Only Kindness Matters: Hospitals and Hospitality in Ecuador.
Kindness. By definition: character marked by ethical characteristics, pleasant disposition, and a concern for others. Compassion, generosity, hospitality, tolerance, understanding, philanthropy, unselfishness.
Only Kindness Matters
There is a song that was a favorite of mine, many years ago when I was a much younger girl. A song that echoes through my mind today. And it is a song that I know was meant for me to remember on a day like this. “In the end only kindness matters. In the end only kindness matters”, “If I could tell the world just one thing, it would be that we are all okay”,”For light does the darkness most fear”. While the lyrics to this song by Jewel has resonated with me for a long time, it is now when I understand the profound implications of the words.
Kindness is not a matter of simply not being bad. To not be bad, does not make one good. And to be good, does not necessarily make one kind. Kindness is more than a smile, congeniality, or even friendliness. Kindness is something that I do not believe I have truly witnessed until the passing week. In a place of total unfamiliarity and in moments of shock and despair.
It is a long story, of one that shouldn’t not have twisted into the chaos that it did. Of ocean breezes and sticky sand, frozen treats and seafood. Bare toes in the surf and wild hair tangling in the mist. And then, restless nights of intense discomfort and utter confusion. Our baby fell sick, the victim of a mindless intruder that invaded his tiny soles on a quick barefoot jaunt into the village center. It took the better part of a week for us to discover an alien creature crusading through the crevices beneath his skin.
It was utter horror to comprehend. A living parasite who had claimed a new home in our youngest one. Like an angry red vein, it tormented him all moments of the day and night. And then, finally the tolerance of his little body screamed outrage at the unimaginable. In the middle of the night, his foot puffed up like a little balloon and erupted into tiny bubbling blisters and seeping ulcers.
We quickly understood that this situation had turned serious and needed more aggressive attention. Long after midnight on a Saturday night, we shuffled through the sand to load our sleeping children into the back of our caravan. Nowhere near modern treatment, we had no choice but to start a dark journey to the nearest city for emergency care. And then, just 10 minutes into what should have been a two- hour drive…the car stalled out and betrayed us in the middle of the night. This is why we never drive at after dark. Because things like this happen. Broken down trucks in unfamiliar rural areas with two small children are exactly what we hope to never encounter. Scary enough to have a sick child in a foreign country. Nerve racking to have a car failure in the night hours. Total derailment for them to happen together.
The Cycle Begins
This where the chain of kindness began. The one that set a fire of protection that would guide and cradle us through the next five days of disruption. With no one else to call, nowhere to turn, my husband called the only real contact we had in the area. The owners of our campground. It was immediate, no hesitation whatsoever. As if we were one of their own, they pulled themselves from their slumber at 2 am to rescue us from our roadside failure. There was nothing to, nowhere to go, no other solution to be had. We collected all our valuables from the vehicles, huddled our kids into another car and returned to our tent to wait for morning. We had to leave our car, our home, the vital organ of our adventures. We tried not to make a scene of it, not entirely sure that we would ever see it again. We imagined it would disappear somewhere into the Colombian jungle just a few hours beyond the border.
We really didn’t sleep that night, but instead counted the minutes until sunrise. We scrapped up a few snacks, kissed our dogs goodbye, and loaded ourselves onto the first bus out of town. It was a two-hour drive at least, before we made it to the nearest suitable hospital. We passed by our car, still on the side of the road. Carlos hopped out to grab the registration papers and crossed his fingers that it would still be there later that afternoon.
Half way into the drive, a phone call came in. It was a favor to us, from an acquaintance of my mother in law. A little help from the fire department in Esmeraldas, the city we were headed to. I thought perhaps a quick entry at the emergency room. We were all grateful to not bear an extended stay in the waiting room. But, it was much more than that. There was an ambulance enroute, to pick us up off the bus and shuttle us to the hospital. It was quite the spectacle and our children found great amusement in the adventure. Our son was quiet and wide-eyed as he lain in the stretcher getting examined.
Arrival at the hospital was a bit unnerving from the start. I couldn’t understand what was being said, decisions being made, conversations between medics about our son. It was all happening too fast for my husband to translate. And in a moment, I was swept off with our daughter, in the opposite direction. I was in absolute panic trying to cope with my son being rolled away without me next to him.
My daughter and I fidgeted in the waiting area for what seemed like eternity. I couldn’t understand anything anyone was saying to me. My brain couldn’t focus on language. I just wanted to know what was happening with my baby.
After about 30 minutes, my husband poked his head out from behind the restricted doorways. He quickly mumbled something about our son being admitted for 7-10 days. I could hear a child screaming in the background. I couldn’t distinguish if it was our baby or not. I thought Carlos was joking, trying to relieve the tension. But, then the doors slammed close again and it all sunk in.
7-10 days? What in the world was going on? I still didn’t have an information about what the diagnosis was or the treatment plan.
Awhile later I was able to get into the ER where Nico was being held until his bed order was completed. It was then that I understood he was being kept for treatment of Cellutis, a bacterial skin infection. I was also told that our daughter would not be allowed to enter or stay in the Pediatric Unit. My head swirled, trying to figure out how our family was going to function through this mess. If Mabelle couldn’t be there, one of us parents couldn’t be either. Where would the half that wasn’t admitted go? What were we supposed to do without each other? I had never spent a night away from either of my children. EVER. What about our dogs, who were a 2-hour bus drive away? What was going to happen to our car? It was all very overwhelming and seemed like an impossible scenario. A total nightmare.
