Sunday, June 6, 2010

Treating the Human Spirit

Over the past thirty-seven years of being in the medical field I've tried to embrace two types of treatment--treating the physical ailments of the human body and compassionately treating the emotional side of the human spirit. I firmly believe that you can not heal one without the other.

I thought I understood how important both were years ago, but it wasn't until I travel to Africa, that I really understood the importance of treating the human spirit. Each and everyone of us here in US have had times in our life's when we've needed someone to talk to, or lean on. Yet, in Africa the troubles of everyday life are enormous compared to ours. Just surviving is a feat in and of its self. Each trip I make a promise those I treat and myself that I will not only listen with not only my ears, but with my heart as well. Reflecting back I hope I've made a difference in so many lives, by simply listening and caring.

Simply embracing all my girlfriends was such a good feeling for me and them too. It is funny they can't understand why a White woman from America, with all the privileges and the abundance life offers in America, comes to Africa, and embraces them and their cultures.

Surprising what a simple hug, or holding someones hand can do for the sole. In Africa, each time I have a patient sit in front of me, I greet them in their native tongue, shake their hand and I introduce myself. Now if you haven't been to Africa before, in all the small poor villages there is no toilet tissue. Therefore they use their hands, leaves, or whatever. Enough said about what is on the hands of so many of the African people. Yet, I never want any of them to feel just because I am a white, American, that I am better than they. We are all just human beings, with basic needs both physically and emotionally. At the conclusion of treating each patient I stand and embrace them in my arms. Many times tears roll down the cheeks of them and me and I am always thanked with "God Bless You!"

It never matters who you are it is always nice to have someone care about you and for you. Though were countless cases each trip, four such cases this past trip stand out in my mind and heart about the caring side of being a humanitarian. First a beautiful young woman in a small village near Molo, sat down in front of me. Her eyes had a lost, sad appearance. She had an African scarf wrapped around her head as if she was in mourning. When I ask how I could help her, she replied; I had a baby boy that was born stillborn a month ago. Now I can not eat, or sleep as I am worried about the baby I will never raise. She continued to tell me that she was not allowed to hold her baby, kiss his forehead or say hello or goodbye. Her baby was disposed of by the midwife as he was stillborn. I sat listening intently, with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Feelings from twenty-eight years ago suddenly surfaced like it was yesterday, when I to faced the same heart wrenching feelings. Feelings of emptiness, sadness, and aching arms to hold what was to have been my legacy. As I explained to this young woman that the feelings she was feeling, I had felt too. The young woman, named Faith, sobbed as she was sure her life would never be the same. As we talked, I tried to reassure her that time heals all wounds and her life will once again have happiness in it. From my hand and heart to Faith's, hand I place a guardian angel pin, along with reassuring thoughts that I knew that her son and my mine were sitting on Jesus's knee smiling down on us both. Faith and I embraced one last time and went our separate ways. May the Lord take special care of this young mother.

Then there is Joseph, the gentleman with the massive tumor to side of his face and head. I first met Joseph last year and honestly I was mortified when I first saw him. This year it was like two old friends being reunited. Joseph came directly to me and instead of shaking hands a hug on each cheek was the greeting as both of us smiled from ear to ear. Through the conversation I learned that though Joseph has lost the hearing in his right ear, but he has not lost his desire to enjoy life. As Joseph left he smiled and said I will see you in a year. It was as if his spirit had been rejuvenated with a simple embrace from an old friend.

Thirdly, near Naivasha, a barefoot young girl and her siblings caught my eye. These children obviously had very little and did not have the money to attend school as they did not have uniforms on. As I began talking to the young girl it was her eyes that spoke volumes to me. I could see despair, hope, and love in the dark brown eyes of this young girl, named Ester. Ester, told me she dreamed of going to school and getting an education, but she had to do hard labor so she and her family might eat. Funny how children in the US don't like going to school, yet this girl dreamed of it. I took her hand and told her to never give up on her dreams, that she was beautiful inside and out and she would have the chance to shine for the world to see. She held my hand so tight, it was if she didn't want to let go of the glimmer of hope that had found her.

Finally, going back to Africa this time was driven by a promise I made to myself, to return a photo of "Little Lisa" to her mother. The photo was taken in 2009 an hour before Lisa died in my arms. In the past year and half I have had a difficult time coming to terms with this death. Death is difficult any time, but working in the area I work in I walk away from each death feeling sad, but feeling like we did all we could. However, in Lisa's case, I could do nothing as I had nothing.

Mary, Lisa's mom continues to live in the high mountain village above Nakuru. She was teary, yet thrilled with my gift, but she and the tribe elders refused any more photos. So with a long embrace, few words, and a necklace with two hearts intertwined we parted for the last time. I hope Mary will cherish the photo always and think of me often. As I will never forget Mary, Lisa, and the day I held life and death in my arms, a a third world country.

Treating the human spirit, is just as important as treating the human body or maybe just maybe it is more important!

1 comment:

Brynn said...

Ah, you always make me cry - but in a good way. Maybe someday I can be like you.... I'm going to try super hard :)