Letter from Honduras: Heart and souls
Chemo needs another operation.
Four years after the open-heart surgery that saved his life, Chemo needs a touch-up. They say it’s a simple thing, placing a tiny stopper up in a valve in the heart by way of catheretization through a vein in the groin.
Chemo has something called PDA. When Dr. Manuel Acuna, who had come all the way from Venezuela to join the latest Helping Hands for Honduras brigade (handsforhonduras.org), repeated this a couple times after examining Chemo with an echocardiogram, he finally wrote it down. I guess I had a pretty dumb look on my face.
PDA? Public Display of Affection? No, PDA is Patent Ductus Arteriosus. “Let’s talk in English, so the boy won’t get scared.” Too late for that! And, heck, Chemo wasn’t the nervous one. I was scared to death, though doing my best to disguise it.
Another problem is myiocardiopathy (who invents these names, Scrabble?), which is treated with medication. Pills the rest of his life, I guess.
We had gone to Tegucigalpa to pick up my new passport, waiting for me at the U.S. embassy. And we knew the latest brigade was in town, so I wanted to say hi and show off Chemo again to Ron Roll, who loves him like his own kid and regards him as one of their greatest success stories.
“Look at you! You’ve got a mustache!” Then he launches into stories about how desperate Chemo’s situation was, his little friends carrying him around on a branch, and how I’m a saint because I rescued him when he had no one, and on and on. At that point, Brian Smith, one of the volunteers, said, “Well, let’s check him out.” So they wheeled in the ultra-sound machine, and Dr. Manuel made his diagnosis. Ron says, “OK, Chemo, you’ll be first in line in June,” when the brigade returns.
Can you keep him in your thoughts and prayers till then? There’s actually a narrowing window of opportunity, since Chemo turns 18 in September, when he no longer qualifies for “pediatric” care.
We also snuck in a quick visit to the dentist; despite a year-and-a-half gap since his last check-up, Chemo had no new cavities, a tribute, perhaps, to the whole milk he drinks every day with his breakfast. (It can’t be our brushing regimen, to which neither of us is faithful!) A cleaning sufficed, from a boy doctor who looked to be younger than Chemo. I did not mention the shard in my own mouth from when I cracked a tooth on ... oatmeal (I swear!). It doesn’t hurt -- yet -- so let’s just ignore it. Age.
Two weeks earlier, I had had an appointment at the embassy to apply for my new passport. I imagined it as routine, but it turned into a three-ring circus -- namely, Chemo, Joel and Dionis, his cousins. They begged to go along, and at first I was determined to dash their hopes since Joel and Dionis had both just dropped out of seventh grade. You shouldn’t reward failure, right? But neither should you be a hard-ass. My cap says “PERDON” -- FORGIVE -- and there’s never enough of that, so I relented.
Of course, every expense was tripled, gouging my budget, but what can ya do? They ate and played (mostly Dodge ‘em cars), then they played and ate, and played and played, and ate and ate. Everybody got one shirt and one short, and another item or two.
And there was still time for Elio to give us a tour of a wind farm near Tegucigalpa. Seems a little too cutting edge for a country like Honduras, where any kind of electricity is still at a premium, but if you got it, flaunt it!
In between the two Tegus excursions, Chemo and I went to Morazan to see Fermin for some extra help with his Maestro en Casa homework. I knew Fermin would be too busy, with two teaching jobs (high school in the morning, grade school in the afternoon), but Plan B was, in fact, even better.
Fermin’s son, Eduard, same age as Chemo, except he has a teacher-college degree, also teaches with Maestro en Casa. So they sat down and worked together all afternoon one day, and all morning the next, and Chemo loved it! I wanted to “observe,” but I was obviously a distraction, so I stayed inside. When I did try to snap a picture, Chemo grabbed Eduard’s motorcycle helmet, to remain anonymous.
Fermin’s daughter Arlin, also a teacher, is very pregnant with a boy they’re already calling Fredi Jr., for daddy. First time I saw Arlin, she was a new-born herself, covered with flea bites, in Nombre de Dios (go figure!), the remotest, poorest, scruffiest village in the department, where her daddy Fermin had just gotten his first teaching job, at age 19. It was a four-hour walk from Morazan, but I got there -- once -- and little Arlin cried all night long, all day long, too. The townsfolk loved Fermin, insisted on called him “Profesor,” but he looked me in the eye: “Miguel, we will NOT stay here next year.” True to his word, he got a nice position in the heart of Morazan.
Any time we go to Morazan, we include a side-step to Progreso, where we celebrate the latest birthdays in Santa’s family, my “girlfriend” (she says). This time it was her daughter Karla, 17, who has a baby boy of her own.
But the really scary news was Catalina, Santa’s sister-in-law, who is suddenly incapacitated. “She has a brain tumor,” Santa whispered to me.
In Honduras, that’s a very general diagnosis, often meaning a stroke, which is the case here, I think. Her whole right side is affected. She’s never been as wild as Santa, but they made a great tag-team on “running the numbers” for the daily lotteries.
Strokes, including fatal ones, are not uncommon in young women in Honduras. I wish I could hope for recovery.
April began with Holy Week. As we were planning Masses and celebraciones, Padre Manuel suggested we get a real donkey for the Palm Sunday procession commemorating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. I don’t think even he imagined that the youth group would have “Jesus” ride the little burro all the way up to the church! That was just one of the neat moments during the week, highlighted, literally, by the candlelight vigil on Holy Saturday, awaiting the Resurrection.
Resurrection might not be too extreme a word for Rev. Dennis Lindberg’s recovery from a heart attack April 12. A pastor dear to many in the Parkway schools, Dennis seemed about to leave us when his extraordinary family gathered, they feared, to say good-bye.
But this is a family long dedicated to service, including my “mission” in Honduras, so they know how God hears the cry of the poor. Led by Dennis’ wife Jane, no less a pastor than her husband, the children Mark and Jon and Laura and Luke poured out their hearts in prayer.
One tiny miracle at a time, Dennis edged back from the brink. The turning point might have been when Luke and his wife Jill showed Dennis the newest ultrasound of their baby: It’s a girl, “Lillian Jane”! Dennis’ spontaneous blessing filled everyone with hope. There’s still a long way to go, but your own blanket of blessings should warm all hearts.
Miguel Dulick has lived in Las Vegas, Honduras since 2003.
There he has no projects, no plans, no investments -- only to share the life of the poor. For years he has been sending reports back to friends and family in St. Louis, and the Beacon is proud to become a part of his circle.