laresFoto: Flora Lopez (abuela) y Raquel en la plaza de Lares, Puerto Rico en diciembre 2011.

Yo nunca fui la nieta perfecta, pero Mamá Flora siempre me trató como si yo lo fuera. Me recibía con los brazos abiertos no importando cuanto tiempo había pasado desde mi última visita y me ofrecía dos tesoros muy grandes: los gandules que cultivaba con amor durante todo el año y los pasteles que pasaba horas de horas preparando. A veces los más cercanos — que eran más merecedores — no comían de esos gandules hasta que Raquel aparecía de visita. Dicen que la comida sabe mejor cuando se prepara con amor, y la comida de Mamá Flora sabía a amor y devoción.

Desde que me quedaba en su casa durante los veranos desde muy pequeña (y ella me aceptaba con mi maletita aunque yo dijera que solo venía a visitar a Papi Quín), ella me llevaba a la plaza del mercado y después me ponía a amasar y rodar tortillas con ella en el counter de su cocina (creo que esto lo aprendimos de Tía Remedios).

Mientras cocinaba me iba contando y respondiendo a todas mis preguntas de reportera de 7 años. Así supe que ella apenas pudo terminar la escuela elemental — supuestamente porque la maestra se rompió una pierna y no pudo volver a cruzar el río y caminar lejos para ir a dar clases en el barrio Mirasoles de Lares. A pesar de esto, mi abuelita con poca educación formal trabajó muy duro para educar a mi Papá y por ende nos educó a mí y a mi hija. Alexandra, que es medio gringa, tuvo la dicha de conocer a su bisabuela y saber exactamente de donde salen sus rizos y de donde su propia mamá y su abuelo sacaron esa actitud de que “aquí no ha pasado nada” aunque se caiga un pedazo del cielo.

Mamá Flora me contó de manejar un fogón desde que era una nena igual que yo. Me habló de caminar por el campo cargando el almuerzo que habia preparado ella misma para Papa Nobio y los recogedores de café. De haber conocido a Quin a los 17 años, de como él hizo arreglos con Papa Nobio, y después le preguntó a ella si se quería casar. De como tuvo suerte de haberse casado con un hombre bueno. Y de como trabajó en fábricas para ayudar a poner comida en la mesa y comprar libros para la escuela de los muchachos. Mamá Florita me demostró que a los hombres hay que tenerlos derechitos para que te respeten. Y de ella aprendí que está muy bien decir lo que una piensa. También me enseñó que los lunes se lava ropa, que los martes se plancha, los miércoles se va al mercado, los jueves se barre y los viernes se visita a los bisabuelos (y a Tanía). En otras palabras, que hay un tiempo para todo.

Al final de su vida (o tal vez siempre) Mamá decía exactamente lo que pensaba — yo creo que se había ganado ese derecho — y cuántas veces me hizo reír. Ojalá que cuando yo tenga 80 y pico de años (si acaso llego) todavía me vaya sola en mi carrito al colmado a las 7 de la mañana, barra las hojas en la acera, haga viajes con las muchachas del club, y me arregle para ir a la iglesia.

En estos días he llorado mucho y de soplarme tanto la nariz por fin se me destaparon los oídos de una sinusitis que tenía desde hacían dos semanas. Así que puedo decir que mi abuelita sorda también me ha devuelto la audición.

Esta mañana pude escuchar el mar desde mi casa y sonaba igualito que el mar de Arecibo por la madrugada, antes de que se levanten los pajaritos. En su vaivén pude escuchar la voz de Mamá Florita que me decía como siempre, “Ponte positiva.”

Esa voz siempre estará conmigo.

Posdata:
Queridos Lily y José, siento mucho haberme comido los gandules que les tocaban a ustedes durante los últimos 40 años. Fue por la buena causa de complacer a Mamá, y además siempre estaban muy ricos y era muy difícil dejar de comerlos.

Gracias a mi querido hermano Fernan por leer estos pensamientos durante el sepelio de Mama Flora en Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Octubre 2015. 

