Time flies, and I find it hard to believe I have now been in Ecuador for ten years. In these years I have met many patients I will never forget, and who have taught me valuable lessons. Here are ten of them:
1. Maria`s dedicated nursing of her 46 year old sister-in-law, who had a fungating, stinking tumour covering her chest, showed me the acts of compassion people are capable of. Maria had no training as a nurse, yet she dressed that nauseating wound every day with great kindness.
2. Señora Chuba had terminal ovarian cancer. She demonstrated the inimitable Ecuadorean hospitality, receiving me with chicken and chips when I had waded through mud to reach her house to call in for a palliative care visit.
3. I learnt the privilege it is to have a patient put their trust in you as their doctor, when Felicita abandoned her herbal remedies in favour of conventional treatment for her diabetes. She has been attending her check-ups faithfully, every month for many years now.
4. I was amazed at the body`s ability to heal itself when Don Dueñas` s pus-filled, condemned-to-amputation foot responded to being dressed with honey (along with some antibiotics). This has given me the courage to try to help other seemingly hopeless cases.
5. The courage of Señora Guerrero, who lived life to the full, despite living with lymphoedema and pain from breast cancer, will forever stand out in my memory. She never gave up.
6. I will never forget the peace and tranquillity of Laura, who despite suffering cord compression and therefore paralysis, as part of her terminal illness, never once complained. She accepted the loving care of her son with gratitude and took strength from her faith.
7. I learnt the deep sadness of feeling utterly helpless as I watched a young mum die from AIDS, unable to access the antiretroviral medications she had needed.
8. I have had the joy of seeing fear turn to hope as a painful, threatening foot ulcer was reduced to an unthreatening scar. The formerly tearful, shaking Amelia now attends full of joyful smiles.
9. I have been touched by the kindness of strangers who took in the emaciated little Erika, the victim of an accident who had been neglected to starvation. Although her life could not be saved, her last days were filled with care and love.
10. It was the end of a long day, and I did not want to answer another knock at the gate. Imagine my surprise when instead of finding another person coming to ask for help, I found an old lady coming to say “thank you”, with the gift of a cooked guinea-pig. I will never forget her kindness.