issue 174 - August 1987
Lupe, the wildcat
Lupe was a wild little girl. Her two brothers, Paulo and Jorge, were almost as wild as she. They all swam in the deepest water holes. They swam when the river was running high. Once Paulo was swept a mile downstream before he was caught in a tree half-submerged in the water and was able to pull himself out.
What Lupe loved most of all was the family's horse. He was even wilder than the three children. The horse's name was El Diablo, 'The Devil.' He had been badly treated as a yearling and hated most men. But he was gentle with children, especially Lupe.
Lupe would leap on his back and hang onto his mane. Pretending to be frightened, the horse would race off across the fields. Then he would suddenly stop, run round and round, buck and run. He would stand up on his hind legs and paw the air, until he finally threw her off. Lupe would lie in the wet green leaves. Then El Diablo would come up to her and blow his frothing snot all over her face. She would laugh and hug his neck.
All that was before her accident. It happened in November, the year that Lupe was 11 years old, Paulo was 12 and Jorge 8. Paulo took their father's old rifle and the three children walked quietly off to a little rocky valley near the river. This was a place where no one ever went since the day an old woman had drowned in a flash flood. Everyone said her ghost still hid in the crevices between the rocks and trees.
The children came here for secret target practice. They pretended they were a group of small farmers caught in a feud between two powerful drug dealers who were terrorizing the countryside. The children were using a giant fig tree as their target Lupe had finished her turn. She had to pee. She saw some bushes off to the side, so she began to walk toward them. Suddenly she felt a burst of pain in her back, and she was thrown to the ground.
She looked down at her legs. They sat there in front of her body, one crossed over the other. But she couldn't feel them. They didn't seem to belong to her any more. Dizzy with pain, she sat there. What had happened? She noticed that there was a pool of liquid coming out between her legs. The puddle grew on the ground until it came about half way down her thighs, then it stopped spreading and soaked into the dirt. She had peed where she sat, but she couldn't feel it coming out, or wetting her. She couldn't feel her legs or anything. A bullet had ricocheted off a rock and shattered her spine. Lupe looked up at her brothers and said nothing.
Lupe's family took her to the hospital in the city. She was operated on almost immediately. After several hours, a fat man in a white coat came out to the hall where her family sat waiting. 'The operation is completed. But the child will have to stay in the hospital for three weeks. The bullet cut right through the spinal cord. She's paralyzed. From the waist down.' The doctor tilted his head back and looked down along his nose at Lupe's father. 'Pay here at the desk - the full amount, or the child will not be permitted to leave the hospital.' The doctor would not see them again. After all, he knew that she would almost certainly die of pressure sores within a year. Most of them did.
Lupe's father took the bus back to the village to find money. The rest of the family stayed in the hospital and watched over her. The days went by and turned into a week, then two. Lupe was weak and tired, but otherwise she seemed quite well. She talked, and ate and played with her brothers and baby Flor. Her mother changed the cloths under her whenever they became wet. Otherwise Lupe lay in bed, moving only her arms- and her mouth. She talked and ate A LOT.
One day her mother suddenly saw how big Lupe's belly was. She looked like she was going to have a baby! They remembered that Lupe had not had a bowel movement in over two weeks. What could they do? How could she get rid of her waste when she could not feel anything and had no control over any muscles below her waist? They talked to the nurses, who told them everybody in this condition had the same problems and they would have to work it out themselves.
Work it out? How? Finally one of the nurses gave Lupe's mother the name of a private nurse, outside the hospital, who as she said, 'specializes in evacuation.' Lupe's mother returned late that night with the nurse, who taught the family how to help Lupe move her bowels using a greased finger. The following day, 17 days after she had left home, Lupe pooped onto sheets of newspaper laid out on the bed. It stank so badly and embarrassed Lupe so much that she wanted to disappear. Why had this happened to her? She hadn't done anything wrong. Well, maybe a little, but she had been careful, had kept back from the target. Would she ever be able to walk and run again? Why couldn't she just die?
This is an edited extract from a true story by Molly Bang about a girl at Project PROJIMO, a village- run rehabilitation program for disabled children in western Mexico. The full story is available for $3 from the Hesperian Foundation, P0 Box 1692, Palo Alto, CA 94302, USA.