Eventually a nurse came through, who could help us get Mabelle at least upstairs while we completed the admission process. We got to the nurse’s station and were pretty devastated by the news. Carlos would need to stay overnight with Nico, as my Spanish was just not up to par for decent communication. Mabelle and I would need to find somewhere to stay the night. At this point, I thought I might have a panic attack. We don’t know this city, don’t speak the language well. Don’t have a car or a clue about safe a neighborhoods or bus routes. How in the world was I going to manage this without my husband?
A Safe Haven
A few moments of chatter ensued at the Nurses station. Several quick exchanges of eye contact. Sounds of sympathy. And then my husband told me what was happening. One of the Nurses was asking if we would accept an invitation to stay at her house, for the night until we could figure out the rest. My husband’s eyes teared up and I burst into sobs. Both for the sadness of separation and for the shock of such hospitality.
This was a woman we had only met just five minutes earlier. She didn’t offer to show us a good hotel, to give a ride to the bus station, or even to join her family for a casual meal. She provided us with the option of a safe, comfortable place to stay and sleep.
And so we did. Mabelle and I joined the woman, and her family, in their home. It was truly a saving grace, so much so that I can’t even allow myself to imagine what might have happened if she hadn’t. Carlos stayed that night in the hospital, and my son the first night in his life without his Mama.
Angels Times Two
The next day my husband had a meeting with the chief of the fire department, to discuss what to do about the broken-down car. They made arrangements for the car to be moved off the street where we left it, and to schedule a time for repairs with the Fire Department’s own mechanic. They talked a bit with my husband about our unique situation; the awkwardness of our family being separated.
By the end of the morning, the Chief had all but insisted that Carlos and Mabelle should stay the night at his house, until the predicament was over. Yes, another complete stranger, opening the doors to his own home to shelter our family in our time of need. Of course, we accepted. And for the next several nights, I stayed at the hospital with Nico and our other half safely slept at the house of the Chief.
Another Helping Hand
As if two angels weren’t enough, on the second day after admittance to the hospital, a woman brought us a sack full clothing for our entire family. We only had what we were wearing on the day of our arrival. And we were quite honestly freezing, walking around a frigid hospital in shorts, tank tops, and flip flops.
The woman was the grandmother of a boy who shared the room with Nico. She has no incentive to do so, but she had gone home and scoured her closets for clothing that would fit all of us. I still can’t figure out she managed to know our perfect sizes…I guess that was just the grandmother in her. But, to have warm and clean clothing was one of the greatest comforts we could have received for our extended stay.
After just 5 days in the hospital, we were approved for discharge. Our son had recovered remarkably well and in faster time than expected. We were overjoyed to escape the hospital and move on with our normal daily life. We found it quite interesting that more than once doctors gave credit to his strong immune system, as a direct result of being unvaccinated.
We stopped vaccinating Nico after 18 months of age. We declined the recommended (but not required) vaccines for entering Ecuador. We don’t talk about it much, due to public controversy. We believe the choice is a personal one and tolerance for all views is important for a peaceful society. But, for us, it was fascinating tidbit, to hear doctors openly talk about the pros of being vaccine free. It was a total win that offers validation to our decision.
Returning to Camp
The day we were set to check out, the firemen kept true on their promise. They took Carlos (and Mabelle) on the long trek back to the car. They helped him get to their mechanic and completely repairs within the same day. Incredibly, they refused to accept any payment from him whatsoever. He was able to return, with the car in running order, just about an hour before Nico was released.
By the time we reached our campsite, it had been almost 6 days since we had left our doggies behind and our stuff all in a mess. We were stunned to discover that all of our belongings had been collected and placed with care inside of our tent. All of our valuables, like the fancy camera and our laptop, had been stored with a neighbor for safekeeping.
The campground hosts and campers, had all taken care of our distressed dogs together. Fed them, watered them, comforted them, even went for walks with them. Despite that, Dante was coughing from some sort of dog bronchitis. And Joey was dehydrated and exhausted from the trauma of our separation. We were agonized to learn that he had literally walked the town day and night, every day, in search for us.
Our son has since completed treatment for the parasite and has fully recovered from the Cellutis. We are still learning how to live with and adapt to his post-recovery diagnosis of Ponfolix (a rare form of blistering eczema). We will soon be changing our coastal route, to help him heal. Dante was given antibiotics to recover from his cough. Joey had a few rough days that we wondered might be his last. But, after lots of love and water, he too has made a full recovery. He never lets us out of his sights.
So many times, we have asked ourselves, how could we have still been so lucky when everything was going so wrong? Why were so many people so willing to offer such generous displays of kindness? How did it happen that we were swept up in this realm of positive energy and protection, when we needed it the most? How can it be, that this place in Ecuador, was the very place we were warned most about? The very place, where is seems we found the best people in the world.
I personally, have wondered to myself: would I have been so kind? Would I have helped others the way that helped me and my family? Am I willing to protect the innocent: even when they do not speak my language, share my skin color, or belong to my culture? Not being a bad person, does not necessarily make us a good one. And being a good person, does not automatically makes us kind. Kindness is something much bigger than my previous concept of it.
The truth is that I don’t know if I would have been as kind as others have been to us. I don’t know, if in this situation, where helping was probably both difficult and inconvenient…that I would have done the same. I cannot honestly state that I am as good as these people are. But, my eyes, my heart, and my perceptions of the world have been permanently altered. I have learned a valuable lesson about what it means to be human. To always treat others as you hope to be treated. To always love, to always hope, to always believe in good things. To always give a lot because it is impossible to have nothing to give.
In regards to this situation, my mother-in-law said something that has really stuck with me.
“Those that give, do so because they want not because they have.” These words of wisdom, I know must be the truth. These people were the epitome of what kindness means. They gave us everything they had, with zero expectations. They gave, not to impress, but for the pure desire to help. They rescued us because they wanted to.
I hope that from this day forward, we can find the courage to live our lives in the same way.