• Pura Vida Connections

My Tico Heart: Katya De Luisa; Non-Profits & a Pandemic

It was now 2019, and I felt such relief to be home in Costa Rica again. I’d rented a small cottage in Piedades in Santa Ana, not far from the Unity Church where I attended the spiritual book circle on Sundays. I met Robert, a 90-year-old man who was subject to tedious and long-winded discourses that put most of the group to sleep. But somehow, we both knew we were to be friends from the moment we met. He invited me to his home for lunch, and it turned out he rented a house at the Julia & David White Art Colony, the same place I had wanted to move to years before. The owner had died several years before and left it to his life partner, Francisco. Rainbow, the elderly woman I’d shared a cabin with, in San Isidro years before, coincidentally was renting a small studio and was planning to return to the US. She left, and I moved in.

I loved living at the colony. We had a pool, it was just a short walk to Cuidad Colon, and each dwelling was private and surrounded by trees and nature.

However, a month after moving in, disaster struck on Christmas day. While stupidly standing on a chair to hang some curtains, I fell. On my way down, everything seemed to happen in slow motion, and somehow, I was very aware I was about to break a hip; another one! As I hit the hard tile, I remember shouting out, “Not again!”

Luckily, I could reach my phone and Fransisco, and my neighbor, Holly, came to my rescue in minutes. In shock but amazingly calm, I instructed Holly what to prepare to take to the hospital as we waited for the ambulance. I knew the drill because of my previous experience breaking the other hip.

At San Juan de Dios Hospital, I and several other men and women were confined to a temporary ward to wait for beds to become available upstairs. For four days, I laid immobile with a broken hip, unable to take the pain medication, which made me vomit. I also gagged just seeing the unpalatable food. So, I refused to eat, figuring if I didn't die from the waiting to be operated on, I’d die from willing starvation.

Meanwhile, I had a lot of time to think and wondered what the lesson was in breaking my hip again. Hadn’t I learned anything from breaking the other one seven years before? What was the message I'd missed, and why do I consistently make the same mistakes in my life?

The hospital had stringent visiting regulations, making it difficult for anyone to visit me. But one day, an old friend who I hadn't seen in years, passed in the hallway and saw me. She was visiting her husband, who was also admitted. Maria came each day and smuggled in a couple of bananas and yogurt for me.

Finally, a bed became available, and they prepped me for surgery. While waiting to be wheeled upstairs, to my surprise, one of the neighbors at the colony walked in. "How did you get in here, Cal?" I asked. He said the guard kept trying to stop him, but he just kept saying to him no Spanish and walked by him. He’s come at just the right moment because the nurse had just informed me, I needed someone to take my belongings home before I could be operated on.

I never saw my doctor until I was on the operating table and never saw him again afterward. I found a local woman to come and care for me during the day, but I was on my own at night, which was pretty scary. I was utterly bedbound for the first two weeks using a portable potty next to the bed. Eventually, I healed, leaving me with a permanent limp and a cane became my new best friend. For the year that followed, I struggled with debilitating intermittent depression.

Robert lived across from me, and as I predicted, we became close friends. He'd been married 60 years, and when his wife died, a devious older Tica woman moved in with him and emptied his bank account. He thought he was in love. He had some dementia and began to cause many problems for the owner, who eventually asked him to leave. Shortly after they moved, he died.

Cal and Lorraine had been coming to the colony for 18 years. Usually, they stayed at one of the studios for several months. They rented Robert’s house.

Cal had read my book on dementia and was very impressed with the information, especially its relationship to the spiritual aspects of dementia. He offered to sponsor me to help promote the book. Cal had just retired, sold his very lucrative tech company, and started a non-profit in the US. The same week his Alama Foundation became legal and we had just begun to work together on the dementia project, COVID shut the world down.

The foundation provided me with a small monthly stipend and funded our startup expenses. I excitedly developed a dementia education program and created content for our new website. But because of the pandemic, most of the programs I designed had to go on hold. Maria, who I'd reconnected with while at the hospital, offered to help with the project. She became my right-hand person in the endeavor.

An even more significant challenge than the pandemic was in order to get money into the country for the project, we'd need to create our own Costa Rica-based non-profit. After my challenging earlier experience with the street kid non-profit, I was very hesitant to do this. But finally, I justified it by thinking I'd learned from the prior mistakes and it would be different this time.

After a tedious year of legalities, lawyers, and the never-ending challenges of banking issues, I began to realize I may have made another mistake. I was president of the board of the Asociacion Bienestar en la Vejez, and it seemed all I was doing was dealing with bureaucracy. And then, as with my first non-profit fiasco, I started having difficulties with the other board members.

The description of insanity is, “Doing something in the same way and expecting different results.” I should have known better.

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