I volunteered to write tonight’s eJournal for our group and I had something already in mind, but I find myself writing about something completely different. Something I found while on this trip. Something I was not expecting to find. But first, I will step into the frame of today’s events to give an idea of our most moving experiences of the day - the good, the bad, and the ugly but all beautifully enriching.
Our destination was a town of about 450 people (150 families) about two and a half hours away called El Capiro, in the department of Comayagua. Though it was farther away demanding an earlier start, it was fortunately mostly paved roads rather than the dirt mountain passes lined with rocks, stones, and sudden drop-offs. They have no doctors, nurses, or health promoters in their community and the nearest health center is a 20 kilometer-, or 12.5 mile-, walk.
As you know, it is a tradition at Friends of Barnabas to give our cross to a villager with whom we feel a unique connection, intended to be a symbol of love and support. Here are today’s cross stories:
Courtney found herself being wooed by a five-year-old boy named Austin who not only serenaded her with song, but also did some breakdancing for her, 80s style. When Courtney finally fell for Austin, he made it clear that his heart was bequeathed to another, Erica. He shared his plans to buy her a ring, a car, and a house filled with her family and his own. So their mutually proclaimed friendship was sealed with Courtney’s cross.
Dr. Carlo’s cross was given to a 49-year-old man accompanied by his mother. He walked with a cane but a smile adorning his face. He was hoping to find a specific medication that he had run out of as part of his ongoing treatment. When asked what type of treatment, he told Dr. Carlo that he had a cancer of his lumbar spine for which he was undergoing radiation and chemotherapy. Unfortunately, the medication he was seeking was a specific adjunct to his chemotherapy, not available in our clinic. He thanked Dr. Carlo with a smile. At that point, Dr. Carlo asked if he was having pain. He responded “yes, 9 on a scale of 10.” Upon further questioning, “9, on and off?” he answered, “9 all the time.” For those who are unaware of cancer in bone, this is an excruciating type of pain, but with no other options, he endured this with no complaint and a smile born of strength.
I wish no stories had to be like the next two, but these exist and do to enrich us in ways that we are not always prepared for. Wendy and Meghan were witnesses to the unfortunate truths of this region. A woman and her two daughters, ages 5 and 15, sat down in Wendy’s treatment area. After addressing their physical ailments, Wendy noted a flat and stoic affect in both the daughters. Though she had already completed their treatment, she went a step further and asked if anything was wrong or different in the household. The story unfolded that the father of the family had hung himself only 15 days earlier. The mother then described a husband as an alcoholic who abused all of them. Despite the older daughter missing the only father she had come to know, the mother declared “We are free.” Though Wendy’s heart went to all especially the 5-year-old girl, she gave her cross to the mother praying for the strength and courage to protect and continue to raise both her daughters in better conditions, in freedom.
Meghan, one of our younger members, had been giving mebendazole and fluoride treatments to the children this week. She thought her cross would go to one of the kids, but an opportunity to shadow her uncle, Dr. Ed, changed that plan. A woman with five children of which only two, ages 9 and 13, accompanied her at her visit. She noted an unusual interaction as the children spoke for the mother. She had lost weight and had no appetite largely due to “stress.” Dr. Ed asked about the nature of her stress, and after a pause, she immediately burst into tears and told both Meghan and Dr. Ed that her 19-year-old daughter just recently ran away from home. She told her mother that her father had abused her. The news was shocking, upsetting, and disappointing and left her mother lost. Meghan, consumed by her own emotions, found her own strength symbolized by her cross to give to this mother.
When I step back out of the frame of today alone and read all the stories of the week and talk to those experiencing these blessed moments, I cannot help but see something larger than the experience themselves. Dr. Ed, an accomplished pediatrician, came thinking he was going to give his cross to a child found himself overcome with emotion from a father losing his son. Dr. Carlo, a talented emergency medicine physician, gave his cross to a man who even amidst adversity and pain, had the courage and strength to smile. Courtney, one of our best ICU nurses, thought she was going to give her cross to a person in need found herself giving it to a boy who made her laugh. All of our stories exposed a common awareness to me – we do not get to choose our moments in life, they choose us. And those moments that find us are a representation of our needs at that time, and they all are rooted in a love from within. Success is not getting who you want, but wanting what you already have… sometimes that means getting ambushed by love.