It looked painful and she put something on it to ease the pain. However, regarding the sun, it is easy to distinguish the “city people” from the “canton people” because oftentimes the people from the cantons have darker colored skin. This is typically due to spending so much more time outside working, usually on a corn, bean, or coffee farm.
The sun is clearly not my friend either. Apparently on Sunday when I was going to El Tablón the sun was out to get me because when I woke up Monday morning my lips hurt and were swollen. They felt like sandpaper, and were itchy and hot. The next day some little blisters appeared on my lips which have now turned into big blisters. I realized that somehow I’d managed to get sunburn on my lips. I have no idea how this happened, and I’ve only sunburned my lips once before while I was in Mexico.
The special chapstick I brought from the US helped but talking and eating were painful. The aloe vera and tea tree oil also helped but my lips still hurt. One of the teachers today at the school suggested I go to the pharmacy and buy manteca de cacao (cocoa butter). A little bit the size of a piece of salt water taffy cost 25¢ so I bought one hoping it would do the trick. It smells so good and I told Ceci I wanted to eat it. I didn’t eat it but did put it all over my lips. And it worked!! They’re feeling better already.
Just last night Marvin (Cecilia’s son) was at his home in the caserío of Alejandría and a beam that was used to help hold up the roof fell down on his head. A large bump almost immediately began to form on his head and he was crying and crying. Balmore actually went over to his house to see how he was doing. He was worried because Marvin suffered head trauma several years ago in a car accident and he wanted to make sure Marvin was okay. Cecilia’s brother, Mauricio, then went out into the woods in search for another beam to support the roof. The canton just got electricity a few months ago but it’s used mainly for light bulbs and charging cell phones. There’s no freezer for ice packs or ice. So Marvin didn’t have the option to put ice on his head right away.
A lot of people in El Salvador suffer from and often die as a result of kidney problems. From what I’ve heard and read about in the papers, many people believe renal failure here is linked to contamination of water and the land. I did some reading on the internet and what I’ve read suggests that renal failure is associated with high frequency of pesticide exposure and alcohol consumption. Obviously, the young children who suffer from kidney disease probably aren’t alcoholics so the most likely source is contamination. Exposure to chemicals and alcohol consumption coupled with low income and poor healthcare accessibility make many Salvadorans easy targets for renal failure. Even if they have access to healthcare, it doesn’t mean the medication or services they need, such as hemodialysis, will be available in their area. The Pastoral House is currently helping to support two children who have kidney problems.
It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver
– Mahatma Gandhi