Thursday, April 5 2001: San Salvador, El Salvador: Excerpts from a journal kept by Pastor Harley Johnson, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Saskatoon during a visit to Brian Rude, ELCIC Missionary while Pastor Johnson was on sabbatical leave.
The general scene in front of me might be titled something like, "Hospital in Calcutta Hell of long line-ups."
The hallways are lined with passageways and courtyards all jammed with hot, waiting people.
Through this maze of corridors and seemingly disjointed, crammed courtyards I followed "tour-guide" Brian very closely.
Brian—people waiting everywhere.
Small group of nurses at a concession stand. Sharp pressed starched white uniforms. Lace bouquet on edges—guess later they are administration.
No signage that I thought was intelligible. Wondered if I ever got separated from Brian, would I ever find my way out of the labyrinth. Finally came to corner with "Biblio". First thought was "Bible", chapel. Then considered "Library", books, although no books present. Groups of 10–12 people in semi-circle. Range of ages—several families and faces familiar from earlier conference. Brian is greeted immediately, as I am too, hugs and embraces "Buenos Dias! Hola (Hello)!"
One uniformed woman, Merna Salazar (Support Group Co-ordinator) is clearly leading—with very sensitive and caring direction.
Brian does initial translation as we sit in group.
One participant has just lost her husband. Another pains with recent news of HIV infection.
Group is frequently in transition/flux as new people arrive. Always with greetings—much embrace.
Also people with yellow cards waiting for other appointments/check-ups with doctors/clinics, blood work, etc.
Soon we do a stand-up prayer. Hands held in circle. (I fold my arms/wrong—Merna widens the circle then draws together). Family long prayer—feel intensity—use of Lord's Prayer in closing.
Several stories told of personal "Medical Journey". Brian interprets some.
Little guy 4' 6" enters with very short women. He gets big greeting and also needs hug and "hola" (hello) from me as visitor. Very talkative, extrovert-type. Wants "greeting" from Canadian visitor. So I'm on the spot.
Brian interprets. I had thought of image of eyes from earlier, so I thank for honour of visit and express appreciation for friendliness of El Salvador. Mention sense of community I felt right from flight/airport on my first day to on-going conference. Apologize for "No Speak Spanish" but thanked for volume or great messages of welcome in pleasant "eyes" and affirming looks. Request for prayer.
Thanked again for privilege of learning—commit myself to prayer for sense of family and unity here with "mi amigo" (my friend), Brian.
Then we visit on ward: ditto on the "other world of Hellish" hospital.
Pass by one beggar woman en-route. Both Brian and I give cologne/other sad-sad expression: wheel-chair folk, older 4' 3" petite, elderly woman whose leather face constricted by white gauze of eye-patch—always dogs en-route licking the wounds.
Path/route to HIV—"Cancer and infection" is on one sign. In heat of noon, walk through one back area—seems like 1½ block-long walk—all older buildings with exposed electrical and plumbing/drainage—looked a bit like a demolition zone. Contrast of the old beautiful tree and exotic plants: mangos, natural diefenbachias.
Enter ward of death—three beds to each side. Five men laid out prostrate, one crossways on bed, partial fetal position. A sixth person slumped in wheelchair with light loin cloth and IV (intravenous tube )—emaciated. Brian greets kindly; I assume the talk is of health and "salvo" or well-being. A noon tray (meal-time) is brought by very sad-looking attendant. Thrust on lap of wheel-chair occupant. Tray is of light metal, polished; 4 or 5 sections; fish (I don't recognize) and a solid dessert (mashed), dollop of rice/mix, small bun, and another section half full with…sad.
Brian leaves the sick man to eat and goes to first bed on the left: Hugo Armandy is laid out flat. Hospital sheet coming mid-section. Man has sunken eyes, very sore mouth with chipped and bleeding abrasions in several spots. Sits up as Brian greets him and I extend my hand and greeting too.
Black, slick hair—tattoos ornate on each arm and shoulder. Two names tattooed on chest. Learn later they are his children's names.
Brian brief visit. Then food tray arrives. We help arrange. Hugo has his own plastic fork and spoon. Very sad meal—same as the previous one.
Brian exchanges blessing—and goes to next bed: Guy in fetal position. Cross-wise in middle of bed. His feet are seriously swollen with open sores. Either deep sleep or unconscious. Very sad. Guy at the end—in front of toilet area is asleep too. Brian then returns to other side—older, grey haired man…he greets, little visit, then two families come.
Brian then goes to clean shaven man—seemed in obvious pain. Brian is very gentle with him. His food comes and we help him to sit up. I hold food tray until he's gained balance on edge of bed. Very pathetic. No spoon or utensils for this man's tray. Brian looks for spoon/fork as I pour water. He wants something I don't understand. But Brian comprehends his request for a small juice box. He's too weak to pour the small box into the water I have just poured. Brian helps. No spoon available. He looks distraught.
Very hot—little air moves. Some bad smells. I think of being sick or leaving, but if Brian can hang in there, I'll try.
Brian chats with two family members visiting the previous man. Finally, it seems duration of conversation is suspended eternity…
I see no IV stands except two-by-two wood supports and spikes to hold bags. Bed-pans left unchanged…
Broken night tables, tacky. Psalm 23 and picture of Jesus in velvet relief.
One HIV infectious sign. No nurses or attendants came in while we were there except for one pregnant woman who comes in to help a friend/partner (I presume). He appears with shoulder length hair and nightgown. Cardboard boxes and very cheap medicine chest. Behind desk was attendant eating her meal as well.
Brian washed—sticky (from juice and assistance) fingers.
So nice to be outside again! Even in heat. Even if humidity and diesel fumes are there too.
Walked by taller man, forty-plus, chatting to nurse type. Brian greets a Doctor and compliments as doing very well.
My first Salvadorian chaplaincy call. No miracles, no Holy Communion or Bible reading—but very real presence in Brian's care and witnessing. Christ-like care. And a humble, engaged way of unconditional care and acceptance.
Like you say when a good joke is told, "You had to be there!"—I guess the point of recounting the visit is not that I was there but—through Brian—Christ was there! In midst of low, untouchable, voiceless, powerless, hope-diminished ones, Christ was there. Love was there. I saw it. I felt it first-hand.