After Easter, the two midwives from Frontier School of Nursing decamped from Ramelle’s in Antigua bound for lake Atitlan. I had hoped to visit them at the school’s on-call quarters and tour Hospitalito. But, supervisor, Kathryn Schrag could only stay at the lake long enough to settle Nicole Lassiter into the routine before she headed back home. Kathryn had been to Guatemala often enough to have quite a few life and death tales from the hospital and the streets. I also learned from her that, after the third baby, Mayans worry about breech birth and have many folk remedies for it; that the babies are born with a full head of black straight hair and that midwives do a lot more than just “catch babies.” Not until weeks after the midwives left would I get my grand tour courtesy of Doctors Brent Burket and Jennifer Thoene.
From first glance, Hospitalito was hardly the rebar ridden outpost I had expected – far from it. Although it is respectfully named after its modest predecessor, the edifice is three stories with a wide drive up ramp. It has ample room to birth more than twice the annual 175 babies it currently delivers and appears to have everything but a gift store. Along corridors, framed embroidered squares are hung double and sometimes triple high on the walls. The fabric plaques- miniature guipels display perfectly stitched hummingbirds circling a Rotary symbol, traditional flowers adorning a Starbucks patch; other motifs otherwise embellish this gas company logo or that private family’s name. These donors funded a neonatal unit that supports OB’s and midwives in handling everything short of rare requirements calling for ventilation. And, if the baby needs that, evacuation to the district hospital is arranged.
Jennifer and Brent met in medical school and shared a vision of mission work. Together, they served a few years in Ghana and then, came home to start what turned out to be a rainbow family. They had a boy and girl and took in a girl from China and their youngest boy is from Africa. Half way through their three year term, the Family Practitioners are feeling secure and very well supported by their colleagues — the national and international community around Santiago. At work, they only wish that volunteers would show up in the hurricane season, too. Clearly, the atmosphere here is perfect for this mixed family. Not just because everyone who is not Mayan is “foreign,” anyway but because they can live the way they want: simply. The family speaks Spanish and seems to be a tiny world successfully blending into the Mundo Maya. On this Sunday afternoon, the girl’s traje uniforms – cortes and guipils hung on the line and the boys raced and fooled around all over the garden. What amazed me as much as their bold mission was that they were also packing some serious research into their work and family schedule.