The line of patients stretched out the door. People held scraps of paper in their hands, waiting for their numbers to be called.
Belinda’s petite figure, dressed impeccably in slacks, button-up, and boots, immediately stole the room. She’d pinned her long silver hair up under a wide-brimmed hat. She smiled as she entered the clinic, her genuine joy radiating throughout her face in perfect, concentric lines.
There was no way to tell Belinda’s exact age. She didn’t remember when her birthday was. What everyone present could see, however, is that her beauty had not left her as youth had, but happily remained in her bright eyes, wide lips, and sun-pinked skin.
After waiting her turn, Belinda sat to give her name, answer some health questions, and have her vitals taken. She told Tia’s volunteers she’d had headaches for a few months and last night she’d had a nosebleed.
Tia volunteers took Belinda’s temperature and heart rate, but it was her blood pressure that sent alarms through the brigade: 181 over 115.
Belinda never got a numbered sliver of paper, but instead moved immediately to an exam room to lay down. Brigade members quickly moved in and out of the room, periodically consulting Tia’s medical director, Dr. Roberto Martinez.
Dr. Roberto’s prescription was captopril, a medication commonly used in emergency situations because it could quickly coax a person away from hypertensive crisis. Belinda swallowed the pill and laid down to wait.
But Belinda’s headache continued and her blood pressure stayed put. Another pill was produced and swallowed.
When a third pill became necessary, Dr. Roberto spoke quietly with the brigade pharmacist, a volunteer from Phoenix.
“How much captopril do we have?”
“Just the one bottle,” she said, pulling it from her pocket. “And there are only a few more pills inside.”
Dr. Roberto grimaced. “Keep that bottle in your pocket and don’t give them to anybody but me.”
Hypertension is a common problem in the rural areas of Mexico. For a community largely comprised of farmers and ranchers, fresh produce was notoriously difficult to come by. When fresh vegetables were available, family cooks typically salted them heavily.
Still, a life lived high in the mountains had probably served Belinda well. Elevation tends to lessen the severity of high blood pressure.
“How long do you think she’s had high blood pressure?” said the pharmacist.
“A long time,” said Dr. Roberto.
Three captopril later, Belinda’s blood pressure finally began to drop. The smile returned to her face.
There was talk among the doctors about making room in the vans for Belinda. There was a better clinic down the mountain a bit in the town of Zapotitlan de Vadillo, where the Brigade would teach medical care classes to people from several local communities. Unfortunately, with that much captopril in Belinda’s system, traveling to a lower elevation could bring her blood pressure down too far.
Instead, the brigade made room for two local women who planned to join the afternoon class. They’d volunteered to return with more captopril and other medications that evening.
That afternoon, the brigade taught the Promotores how to handle hypertension emergencies—and how to prevent them.
The author of this and other stories to be featured here is Katherine Casna. After traveling into the field on a Tia project, Kat generously donated these lovely stories to make our work come alive to our friends and donors. Thoughtful and brilliant, Ms. Casna is a freelance writer who can be reached at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathryn-casna-freelance-writer/