One Monday in Orange Walk
I always try to squeeze too much into that quiet hour before my oldest daughter, Tasha, gets up for school. That's probably why I was frantically dumping oatmeal, eggs, milk, cinnamon, and a few other key ingredients into a bowl at 6:42, trying to make the most of my final 3 minutes. Dump, smooth out, sprinkle with chocolate chips, slide into the oven. Bake, oatmeal, bake. It would be done in 25 minutes. She'd have time to eat some before leaving for school.
At 6:45 the alarm rang, and shortly after, Tasha joined me in the kitchen. We ate our baked oatmeal, and it was delicious. Two more tousle-headed girls wandered out to the kitchen, and I fed them oatmeal as well. It's a breakfast favorite for us, and no one complains about it.
I stacked the dirty bowls and started running water into the sink so Zoe, my second daughter, could wash them. I grabbed the plastic lid for the oatmeal tub and stopped. Wait. What was wrong with the oatmeal? The cardboard sides squirmed and heaved and crawled. Tiny tan bugs. They blended in, but how had I missed them? Surely they'd crawled in or hatched since I mixed up the baked oatmeal? On closer inspection of our breakfast leftovers, I realized we'd had a little protein I hadn't planned on.
That really has little to do with how the rest of my day turned out.
Tasha had just come home from school that afternoon when one of my neighbors stopped by. "My friend is pregnant, and she's been having bad pain since this morning. Can you carry her to the hospital?"
"Having pain" generally means being in labor. Most women don't wait until they've had "bad pain" for several hours before going to the hospital, so I was a little concerned. Paris was still napping, so I checked with Geneva, Tasha's teacher who lives with us, to see if she could keep an ear out for Paris. Tasha said she'd stay and let Geneva know when Paris woke up. I loaded Ash and Zoe in the van, and drove to the back of the village to the pregnant girl's house.
A man, I'm presuming her boyfriend, was standing by the road. "She can't walk. You need to pull up to the house." Between the road and the house was tall grass that reached up to the van's windows. I looked at it dubiously. We'd been getting a lot of rain. If I got stuck, we wouldn't be heading to the hospital. He assured me several times that I wouldn't have trouble, and like the Red Sea before the Israelites, the grass parted. I pulled up to the house and positioned the sliding door right by the house door.
The boyfriend soon came carrying his pregnant girl, who was sobbing and gasping. He settled her on the seat next to Ash’s car seat and now he was also sobbing and gasping. The boyfriend reclined the seat, trying to help his girl get comfortable. I began to think wistfully of the midwifery training I don't have.
I called Davy. "I think it would be best if the children weren't along." I tried to talk as fast as possible, thinking of the 20 minutes to the hospital. Ash was still screaming. "Have Geneva waiting out by the gate. I'm gonna drop the children."
We drove the few blocks back to our house, the pregnant girl gasping at every pothole and speed bump. "How far apart are your contractions?" I asked. Apparently she couldn't talk either. Her cousin who'd come along said, "She's only 3 months. It's not time yet." Oh. Then what? A miscarriage? (You may be wondering how I could confuse a girl who was three months pregnant with someone who is nine months pregnant. I’m not sure myself.)
We pulled up to our gate, and Geneva took Ash. Zoe opted to go along. We were just pulling out when one of the school boys rode up on his bike and waved for me to put down the window. "My Aunt Maria (name changed for privacy) just fainted. My granny say she need to be carried to the hospital right away."
Well, what timing. I looked at the pregnant girl's caregiver. "Do we have time to pick up someone else?" She nodded.
We drove over two streets to Maria Cho’s house. Maria had a darling baby girl one month ago, and she had been having health issues ever since. This wasn’t the first time I took her to the hospital, but the doctors seemed baffled by her symptoms.
Once at the Cho's I jumped out and told them we needed to hurry because I had a next girl that needed to get to the hospital. Maria soon came out, supported by her two adult sisters. She was deathly pale and seemed to be drifting in and out of consciousness. Her sisters were slapping and pinching her cheeks and dabbing rubbing alcohol on her face. They situated Maria in the front seat and one of her sisters sat on the middle console to try to keep her from losing consciousness again. Her other sister squeezed behind the reclined middle seat and settled in the back.
Maria’s mom was in the shower house next to where I was parked and soon there was a crowd of her grandchildren beating on the door telling her to hurry. She came bursting out, still wet, jerking her dress's zipper up. She too squeezed behind the reclined middle seat. We now had a full load.
Once at the emergency room, a nurse brought a wheelchair out. "We need two," I said. I felt like I could finally breathe normally now that the two sick ladies had been delivered. I was ready to get back home, maybe stopping for a few groceries on the way.
"Can you take me back to Carmelita again?" The pregnant girl's friend asked. "I just want to see what the doctor say and then I'll be ready." Maria’s sisters also said they didn't want to stay. It would just be a minute.
One minute turned to two and two turned to 60 and still Zoe and I waited. We finally went and ran some errands and came back. The doctors thought the pregnant girl had kidney stones or some other malady unrelated to her pregnancy. Maria was still waiting to see the doctor, so I said I'd come back later for her sisters.
Geneva had pulled leftovers out of the fridge and fed my children, bless her heart. I had just sat down to eat when some village children came. They often don't get a lot to eat at home and come foraging at my house. It was a very bad night to come. My cupboards were bare, and we had just eaten all the leftovers. I did find a couple avocados and there was still a little leftover rice and beans in one of the containers from the fridge.
The village children fed and sent on their way, I put my children to bed and then ran back to the hospital for Maria’s two sisters. Maria had been admitted, and her mom would stay the night with her.
Davy and I de-stressed with some chocolate chip cookies when I finally got home, although our pleasant snack was interrupted by our dogs catching one of the neighbor’s chickens. After a short chase, Davy got the chicken from the dogs, but it was already dead.
And so concluded my Monday. As I fell into bed I thought, Was it only this morning that we had bugs for breakfast?
Afterward: Maria died early the next morning, much to everyone’s shock. Word was circulating that she’d caught “baby cold,” a feared malady that keeps new mothers wrapped up in blankets with cotton in their ears and shoes on their feet even in the heat of September. However, the autopsy revealed she had major blood clots which had moved to her heart. Our prayers are with the family as they move on and care for her sweet baby.