Panama 2018: Talking with Minga

I was able to have a long chat with Minga on Friday. Ana was home with her, and daughter Teri as well. Minga doesn’t quite get how to hold a cell phone a bit away from her face so I was looking at her forehead or hair or an ear most of the time, but it was a wonderful catch up conversation and visit.

She wants everyone to know she is grateful for all of your prayers and concern, and that on September 24 it will be one year that she is on dialysis. She said she feels pretty good, much better than last year when she was brought to the hospital near death. She sends all of you her love.

Minga is a very social person, as I knew from watching her in the village. She sort of “holds court” on her narrow front concrete patio, where she sits and makes herself available to the neighbors going by and to family who pop in to visit. She chats with the lady selling lottery tickets, the junk man going past collecting old metal, the fish truck driver selling fresh catch, the guy on a bicycle balancing a big stand of bananas on his back, the mothers and grandmothers walking their small children to and from school. Her grandchildren and great grandchildren zoom into the yard on old bikes, or on foot, and zoom back out again.

Minga has now created community with the dialysis patients and their families who come to the public hospital for that 10am Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday slot. It isn’t an easy, convivial environment. People are strung out along a very long, narrow hallway on hard plastic chairs. Many of the actual patients arrive not feeling well; they have a hard time walking up to stand in line when it’s time to go into the dialysis suite. There is no coffee shop, so they aren’t able to bond over a cup of coffee or a meal. But Minga goes up and down the long line of chairs, checking in on people. And they come to her. The nurses and orderlies, who seemed rather formidable and unfriendly when I was with her last year, have come to know her and she says they welcome her warmly when it is her time to go in.

Minga eagerly awaits my January visit; she says it gives her something to look forward to. She doesn’t have women friends to talk over aging with, and she doesn’t read like I do. But she’s figured out the basics all by herself: be social, get exercise — walking to and from the bus and up the stairs to Ana’s apartment make that happen naturally — and have things to anticipate that give meaning to life.

I continue to be amazed at her tranquility and grace.

4 thoughts on “Panama 2018: Talking with Minga

  1. I have an idea – is there anything we could collect (and send?) to Panama that would help entertain the patients waiting for or undergoing dialysis? I assume with the latter they are tethered to one spot, but it sounds like there’s a lot of waiting beforehand. Can Lily receive mail at her condo or at the pharmacy? Please give my best to Minga, and tell her I’m glad she’s kept up with dialysis and is doing well.

  2. for Phyllis: There must be some way to get mail to and from Panama — thinking of the expats who file taxes and such — but I haven’t found it. Lily asked me to send her some pharmacy reference books, and it was a nightmare. She had to go to some customs place and retrieve the package — time consuming and difficult. The usual delivery services who advertise going to the ends of the earth apparently don’t count Panama in their mix. So the short answer is “probably not possible”. Then there are logistics of the hospital itself. The corridor where they wait is very long and narrow — no room for small tables where people might do puzzles or play cards. There are no electrical outlets, and Lord knows no wi fi. If there were books or magazines someone would have to tend them and have a place to display them. I know it sounds ridiculous to say that your generous impulse is too hard to figure out, but I’m afraid it is. I wish in some ways you were there to go with Minga for one of her appointments. I know that early in your nursing career you worked in hospitals. I think you would be aghast. That said, Minga has not had an infection all year. The place may not look very clean, but apparently it’s good enough. Thank you for thinking of this.

  3. for katie: I value friendship immensely, and have many good and dear friends like you and Ron. My friendship with Minga is in some ways like no other. “Timeless” is a good way to describe it.

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