Simple Moments.

Meet little Mialy, Mia, and their father…known simply as Baba. They—along with 15 other siblings—made up my host family during a time spent in the arid region of southern Madagascar, where I was doing research on the Antandroy communities. 

I often think back to this family with bittersweet fondness. When I was there, I was profoundly inspired by their love for life and their appreciation of the simple joys it brings…while endlessly cheered by their wide grins and generous laughter.

But now, when I glance at this photo, their visage seems to reveal a truth much deeper…and my heart aches a little. 

Nevertheless, the sound of their laughter will remain with me forever, and I am thankful to have met them…and grateful for the lessons they taught me in treasuring the simple moments in life. 

ambarofamilyl

Healer.

Dedicated to all whose compassion serves as a light in this world…

 

Shattered
like a vessel of alabaster
rent for its salve
she is an ointment
poured forth
upon bleeding souls
and wounded flesh
a river of compassion
forged with an oath
fueled by a vision
those hands of clay
guided by light
skillfully molded
with a wisdom
paid with a price.

Tendered
is this touch that
saves and soothes
comforts and mends
strength sustained
by the pulse of
a heart constrained
by its own calling
the candle within
softened by flame
its waxen tributary
a remembrance to
the joys and sorrows
gains and losses
moments treasured
in the care for mankind.

A Search Within.

How do I know
the pill won’t seem
bitter to your tongue
through your teeth?

How do I wear
a once white coat
stained with tears
of memories?

How do I compel
my pen to write
scripts to fight
a dimming light?

How do I know
 which waters will flow
to unearth the strength
within me?

How do I persuade
a heart to let go
when it’s my hand
that sets you free?

How do I ensure
my smile won’t be
one of the last
that you’ll see?

How do I force
my ears to hear
a song I fear
of dusk so near?

How do I know
which waters will come
to enshroud the doubts
within me?


A Memory of Ground Beef.

Once when I was on a specialized heart failure service, I took care of a teenage boy. He had a form of idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy (a weak, enlarged heart), and he had a huge heart…in more ways than one.

He loved baseball, pumpkin pie, and horses. His family owned a farm, so before he got sick, he would often go horseback riding. He also loved to draw.

We—a team of five physicians—took care of him for a month while he was waiting for a heart transplant. He liked us. We liked him. So he drew us as well.

I thought he was clever. But he thought I was even more so. All because he liked my joke:

“What do you call a cow with no legs?”

“Ground beef.”

That was it. He was just a great kid, trying his best to live the life given to him.

It used to be, that at the end of our visits, we would both say to each other, “Ground beef!” with a wink and a huge smile. It perplexed the other physicians, but we knew exactly what we were talking about.

It was just a silly joke. But for the two of us, it somehow meant something more. 

I found out recently that he passed away. And today I found the drawing he gave me. And I wept.

So here’s to you, dear buddy…

Ground beef 😉

Holiday Across the Globe.

• Mahantantely, Madagascar •

Through my time spent abroad during the holiday seasons, I noticed something:
That despite our dissimilar lives, cultures, appearances, beliefs…
one thing never changes:

our love and compassion for one another. 

Ghana_phoebe_chi.JPG

• Takoradi, Ghana •

Wishing everyone much love this December. 

💛

Little Luis.

 

• Monteagudo, Bolivia •

Meet little Luis– otherwise known as Puppydoc’s partner in crime. He was a regular visitor to the hospital, as his father had tuberculosis and was undergoing a long course of treatment. 

Since the hospital was a scary place for Luis, we always tried to make the visit pleasant for him. In short, what began as innocent playing quickly escalated to mischievousness as little Luis and Puppydoc discovered the treasure that was the hospital candy stash.

As you can imagine, the supply rapidly diminished into their tummies.

(But don’t worry; Puppydoc later replenished the stolen candy with a fresh stock of Dum Dums.)

😊

 bolivia-boy

A Lunch with a Gift.

I had lunch with a homeless man.

But not just any man. An elderly man, a former high school teacher…and a former patient of mine from a charity clinic where I used to work.

It happened as I was driving through downtown, stopped at a light beneath an overpass. Suddenly, I heard a familiar voice. 

