When the Well is Dry

When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, (1706-1790), Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1746

dry lips : Thanks to Varbak website for the photo.

Two days ago, I received an alarming text from a friend: Tonight I really need your help. I’m so down. My bebe is dieing. He’s been 4 days now with diarrea now. We’re heading to the hospital. Please help me. I beg you for god sake. Please.

Dr. Juan José Amador, Director of Health Systems and Technology in Nicaragua at PATH:

During my childhood in Nicaragua, I used to see a shocking sight: Groups of people  carrying child-size coffins through the streets toward the cemetery. Families-usually the poorest in my community-mourning the deaths of their youngest members. Almost always, diarrhea disease was the cause. (2009)

Recently, Nicaragua began vaccinating newborn babies against rotavirus, the most common cause of severe diarrhea disease among young children. Hospitals are better equipped with new saline solutions and educational programs offer families information about hygiene and clean water. As a result, infant mortality rates have been cut in half in Nicaragua.

But, there is still much work to be done. Although the local people have abundant knowledge about natural medicines, they know little about preventive health care. Their knowledge of preventive health care consists of rural legends, such as “keep a newborn away from drunks. If a newborn is near a drunk, he will get sick.” There may be a grain of truth, but it is a miniscule grain without any scientific understanding of how diseases spread and how to prevent them from spreading ( except, of course, to keep newborns away from drunks).

Frantically, while I searched the internet to see how I could help, baby Sayid was rushed to the hospital and an IV was inserted in his tiny arm. Within an hour, he was showing improvement. Yet, what could I tell this loving family to prevent this from happening again? That’s when I discovered Oral Rehydration Therapy.

A very simple recipe for oral rehydration: a liter of boiled water, 8 tsp. sugar, 1 tsp. salt. Mashed bananas, lemons, or orange juice can be added for taste. I translated the recipe into Spanish, gathered all of the ingredients, and headed to the hospital to see baby Sayid, where his mama was gently rocking him to sleep.

One of the major problems, besides a lack of understanding of preventive health care, is the lack of money. Although hospital care is free, the poorest families have no money to buy medicine (such as pedialyte) to prevent severe diarrhea. Hopefully, next time baby Sayid is stricken with diarrhea, this family can start the oral rehydration therapy immediately, maybe preventing a trip to the hospital and a painful IV inserted into his tiny arm.

Dehydration is a killer! Until we moved to Nicaragua, I never gave clean, accessible water a thought. Now, I’m obsessed with water filters, drinking gallons of water daily, and researching symptoms of parasites. Last month, this newspaper headline piqued my curiosity about the prevalence of kidney disease on the island: Mystery Epidemic Devastates Central American Region.  

Medical researchers at first suspected the cause of chronic kidney disease to be a result of agricultural chemicals. Agricultural workers lack understanding of the need to wear protective gear when using toxic chemicals on the fields. Now, however, they are making more links to chronic dehydration as the culprit. Scary!

Maybe my next project should be to issue liters of oral rehydration therapy, included with recipes, to all the agricultural workers and families on the island. It seems to me, to be a simple, inexpensive way to prevent chronic dehydration. First, there is no lack of plastic liter bottles. Second, it would be easy to attach directions and the recipe on each bottle, so they can refill the bottle.

Benjamin Franklin was a smart man. He understood the importance of clean, abundant water. I will never take clean water for granted again. It is the source of life and health.