Lost in Translation.

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His name is Elias. A week ago today he came to our medical clinic in La Campina, the village where he lives in the Dominican Republic. His patient card listed his problems: headache, dizziness, stomach ache, shoulder pain and weight loss. It also said he stopped taking his blood pressure medicine a week ago. His blood pressure was 204/100. I thought it had to be a mistake. We took it three times and the numbers never moved. I told him his “presion” was “muy alta”. I asked him why he stopped taking his medicine and he told me it was because he had no food. You see, somewhere along the line, someone told him he should take his medicine with a little food. It’s pretty standard medical advice, so when Elias ran out of food, he followed the doctors orders.

I sat there and looked into his blood-shot eyes and bit my lip to keep from crying. Then I dug around in my backpack for packages of Trader Joe’s trail mix, small boxes of raisins and a granola bar. I gave them to Elias and I gave him more blood pressure medicine. I explained to him that he still needed to take the pills, even if he had no food. In reality, if he doesn’t take those pills, eventually he will have no need for food. I wished him luck and sent him on his way.

High blood pressure is common in the Dominican Republic. In 17 years of medical missions in this country, hypertension and malnutrition are two of the biggest problems we see in these Haitian cane cutter communities. We’re a medical team. We don’t do food. We do treat children with anti-parasite medicine so they can get more out of the little food they get. We also give them vitamins. There are groups that distribute rice, beans and cooking oil and we can give them information about areas of great need, but I couldn’t wait for that. I had to do something for Elias.

I continued to help other blood pressure patients at my “education station” for about a half hour. The whole time I was kicking myself for not doing something else for Elias. I had to find him.

When I finally got a break, I looked for the local healthcare promoter in La Campina, showed him Elias’s card and asked him if he knew him. He said no. There was no house number on the card, so I couldn’t track him down that way. I asked the promoter if his mother might know Elias. She said no. So I started asking people at random if they knew him until I found someone who said, “What’s he done?” That’s when I realized I’d found someone who knew how to find him, if he hadn’t returned to the cane fields to work.

We broke for lunch. I was sitting there eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich feeling guilty and pretty hopeless when Steve said, “Hey, your guy is at the door.”

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We invited him inside the church where we were working. I made him a peanut butter and jelly, gave him a Fanta from the cooler and sat and ate with him. When he finished, we gave him the leftover jar of peanut butter and a little bit of jelly. Finally, I gave him a few hundred pesos. These guys make about $2 a day. My grubby bills must’ve seemed like a fortune to him. It wasn’t, but it was something and so was the smile on his face–really something.

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I had a very good Friday last week. Hope you have one today.


Many of these photos were taken by Kansas City photographer Mark McDonald.

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