“Hi Doc!”

Since we were both hungry, we did the natural thing: we went for lunch at a nearby cafe. Despite intrigued glances from others, we had a lovely lunch. Looking back, it may have been one of the most enjoyable lunches I’ve ever had.

A few days later, I was contacted by the clinic who informed me that I had received a letter from a patient. And here I will share it with you—in a form put into verse by me but which maintains its original wording:

Dear doc, you have been so kind to me.
Why, you even took me to lunch.
I wish I could give you something in return,
but I know I don’t have much.

So I write these simple words to you
in hope that on those days
that they’ll make you smile and give you strength
and peace in many ways.

You are a doctor to many,
but an angel you have been to me,
who encouraged, cared, and healed my pain,
and a light you made me see. 

I am sad that you are no longer my doc
but am glad that you are my friend.
And I hope we can keep in touch
until the very end. 

So why did I share this? Because I was “challenged” by Liz to give a gift to someone. But now I realize—I don’t think I succeeded in giving anything to anyone.

Rather, the gift was given to me

 

 

Tea Time!

• Vinto, Bolivia •

When Puppydoc wasn’t working, she would step right next door to her home…the hospital guesthouse.

There, waiting for her, would be the afternoon tea…fully prepared and served by her host sister, little Esterita…

esther.JPG

…and together, they would then chat about their busy day while they took their tea…with two lumps of sugar, of course.

😉

Meet Mayra.

mayra.jpg

• Vinto, Bolivia •

 One of our littler and bravest guests, I first met Mayra when she was admitted to the hospital with cerebral malaria (a severe form affecting the brain) a month prior. Few thought she was going to make it, but as one can see here…she absolutely did. 

From scared little girl to fearless survivor, she quickly became an inspiration to those caring for her. Bonding over children’s songs and Dum Dums (green apple was her favorite), our friendship grew, and she quickly became a ray of light in my day.

Here, she is pictured at one of her follow-up appointments with—what else—
—but a green apple Dum Dum. 

😀

Behind the Smile.

family

• Melchor de Mencos, Belize •

Meet the Aguado household. A place where love runs deep…simple are the joys…and wide are the smiles that shield the scars aching to heal beneath. 

Here we see one of the effects of inaccessible health care. Where fathers lose their lives to otherwise treatable diseases, leaving two mothers and seven children with little more than the lingering fragrance of memories.

Here we also see a strength undeniable. Where the youngest to the eldest come together to care for one another…encourage one another…support one another. 

And finally, we see ‘little Juan,’ whose palpable nonchalance tells you really all that you need to know:

He is now the man of the family. 

🙂

Meet Elise.

steth

• Belmopan, Belize •

Elise is no average girl. Brought to the children’s home at the age of five, she was a carer of two siblings through her nights on the streets, had always been a fighter and a leader, and is now a pattern for many at her home.

She also wants to be a doctor when she grows up and is already a highly skilled blood pressure taker.

😀

Public Health & Turkey Fun.

• Santa Elena, Belize •

One of our tasks was to visit the residents in Western Belize. While our purpose was to conduct epidemiologic study and to raise disease awareness, it was just a pleasure getting to know the community.

Also, we made sure to always take time to admire the pet turkeys. 

😀

Isolation.

tb
• Monteagudo, Bolivia •

This is where tuberculosis patients, including little Luis’ father, were kept, quarantined away from other patients. It is quite different from the standard isolation facilities seen at most hospitals today, but this is all they had, and they made the most of it.

Outside is where little Luis played while visiting the hospital. 

And Puppydoc did end up getting latent TB after caring for the patients, but she took medicine and is now all better. 

☺️

Conclusion.

orphanage

Quillacollo, Bolivia

Now that Gabriel, Juan, Angelica, and Alejandra
have been properly introduced,
it’s time to say goodbye. 

But I hope you won’t forget us,
nor the other kids at the children’s homes,

but that you will keep us in your thoughts and prayers
as we continue on this journey called life.

🙂

father1

La Paz, Bolivia

A moment between little Ester and her father.

The Hug.