While I’ve been away from Vida Traducida — and too busy to translate my life and publish it in this blog — I’ve had the chance to travel back and forth to Puerto Rico a few times. A conference in November, a family visit for the holidays, a business trip in January… all were wonderful opportunities to reconnect. Now that the lunar new year has started and the Earth seems to be readjusting to a steady beat, I ponder my place in this great in-between space I call home. I wrote this piece in the plane on my last JetBlue return flight, after meeting many great professionals at Clinica Salus in San Juan, PR, and being prompted to think about island economics, lower standard of living, brain drain, exodus, the dream of the return… I sort of saw an island in the clouds — a repetition of the ground below, only made of shifting water vapor…by the way, this process happened in Spanish, so here it is, untranslated and unedited.

Journey to The Island in the Sky — Viaje a la Isla que Cuelga en el Espacio

A 70 millas por la autopista de Arecibo a San Juan y parece que hace siglos que estoy manejando. “Todavía voy por Manatí!” Gruño para mí misma.

Es que llegar es fácil y felíz; irme es difícil e irritante.

Ahora en las nubes, se me olvida cuánto tiempo llevo viajando. Se me olvida si voy o vengo. Si voy de vacaciones o regreso de negocios. Las nubes parecen mi hogar. Hay praderas y hay colinas. Hay nubes lisas y nubes como edificios. Hay un cañón profundo (a 10,000 pies de altura) cuya sombra azulosa parece tan real como la sombra roja del cañón del Colorado.

Entonces, desde allá arriba, pongo los pies en la tierra.

Ya no hay tal cosa como fuga, ni de cerebros ni de prófugos. Ya no hay un “fuera” adonde ir. Hablamos tanto de la patria, pero no la entendemos. La patria ya no es 100 por 35. La patria no puede ser simplemente el paisaje que amamos, porque el paisaje cambió hace tiempo. La colonia es ahora el imperio — pero no nos damos cuenta de nuestro propio poder.

El mundo cambió. La isla es un universo cambiante. Los que nos fuimos hace 20 años cambiamos. La isla ahora late en la metrópolis. Y la metrópolis nunca será igual.

Los problemas de la isla pueden ser como las iguanas verdes: se multiplican rápido, pero también se pueden erradicar. Si somos listos, hasta se les puede sacar provecho en otros mercados.

Antes yo entendía La Isla que Se Repite como una repetición de nostalgia. Estoy empezando a visualizar y a escuchar otro ritmo que se repite. Antonio Benitez Rojo habia internalizado que ya no se puede volver a la isla (Cuba) de antes — que es necesario construir una isla nueva. Así va a pasar en Puerto Rico — estamos despertando a que es tiempo de construir una isla nueva. Es tiempo de inventar un ritmo nuevo — desde adentro y desde afuera.

Did you hear Univision congratulated Puerto Ricans on their “Independence Day” on July 25?

Yeap, INDEPENDENCIA, said the booming announcer. Ja, ja! (I’m laughing in Spanish, you know, j sounds like h, and h is silent. It’s like it’s not even there, like independence in the colony of Puerto Rico.)

See? You can’t believe what you see/hear on TV.

But dreaming is free…as they say on the island.

http://repeatingislands.com/2012/07/27/breaking-news-puerto-rico-is-independent/

They wheel me into OR-3 and my first thought is, “I’m going to pay for all this luxury later.”

I also felt guilty thinking about all the people with REAL problems who come through this hospital. The young woman I interviewed who just recovered from a brain aneurysm, the man who had his digestive system rebuilt because of cancer…they flash through my mind as I watch the ceiling pass by and face the huge round lights in the all-white room.

“When’s the last time you set up this big OR for a broken pinky?” I ask, irreverent. The anesthesiologist answers that my pinky is a special pinky. He had already explained they were doing a block on my ulnar nerve, which will numb my arm from my elbow to my pinky and keep me from feeling what has to be done to untwist my left small finger and repair a tiny fracture in the middle bone.

