Medical Student Helps Honduran Town
Medical Student Helps Honduran Town
Dec. 04, 1998
MOROLICA, Honduras (AP) _ Her home washed away in the night, Keilyn Rodriguez awoke on a stranger's cold cement floor, hungry, wet and aching. Her baby was crying, sniffling children were lining up at her door, and one of her patients was going into labor.
The 26-year-old medical student wanted to escape, to climb over the debris that Hurricane Mitch had dumped on her village, and walk away. But she stayed _ and for more than a month provided almost the only medical attention to 3,500 people whose homes were buried.
``I was hysterical,'' said Rodriguez, who was finishing up an internship at a rural clinic in her hometown. ``I kept telling my mom, `I can't. I can't. I don't even have gloves. How am I going to deliver a baby?' But she told me, `You are all the people have.'''
Morolica, 60 miles southeast of the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, is an extreme case of the plight of towns across Central America, where Hurricane Mitch killed more than 9,000 people in its sweep through the region a month ago.
Mitch damaged hundreds of villages that were already mired in poverty, where medical students like Rodriguez were the only doctors people knew to begin with.
But medical school never taught Rodriguez what Mitch forced her to learn _ how to care for hundreds of people with no medicine, no equipment and no access to the outside world. It wasn't addressed in her treasured medical books, which her father had worked overtime to afford.
Not that it mattered. They were buried with her home and the rest of the village.
On Oct. 30, the hurricane-powered Choluteca and Chiquito rivers jumped course and roared straight through the town, wiping Morolica off the map.
Everyone fled _ the last ones, like Rodriguez, in chest-deep water. Most went to Las Delicias, to the south. The last group, cut off by flooding, fled to Tejar, to the north. A few, afraid to be on low land, slept in the mountains.
A woman in Tejar offered to put up Rodriguez and her family. The next day, under a steady rain, Rodriguez climbed to an adobe mountain home where a 25-year-old woman lay in bed, sweating and writhing from labor pains.
The area's two nurses were on the other side of the mountain in Las Delicias, unable to get through. Four hours later, a girl was born two months premature.
Rodriguez cleared the baby's lungs with an eye dropper. She warmed the tiny, underweight infant, who should have had an incubator, under her jacket, keeping her close to her heart.
``We prayed for a helicopter to come and take her to a hospital where she could be put on oxygen,'' Rodriguez said.
Two days later, the baby died. She was the first patient Rodriguez had lost.
``I got depressed,'' Rodriguez said. ``But I had to pull myself out of it and worry about the others.''
By the end of the week, Rodriguez, who trekked an hour daily to tend to the rest with her nurses in Las Delicias, was treating dozens of people suffering from diarrhea, conjunctivitis, pneumonia, malaria and dengue.
And still without medicine. Nurse Minita Portillo hiked five miles to the next village for a mixture of salt, potassium and minerals to prevent dehydration. Rodriguez educated people on staying healthy and distributed chlorine tablets.
``The hardest part was watching my 9-month-old baby girl,'' Rodriguez said.
``People would say `Doctor, come here. You have another patient,' and my baby would be crying and crying, because we had nothing to eat except maybe a tortilla or some beans that someone gave us.''
A helicopter carrying a team of Mexican doctors and nurses arrived 10 days after the village was wiped out. Five days later, an American aid group landed with more medicine, food and tents. Rodriguez gave the aid workers a list of the town's residents and medical data she had gathered.
In another week, bulldozers arrived and cleared the road to Morolica.
A month has now passed since the once-picturesque village became a moonscape. Roof tiles poke through the sand where adobe homes once stood. A half-buried satellite dish hints at what was once the Rodriguez family home.
The international medical teams have left. Rodriguez and the nurses keep busy vaccinating people against diphtheria and measles outside the tents that house residents until officials complete a land deal to rebuild the town on higher ground.
Rodriguez, who graduates Dec. 15, hopes to work permanently in the new Morolica. But first she must find $40 to finish a postgraduate pediatrics course, a prerequisite to being licensed.
The village has been unable to pay her for more than a month, and it is unlikely it will anytime soon. But Rodriguez doesn't worry.
``Now I feel ready to confront anything,'' she said.