Salvatorian Sentiments_Sr D Pienschke_2017

A Day in the Life of One Migrant

By Sister Darlene Pienschke, SDS
Desert Mission – Tucson, Arizona

Today I worked in the medical department and visited a young man in his 20s from Honduras, recovering from a poisonous snake bite, most probably a Diamondback Rattler, as asserted by doctors. This is DB’s story. 

DB was making his risky journey across the unknown Arizona desert to find freedom and a hopeful future in the U.S. Impoverished in Honduras, he no longer felt safe nor capable of finding work for a sustainable life. 

Having walked over four to six hours, daylight was fading and now turning to dusk. The setting sun gave some relief from the scorching heat reaching over 100 degrees, common in the months of September and August, but left DB little sense of direction or his whereabouts, to say nothing of his thirst. He continued to walk, when suddenly in the shadows of nightfall, he stepped on what he saw to be “a brown snake that reared its head and struck the flesh of his left calf muscle.” His leg searing with pain, DB stumbled and fell. Realizing he was badly injured, not knowing where he was, but equally determined not to die in the desert like so many whose remains are later discovered, he got up, and tried to force himself to struggle on.  

Estimating the length of time of about two to three hours, DB began to “feel sick.” He felt he was unable to think clearly, saying, “I felt confused and unable to clear my head, dizzy, and no longer able to walk. My foot and entire leg was becoming engorged with swelling. I needed to call for help and knew I now had to phone the Border Patrol!”  DB found his portable phone and dialed 911. When they answered, he told them he was lost, bitten by a snake and was desperately disoriented, unable to walk due to excruciating leg swelling and pain. 

DB could not tell how long he waited, as he laid in pain on the desert sand before the search and rescue helicopter found and picked him up. He was flown directly to the hospital where he was immediately taken to surgery. By now DB’s leg from thigh to foot was extremely edematous, described as, “twice its size.” In surgery, besides operating on the bite wound itself, a six to seven inch incision was made above the bite to decrease the amount of edema and prevent the loss of his leg.

It is now two weeks since DB is at Casa Alitas. He is being taught how to care for his injuries, do his own dressings, and walk with crutches. Eventually he will be able to put pressure on his foot to regain walking ability, but for now he has too much pain. Tomorrow he will have his sutures removed. It will be a bit longer before he will be able to leave Casa Alitas. 

In the meantime, he has made friends with all the staff, and welcomes new arrivals en-route to their destinations. DB is gentle, humble, and willing to share his story as a lesson for others.  His story speaks of the dangers and risks of desert crossings. It is also a testimony of one man’s struggle to live, and his determination to take risks to find a better life.

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