My million-dollar pinky, while I waited to see the orthopedic surgeon.

Someone said they were injecting a sedative into my IV and that it would burn a little. The last thing I remember was thinking that the burn was traveling from my wrist to my shoulder and across my clavicle to the other side of my body. Thirty minutes later a nurse was talking loudly to me in recovery. “You’re all done, wake up.”

I never expected to put any healthcare professional, nor myself, through this much trouble. But I did have a fractured bone, however small, and all these people were here to help. I had driven myself in and thought the doctor would just look at the x-ray, untwist the tangled parts (cold blooded) and give me a splint. Maybe send me home with some Aleve.

Instead, I ended up with a top-notch orthopedic surgeon who said I had a rare fracture (code for ‘not as easy to fix as you thought’), and we could either leave it alone and it would heal crooked, or we could try to fix it and maybe make it worse. He didn’t sugar-coat it, which I appreciated. If the fix didn’t work, then he would have to shish-kabob my finger — with a surgical pin. Good to know what you’re up against.

I had just told him how I had tried to fix my finger the day before by grabbing the top of the finger and pulling gently until I felt my little distal bone fall back in place. So he knew he could be graphic with me. Without congratulating me for my chiropractic skills, he said the middle bone would need more help. He showed me the x-ray from all angles until I saw the fracture.

Okay, so I didn’t get a membership into the bone-setting society. And I wasn’t going to hang around to document the miracles performed on other people. I was going to be the miracle, along with my pinky. Actually, it was a series of small miracles.

Miracle #1: I got to sneak into the schedule of the best hand surgeon in the southeastern United States — probably the whole country.

Miracle #2: I actually put the laptop away and accepted the fact that it was time to stop working and take care of myself. (Sorry, Dr. Wharen, I can’t work on that neurosurgery story today. Pinky problems.)

Miracle #3: I let a nurse trick me into letting her put me in tight stockings that were supposed to keep me from having a thrombosis in the middle of the “surgery.”

Miracle #4: I kept the stupid stockings on until I got home. You seriously didn’t expect me to sleep in those uncomfortable things, did you Nurse Pam?

Miracle #5: Nurse Pam gave me the spa treatment and removed my worn nail polish before the “surgery.”

Miracle #6: Did I mention I got wheeled into OR-3 at Mayo Clinic Hospital? Where else would I get the spa treatment?

Miracle #7: My pinky was spared the shish-kabob. I did not require a pin.

After all these small miracles, I’ll need a big miracle to pay the invoice later. But my pinky will be functional and pretty again. And I will do my part to delay the impending national healthcare crisis by paying a large amount of out-of-pocket costs. I already had a good idea why healthcare is so expensive, but if I had any doubts about escalating healthcare costs, all I need is a head count of how many people were kindly taking care of me during my pinky ordeal. But let’s think of it in terms of the L’oreal commercial: I’m worth it. (I think it’s L’oreal.)

Oh, how did all this fun get started? It’s a long and silly story, so here are some keywords. You put it together: hyperactive dog, wet leash, another dog, little old lady (me), tangled, dragged by pinky finger.

I could’ve broken other moving parts, so I was lucky. As for the dog, I’d like to think she’s sorry, but she’s oblivious. Another lesson in unconditional love. Another +-million dollars spent on healthcare.

The culprit: Cheeva the hyper dog. Still cute.


Special thanks to Dr. Peter Murray, for moving heaven and earth to fix my pinky, and for telling me about his 95 lb chocolate lab, so I didn’t feel so bad. Also to Drs. Robards, Cartwright and Torp for keeping me pain-free, and to all the nurses, especially Pam, Susan and Boris, who made sure everything went smoothly and treated me like I was the most important person with the most important problem. No job is too big or too small.

I had the unique chance to personalize what I do for my client, Mayo Clinic, and help raise awareness about stroke. My friends at Mayo Clinic encouraged me to share my experiences as a caregiver (years ago) to my grandmother after she suffered a stroke.