Bitterness.
Each word, a slap.
Each consonant, piercing.
Bursting in like a winter’s storm,
you permeated into our lives.

We wanted to help you,
but we only came to fear you.
Many shook their heads in pity.
Some avoided you.
Others talked about you.

Contempt.
Each gesture, scornful.
Each insult, stinging.
My attempts to talk to you
only seemed to anger you more.

You terrified me. Yet I yearned.
To see. To know. To understand.

I knew you were frustrated.
Your disease, unforgiving.
Slowly devouring. 
I knew you were discouraged.
Your body, powerless.
Slowly succumbing.

But why wouldn’t you let us care for you?

Desperation.
Each day, the same.
Each encounter, fruitless.
You turned us away again and again. 
Until one day I confronted you. 
I asked you why.
And you told me.

I know you don’t really care. This is only your job. 

My job.

It all made sense.
The bitterness. The coldness. The distancing.
I understood.

Stepping forward,
leaving behind the pride, the decorum, 

my arms enclosed around you.
The fear escaping my racing heart
only after you made a move to wipe your eyes.

You then collapsed into me.
My shoulder, an insulation
to the sound of choked sobs.

You never said a word.
But in your cry I heard your anguish.
I heard desolation.
I heard relief.

Things were never the same after that.

Your bitterness was gone.
Your words, softer.
Your eyes, warmer.
You allowed us to care for you, 
remaining strong even
as your disease progressed.

Until one day, like winter’s snow, 
the seasons beckoned for you to leave.
But even then, as you faded away,
you reminded me of the day everything changed–

The day I gave you the hug. 

What the Stethoscope Hears.

What do I hear when I bring you to my ears?

What story does your body unveil?

I hear your heart,
the clap of each valve,
sloshes of vigor from lumen

to chamber to reveal
resilience and strength.

I hear your lungs,
the whisper of bronchi,
each crackle, each wheeze
unearthed with your breaths
to expose a hundred secrets.

I hear your bowels,
the timbre of that song,
divulging their activity
to massage a burden

through labyrinthine depths.

I hear your thyroid,
the swoosh of velocity,
fluid chased through vessels
to evoke visions of an
overzealous organ.

I hear your liver,
a resounding echo
against my fingers,

betraying your history
by disclosure of its girth.

So what do I hear when I bring you to my ears?

I hear the story that is your life.

The Patient.

I met you my intern year. I remember the first thing you said to me.

“I don’t care to be here.”

With a countenance creased from decades of hardship, a gait staggered from illness, eyes steeled by sufferings, your restrained presence betrayed a sheath impervious. I believed you previously had poor experiences in similar settings, because you told me so. I knew you didn’t trust me, because you told me so.

Our first few visits were stippled with formality. I posed questions; you answered. But they weren’t your answers, but perhaps words you knew I wanted to hear. I half expected you to stop coming. But you never did. Instead, you continued to sit there, guarded, a portrait of cordiality and cautiousness. 

And then one day it happened.

Your hard gaze glimmering with moisture, I saw your shell break. I then got to know you. Little by little, visit by visit. I learned of the pain you endure. I learned of your frustrations, your desperation…your despair. I learned of your deep heart. I learned many things. But most importantly, I learned who you were.

Months went by. Gradually a smile seeped through. Your eyes now shined as you shared with me the latest on your life. A life that I was lucky enough to now be a part of. But suddenly three years pass, and as my time with the clinic comes to an end, we now must part. On your last visit, I sense your frustration and anguish again, and I think I understand why. As you cry I reassure you that everything will be okay. But as I comfort you I am struck by a sudden surge of emotion, and I also struggle to keep my composure.

You see, through this experience, I have started to recognize what it is you were talking about. An understanding. A connection. Some may even say a friendship. Because even though you may not know this, I am now happier because you are happier. Because you are now healthier, more satisfied. Full of life. 

Now as we part I feel the tearing of a piece of my soul. As we hug one last time the goodbye is silent and understood. But then you pull back, look me in the eyes, and say simply, “Thank you for helping me live.”

As I hold back my own tears, I realize I am thinking the same thing.

Thank you for helping me live.

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: