Wherever we lived in Latin America, the power always centered around El Señor. Whoever he was, whatever he did, it always was the same, the culture believed that El Señor magically always knew best. Very “Father Knows Best” of the 1950s, but then the Latin America of my time was just like that.
So it came to pass in that summer of 1986 when we moved to Guayaquil, that my husband morphed from the Meneer of Curacao, to the El Señor of Ecuador. Different words defined with the same meaning online, sir.
It was a hot, sunny, and until the call, uneventful Saturday morning when our landline rang with a call from El Señor’s comptroller.
“Gary, did you hear about Ernesto and the company car?” Being an Americanized-Puerto Rican, the comptroller called El Señor by his forename.
On Friday night, the feed mill manager, Ernesto was driving his company car. Stopping at a red-light, he was crashed into by a car that ran the light. The impact pushed Ernesto and his company car into a very deep, open sewer, jamming the electric doors and windows, preventing his escape. In the real threat of drowning in the sewage, a passerby broke the windshield to extricate Ernesto through the broken, jagged glass, cutting his leg in the rescue.
In the 1980s in Ecuador, the country built only one type of vehicle in country, the Jeep. If a customer wanted anything else, it had to be imported under a 400% tariff tax, making the Jeep a very popular vehicle.
It was like Henry Ford’s quote, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, so long as it’s black.”
“Yes, I know about the accident,” Gary responded. “Is Ernesto alright?” As the company manager, Gary didn’t really care about the total destruction of the very expensive company car, but did care a great deal about Ernesto. Although he was quite a few years older than Gary, Ernesto always insisted on calling Gary, “Sir.” It was a form of respect to the Anglo boss, El Señor.
After the accident and rescue, Ernesto had been taken to the best hospital in Guayaquil where his cousin, the doctor, was also the head of the hospital. Ernesto’s cousin-the-doctor, then carefully stitched Ernesto’s gashed leg closed.
Late Saturday night the phone rang again. “Gary, have you heard what’s happened to Ernesto now? They’re getting ready to amputate his LEG!”
Jolted wide-awake, Gary said this wasn’t possible. Hadn’t he spoken to Ernesto only a few hours earlier? Although he wasn’t feeling too well, how had this situation deteriorated amputation?
Hanging up Gary began to work on evacuating Ernesto by air ambulance to Miami for the first-world treatment available there. Visas would have to be arranged, payment for the air ambulance made before the air ambulance would even leave Miami for Guayaquil.
Unable to reach anyone from US corporate at this late hour on a Labor Day weekend, Gary woke his wife. “Please co-sign this,” he said, handing over a pen and one of their money market account checks made out for $10,000 for her co-signature.
As Saturday night flipped to early Sunday morning, while Ernesto’s wife cried hysterically in an adjoining waiting room, Gary found himself surrounded by a contingent of Ernesto’s extended family and friends in the cousin-the-doctor’s office. Various doctors were in attendance, awaiting the imminent arrival of the senior hot-shot Ecuadorian specialist who knew all about gangrene and amputations.
Suddenly everyone in the room turned to El Señor, the newly-arrived company manager of various businesses, and Ernesto’s boss. Should we amputate the leg, they asked El Señor? Amazed, aghast and appalled, El Señor was speechless.
It was hardly a question covered by his international MBA coursework.
El Señor responded that the doctors and specialists were the ones who knew best if gangrene had set in, and Ernesto’s family were the ones who had to make life and death decisions of this sort. Shouldn’t they wait for the hot-shot expert’s opinion?
The hot-shot arrived, assessed the situation to say that even though the leg was black and smelled putrid, it couldn’t be gangrene since it hadn’t been 72 hours since the leg was cut and infected by the sewer water.
Sighing with relief, Gary took over the necessary work to get Ernesto and his wife onto the air ambulance and into a hospital in Miami. The diagnosis there was that the leg had an anaerobic bacterial infection due to the wound being stitched closed, but that Ernesto wasn’t out of the woods, with a long, painful process to save his leg in the USA.
A year or two later at a company family gathering, Ernesto happily showed one and all his horrifically scarred leg, a leg that looked like a side of an air-dried ham. Loosened with a few beers, he also told El Señor that although the pain in Miami had been so bad that he thought he would have rather lost his leg than undergo the treatment to save it, life had changed his view. Smiling beautifically, Ernesto admitted that over the past year the time with his children and family had more than made up for all the pain and suffering he’d undergone.
Tragically a handful of years later, Ernesto was killed in an air disaster, but only after he’d had a few more happy years within his loving family.