My grandmother was a very influential person in my life, so I was happy to reminisce about her resilience and her determination. Sometimes, the personal experience leads the way when it comes to working from the heart.

And it’s always impressive to learn about things the docs are able to do now. My grandmother, who was born in 1903 in rural Puerto Rico, never heard of endovascular procedures, but she would have benefitted from such medical advances.

http://sharing.mayoclinic.org/2012/06/07/stroke-treatments-then-and-now/

The Obama administration announced today that it will offer indefinite reprieves from deportation for young immigrants who were brought to the country as minors and meet other specific requirements. The move, hailed by immigration advocates as a bold response to the broken immigration system, temporarily eliminates the possibility of deportation for youths who would qualify for relief under the DREAM Act, giving Congress the space needed to craft a bipartisan solution that gives permanent residence to qualifying young people. In a statement from the White House, President Obama said the policy was “the right thing to do,” calling DREAMers “Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every way but one: on paper.”

Read more: http://immigrationimpact.com/2012/06/15/president-obama-to-halt-removal-of-dreamers/

I’ve been reading books and academic papers on bioethics and biopolitics for years, so you could say I was fairly prepared to handle the story behind the HeLa cell line – one of the most famous and controversial cell lines in the history of biomedical research. But Henrietta’s story, as written by Rebecca Skloot is saturated with something the other, more theorical works, do not delve into: human emotions. Specifically, the emotions of Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah.

The author puts us inside Deborah’s mind as she grapples with what has happened in the sixty plus years since her mother’s illness and death. In some ways, Skloot’s account comes very close to a patient narrative. It’s a risky move because the actual patient has been dead for sixty years, and who knows what Henrietta would say of all that has come from her harvested cancer cells?

But the risk pays off for Skloot – she gives us a patient-centered narrative even as we wade through the science chronicle. The polio vaccine was developed, HPV virus was classified into more than 100 strands and a vaccine distributed globally, cancer cells’ resistance to drugs has and continues to be tested…we’ve gained priceless knowledge, and prominent careers have been built on HeLa cells. But someone did pay a price.

If we’re human, we all become patients at some point, so Henrietta’s story is for everyone. People who work in medical industry should pay special attention. Those of us who were already in medical industry before HIPAA, might not be shocked by the Lacks family’s isolation and lack of informed consent. Still, it’s baffling to read how they were treated over the years.

I know that not everyone who works in medical research these days knows about Henrietta Lacks, but everyone who does should. If I were the one doing the research (as opposed to writing about the research others are doing), I suppose I might be expected to detach human emotion and human history from my scientific work. However, as long as HeLa cells live, we will all have a just reminder that we can take the cells out of the human, but we can never take the human out of the cells. We all want to find a cure for disease. Perhaps the road will be easier when we all understand that scientific research and the human spirit are inseparable.

P.S.: After spending time reading and writing papers about the novel Woman in Battle Dress, about the 19th century struggles of Dr. Henriette Faber, I could not help but smile about the similar first names. Maybe the two actual women shared the same resilience across time.

Aurora

Aurora beat the odds and spends her time helping others cope. Photo by Mayo Clinic staff.


Twenty years ago, a doctor lowered his head and gently told Aurora she had about one year to live.

At 73, and after a few rounds of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, Aurora is the face and voice of hope on the oncology floor at Mayo Clinic. Quick-paced and full of energy, she dons a green jacket and volunteers to work alongside the same doctor and the same nurses who administered her treatments. (She’s good friends with the doctor and his family now.)

She can brighten any room, uplift many a discouraged soul, and tease any clinician who dutifully looks at the overwhelming facts and — with a heavy heart — forecasts a gloomy prognosis.

Her name means dawn, sunrise, new day. Like the aurora borealis, she shines in the dark, long night. She uses herself as an example when she talks to patients. (“You were in my shoes? Twenty years ago? Look at you now!”) She nudges them out of self-pity with a little humor and a dash of tough love that goes back to her roots.

