When children are sick, very sick or have had an accident, they can receive care at Benjamin Bloom Children's Hospital in San Salvador. Almost every family I know in El Salvador has had some interaction with Benjamin Bloom as patients or as families of patients.
Of course there are statistics...built in 1944; 382 beds, always full; 800-900 out-patient visits per day; most services are free. There is a 1-2 month waiting period for non-emergency procedures. The number one cause of death is asthma. After the 1986 earthquake part of the building collapsed. Some machines have not worked since then. Aid from Germany helped to replace imaging equipment and pumps, but now they need spare parts and the instructions are in German and the parts are not available in El Salvador. The Salvadoran government does not have funds for spare parts anyway. A well-outfitted PICU with a good record of care for preemies. There is one cubicle for heart surgery which happens on Mondays and Fridays, so there is a 1 1/2 year wait for heart procedures. Surgical teams come from the US periodically to help, allowing patients to receive treatment more quickly. Last year there was a successful Siamese twin separation. They had 500 burn cases due to fireworks in the past year. All of this was shared by our guide, an inspired young man with a personal story of being a patient at Bloom, of surviving childhood leukemia - a miracle in his eyes, and of being called to serve sick children as an administrator at the hospital.
These statistics are in my notes. There are other images pressed into my memory.
We entered the hospital near the emergency department. There were two rows of gurneys which held critically ill children, many of them babies, who had been brought in with respiratory distress. Hovered over some of the children were teams of moms, dads, grandmas, aunties, nurses - these are the breathing teams, taking turns squeezing the respiratory bags in regular rhythms, 24-7 to keep the little ones alive.
One little boy in ICU sat in his bed calling "mama, mama" over and over. The beds here were lined up in a row, with no space for parents, and behind a glass window.
In the burn unit (a new unit is under construction), three little ones, covered in bandages, were in beds beside one another. They were playing "scrub the floor" at home in their kitchen and were using alcohol. A candle tipped and the floor went up in flames.
Another little one was burned when the bean pot tipped. And there were several children playing happily around a little round table, their hands bandaged from accidents with fireworks and matches.
The doctors and nurses were wonderfully kind, patient, loving and devoted to the children. They work well with what they have, and, according to most sources, Bloom has good quality care in comparison to the other facilities available in Central America. Children's hospitals can be very sad places, no matter where they are located and no matter what kind of equipment they have. They can also be places of play and laughter, because kids are pretty resilient and because those who are called to heal children are pretty special.