I had two experiences yesterday that powerfully reminded me of why I am here in Central America, working in a healthcare clinic. The first experience reminded me of what pushed me into medicine in the first place and who has helped me along the way, and the second reinforced to me why I need to serve and learn.
After a pretty dull first two hours in the clinic’s emergency department, just dealing with two colds, a little boy about 6 years old ran into the room with a tearful face while clutching his arm. His tears and the sharp jutting of his forearm made it obvious to everyone in the room that his arm was broken, and badly. Most of the readers of this blog know that this situation is something I’m pretty familiar with, three times in fact.
When his mom continued to comfort him and urge him to be brave, it was a strong reminder of how my mom sat with me in a hospital waiting room, reading Henry Huggins to me to take my mind away from my arm. It reminded me that if I hadn’t broken my arm the first, second, or third time, I might not have seen those x-rays up on the wall that inspired me to one day put up the x-rays of others on the wall. I wondered, If I had never had the experience of a bright red cast like that little boy was about to recover, would my dad have pointed out every medical school we passed and encouraged me to enter one years later?
Where would I even be now, and what would I have talked about in every college interview or application? I certainly would not have mentioned the passion for medicine that grew in me the same day I broken my arm in a City League football game. I probably wouldn’t have been able to talk about the people who encouraged me to apply to medical internships in high school, or the interest I had reexamining my own x-rays years later in a high school anatomy class. More than any time before, I realized the way that one quick fall from a tree, then a diving board, and a missed tackle shaped my life.
Seeing that boy’s twisted arm in front of me made me extremely grateful for my own fractures- my parents and family who have supported and encouraged me every day before and since, my teachers and professors who have challenged me to excel and build upon the passion for medicine they saw, and the good Lord who continues to mold things into place, in the same way he healed my broken bones.
But just as the boy’s arm reminded me of all that I am grateful for that led me to work here, another patient came in yesterday afternoon that struck a chord just a powerful inside me.
From the moment Doña Cecilia walked in the evaluation room, I knew she wasn’t the typical 70-something. Her blank stare and jumbled speech were as much of a sign of her indigent situation as were her filthy cloths and her matted hair. As she walked past me, I smelled a strong smell of urine, which was the result of her inability to control her own bodily functions and financial or mental inability to buy adult diapers. With much difficulty she described a headache and general body pains to the doctor and me. I then tested her blood sugar to be almost 400, which is extremely high, dangerous, and possibly fatal if not treated. Yet he most tragic thing to me was not her smell, blood sugar, or tattered dress. It was how her obvious mental disability had left her in such a vulnerable state. Her position as one of the most defenseless members of this world, she had very little capacity to improve her own life. She was exposed and vulnerable in about any way possible: impoverished, elderly, and mentally disabled.
It is lives like hers that I believe I am called to serve. When I read that I am supposed to feed, nourish, heal, house, and visit the most vulnerable, I know that it is people like Doña Cecelia that need service attention foremost. Just as a broken arm served to inspire me years ago, it is her broken mind and her broken body that inspire me to serve now.
On a much lighter note, I discovered that I love to discuss sports in Spanish just as much as I enjoy it in English. That led to a t-shirt swap of our favorite team t-shirt with a co-worker. As well as a Blue Devil, I’m now also a Saprissista. Saprissa is the professional soccer team near where I work. (¡Morado!)