“My mother always said, ‘Al mal tiempo, buena cara,‘To bad weather, you show your good face.” She was born and raised in Spain, and emigrated as a young adult.

I meet many people who can call themselves walking miracles; they always inspire me beyond the medical facts. Seldom do I meet one who shines as bright as Aurora. Thank you, Aurora of the many sunrises, for sharing your light with me and everyone who crosses your path.

The full story of Aurora and her battle with multiple myeloma will be featured in an article for my client, Mayo Clinic. These are my personal impressions.

Dr. Edith Perez in her research lab.

Dr. Edith Perez in her research lab. Photo by Mayo Clinic staff.

I had the priviledge of working with a reporter from El Nuevo Dia, San Juan, Puerto Rico, to coordinate an interview (and photos) with Dr. Edith Perez from Mayo Clinic, a true pioneer in cancer research.

Here’s a quick translation of the story (cover of Lifestyle section, El Nuevo Dia, 03/13/2012).

Mente Genial Contra el Cancer

By Ileana Delgado Castro, El Nuevo Dia

The definitive cure for cancer has yet to be found. But there are people who, thanks to new medicines and cutting edge treatment, are able to beat or control the disease.

Renowned Puertorrican oncologist Edith Pérez attests to that. She’s director of the Breast Cancer Program and of the Breast Cancer Research Division of Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. She is the same researcher who revolutionized breast cancer treatment when she showed, in 2005, that a drug named trastuzumab (Herceptin) reduced the recurrence of cancer by 52 percent, in patients with the HER-2 receptor.

Pérez, who talked with El Nuevo Día during a recent visit to Puerto Rico, explains that more than 20 percent of women who have had breast cancer present the protein receptor HER-2, which can cause cancer to reappear and spread. The risk of reincidence and death is higher in these women.

“With this study, we changed the history of the disease. Instead of administering a therapy that attacks all the organs, as it used to be, this drug only fights HER-2. It is the concept of the magic bullet: we found the problem and were able to attack it head on,” explains the oncologist who has become a worldwide leader in breast cancer research.

Dr. Perez was born in Humacao, Puerto Rico. She grew up in Naguabo and graduated from the University of Puerto Rico with a degree in medicine. She left for California at the age of 23 to begin her medical specialty…

To read the entire article (in Spanish) go to: http://www.elnuevodia.com/mentegenialcontraelcancer-1211623.html

I applaud your March 5 cover featuring latino voters and the headline Yo Decido. I am not bothered by the fact that you include a non-latino on the top row. In fact, I’m glad about the way this faux pas is playing out: now we’re really breaking stereotypes. I, the Puertorrican who is sometimes Amerasian declare this experiment a success. Maybe you should reconsider what you’re apologizing for, and continue using the photographer you’re trying to blame.

So what’s the real apology here? How were you supposed to confirm that 151 people photographed in three days were all latinos? And were all the pictures taken in Ariz.? How were you supposed to ask people directly about their background in a state where there is so much hate and deportation going around? Oh, but what if you took a photo of an undocumented person? What if a mother got deported and separated from her young children because of your rush to make a deadline? Deportation happens every day in this country. Worse things could happen because of your actions than the mere mislabeling of a person.
As a chameleon-like latina who is asked frequently to explain her unlatina looks, I see all sorts of unintended consequences of your good intentions. However, I do thank you for creating the opportunity for nationwide conversation into what it means to be a latino, asian, norwegian, and all other constructs.

If you need another cover with an assortment of non-descript, multiracial, myth-busting humans, call me. I’ll bring a few friends. Some of them might surprise you. And maybe you should hire some of them for your editorial board so you can avoid repeating your mistake.

And by the way, I already knew that it’s Yo Decido in 2012 – that’s not news to me. Yo Decidí in 2008. But I appreciate the effort to let the rest of the world know this reality. To the rest of you, welcome to América.