I tell the story sometimes when I’m looking for shock and awe and to be impressive and seem worldly. Kind of like how I start stories sometimes with “Did I ever tell you how I ended up in a Nicaraguan street gang?”
There was a lot of blood and unfortunately it was mine. My sweet host mother rushed out of bed after hearing the thud of me falling to the floor and somehow with that inexplicable strength only mothers have carried me outside and hailed a taxi that I proceeded to bleed all over.
When we got to the hospital, she helped me inside, me holding her hand with one of mine, trying to hold the blood into my forehead with the other. They laid me down on a cot, no sheets, just sticky plastic mattress. Feet away, stuffed into another cot was a large man also bleeding profusely, him from a large gash down his lower leg.
When the doctor arrived, he rolled up, literally, in a wheeled swiveling computer chair and parallel parked himself between the two cots. Quickly and deftly, he began patching up my forehead with a sewing needle and stitch thread.
When he was confident it would hold together, he swiveled in his chair and began work on the man’s leg.
Then he spun back and resumed stitching up my head.
Nowhere in the process did he switch needles or even make an effort to sanitize the needle between working on my cut and the other man’s.
Luckily, I escaped with just a crooked scar on my forehead, high enough that I can hide it with hair and avoid Harry Potter jokes, and a good story to tell about my visit to a South American hospital, clearly the worst experience I would ever have in a hospital.
I stopped telling this story the first time I visited a hospital in Nicaragua.
Thankfully, this time I wasn’t in the hospital because I needed medical attention. Instead, I was traveling with Craig and Helping Kids Round First, going from community to community to hand out baseball and softball equipment to kids across Nicaragua.
Along the way, we stopped by a hospital in the capital city of Managua that had received donated medical equipment from Helping Kids Round First, visiting to ensure the equipment had safely arrived after its long trip in a shipping container from small town South Dakota and to ask what other ways we could help.
It took minutes inside the hospital to realize that “what other ways we could help” was going to be a much longer discussion than we anticipated.
The hospital was hot and overfull. Without enough rooms for all of the patients, cots lined the hallways. Few had sheets on them under the patients. With resources so scarce, the families of the patients were responsible for supplying their bedding and their meals. The hospital had no air conditioning and it was just as hot and humid inside as it was out. In some rooms, the small glass windows had shattered and broken glass lay scattered on the dirty floors.
We met with doctors who had long lists of equipment the hospital needed. Besides beds and crutches and wheelchairs, they also needed basic machinery like an X-Ray and fetal heart monitor. Everyday over-the-counter medicines and painkillers were in short supply. Despite their best efforts, the lack of basic medical supplies made it nearly impossible to often provide for their patients.
Seeing the abject lack of resources, cots stacked in the hallways, and unsanitary conditions while feeling the oppressive Central American heat and humidity inside the hospital made my experience being stitched up in a South American hospital feel like it had been in the Mayo Clinic.
It also became a new mission for Craig. Inspired by legendary Pittsburgh Pirate Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane crash flying relief supplies to Nicaragua following a major earthquake in 1972, he had been bringing baseball equipment to children in the country for years. Over time, he had realized that baseball equipment wasn’t enough.
Kids couldn’t play ball if they were hungry, so he helped establish irrigation systems in northern Nicaragua that would allow for crops to go in desert-like conditions. Young girls couldn’t play ball if they simply weren’t allowed, so he began bringing softball equipment to each community and mandating that girls would be given the chance to play. Kids also couldn’t play ball if they were sick or hurt, so he began bringing basic medical and hospital supplies to the country.
So, more hospital visits followed. Unfortunately, the hospital in Managua turned out to be one of the best in the country. As Craig moved away from the capital city, he found that the hospitals and clinics in rural communities were even more destitute. Stray dogs roamed the halls in some hospitals looking for food scraps. In one, the part of the machine that regulated the amount of radiation being given to breast cancer patients was broken and the doctors could do little but admit they had no idea how much radiation was being pumped into the women they were treating. In some of the most rural communities, the ‘clinic’ was simply a Ziplock bag of random medicines and bandages kept in the kitchen of a designated household.
Seeing this, he began amassing hospital equipment of all kinds through hospital auctions and donations. Beds, crutches, chairs, band aids, cotton swabs, filing cabinets, wheel chairs, scalpels, surgical lighting…if it could be used in a hospital, it was purchased and put on a shipping container to Nicaragua.
When the containers arrived in Nicaragua, the country’s government would decide what equipment went to what hospitals, distributing the different items to the clinics with the most need. Soon, hospital supplies tagged with a Helping Kids Round First sticker started appearing across the country.
The hardest to get into Nicaragua was the X-Ray machine. Captured by piles of paperwork and legalities from customs offices both in the United States and Nicaragua, the machine took a year and a half long odyssey on its way from South Dakota to Nicaragua, only recently arriving at the Humberto Alvarado Hospital in Masaya.
Only after it arrived did Craig find out that his work, inspired by his hero Roberto Clemente, was continuing the legacy the great ballplayer had started. Before his fatal crash, Clemente had collected a great amount of medical and relief supplies to go to Nicaragua. After his death, those supplies were donated in his name posthumously, being sent directly to Hospital Humberto Alvarado.
The ongoing political and social unrest in the country has only made the needs of the hospitals in Nicaragua more pressing and dire. Humberto Alvarado, a hospital with just over 200 beds, treats over 1,000 patients each day, a scene played out in healthcare facilities across the country.
Thankfully, donors from across the Midwest have come together to help. Currently, Helping Kids Round First has four warehouses of hospital equipment in the process of being shipped to Nicaragua. To find out how you can get involved, please click the contact tab above.
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