Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The week before my Mother's visit

         Maraval Health Centre

The days before my mother’s visit were filled with challenges. My father’s visit the year before had gone relatively smoothly although the wasp attack was an unwelcomed incident. My father was concerned with all the sting marks on my body of course. We talked, laughed, opened up presents, and generally had a good time. My sister and I never discussed returning to the U.S. with him as we had planned. And to this day, I do not know why. I guess it was a topic that both of us knew the answer to and thus wanted the subject off the table. The days after he left quickly returned to normal. What an anticlimax.

My mother visited around Christmas time and everyone was getting ready for the second most festive occasion in Trinidad. Carnival holds a tight grip on number one.

As with my father’s visit, grandma told us about my mother’s visit a week prior. We sort of knew the routine by now. My sister and I ran around anxious about the impending visit making certain not to kick the ball over by the Guava tree this time.

There was a little more preparation for my mother however. There was more cleaning, painting, buying food, and other cosmetic changes. It was like Queen Elizabeth herself was visiting one of her former British colonies. Knowing my mother as an adult, I could understand why my grandmother would say, “Joan is coming and you know how she is!”

My view on my mother will be revealed over the life of this blog. Therefore, I will refrain from getting into much detail now about my mother’s personality. She was and continues to be an enigma that I am still diligently trying to comprehend.

She was to arrive in Trinidad on a Friday and on the Tuesday before her arrival I spiked a low-grade fever, had a runny nose, and my body ached terribly. I had a cold or so I thought.

As the week progressed, I started noticing red spots on my body much like the wasp stings but tinier, clustered together, and the clusters were spread all over my body. I showed my grandmother and on Thursday was taken to the only medical facility in Maraval – Maraval Health Centre.

Maraval Health Centre stands today as it did 40 years ago, the same building, same facade, on the same grounds, and probably with twenty coats of paint and primer. It is situated on the corner of Saddle road and Morne Coco road just across the street from the Catholic Church where I served faithfully as an altar boy. I was taken there to find out what was wrong with me. Because at this juncture, this appeared to be more than a cold.

Thursday morning, the day before my mother arrived, I found myself with my grandmother at 7am in the morning lined up outside the medical centre waiting for the doors to open. And we were not even the first ones in line. People used to come from miles around to the centre for medical care because it was the only Centre close to many villages in the area.

Days were set aside for certain specialties at the Centre. For instance, Mondays may be for pediatric issues, Tuesdays for OB/GYN or family planning, another day may be set aside for individuals with chronic ailments, and so on. On most days, there would be a period for walk-in patients. Thursday morning, was walk-in patient day. So there I was - a walk-in patient (no pun intended) with red dots all over.

We entered the Centre when the doors opened, signed in, sat, and waited and waited. Going to the Maraval Medical Centre or any medical facility in Trinidad as a matter of fact for any ailment is a test of one’s patience. The opened air Centre had big standing fans that circulated air throughout the facility. Patients sat on long wooden benches with back rests waiting to be called. Some looked like they were about to pass on to another life right there. And more important, no one knew if what they had was contagious.

After what seemed like hours, I was examined by a nurse, ushered back into the waiting room, and there we sat – waiting again. Finally, the nurse called us back and proclaimed that I had German measles or what some people call Rubella.

“German measles? I have never been away from Trinidad!” I shouted. “That is just what it is called,” explained the nurse said.  She suggested that I return home and that my grandmother provide me some aspirin for the body aches and just let it run its course.

The thought of my mother seeing me like this was disheartening. I had red bumps all over my body. What would she think? Worst yet, I had to stay in bed and probably drink some awful concoction that my grandmother would surely put together from roots and leaves that she swore could cure any disease on earth. “If the taste didn’t kill you first,” I would often add in disgust.

Sure enough, as soon as we got home, my grandmother hustled to the back of the house, plucked a few bushes, brought them back to the kitchen counter, filled a pot with water, and lit the gas range. In a few minutes I would be faced with drinking the foul tasting concoction that would make the bravest of boys run like Usain Bolt.

With the stealth of a gazelle, my grandmother came rushing in. Her colorful knee-length dress flowing as she moved into the bedroom hovering over me with a porcelain cup of the steamy liquid potion. “Hold your nose and drink this,” my grandmother said with little elation in her voice. She meant business.

I did what I was told. I held my nose with my left hand and took the cup with my right and guzzled. The faster the better was my motto for these occasions. No sooner was I finished that my grandmother gently took the cup from my hand and asked me to lie down and rest while patting me on my head. I did and drifted off to sleep because tomorrow my mother would be here and all would be right in the world.

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