Saturday, January 20, 2007

the good life

in the middle of clinic today i stood taking the blood pressure of a lady who complained of pain that shot down and up her arms, originating near her heart, and causing her hands to go numb. after ruling out anything cardiac, leslie asked her how many children she had, to which she answered 9. "then you have many clothes to wash, right?" leslie responded smiling, and the lady laughingly answered, "si, si... hay mucha." so leslie asked her if she had anyone to help her, but she said that her only grown children still living at home were boys, leaving her without help. so, leslie explained about the nerves that run up our arms and how our muscles will get tired from making this same motion everyday, etc. and then we gave her some ibuprofen and she smiled gratefully, thanked us, and went on her way. and i thought about this lady's life... had we been in the states, she would have bought a laundry machine or taken her clothes to the local laundromat; she would have considered having surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome; and she would have demanded something much stronger than ibuprofen for her pain... although it would have left her sleepy and unable to do the work she would need to to run her house daily and keep her 9 children going, causing another set of problems yet again. but, because washing machines are not even a thought in her head, because she does not know about carpal tunnel syndrome (or that we even have something called a carpal tunnel), and because ibuprofen was much better than what she had (which is nothing), this lady was grateful for what she was given and went back to focus on the things that her life requires. now, this is of course not to say that every patient -or maybe even half of them -are as grateful for the help we give, but it made me pause for a moment and think...

i have lived without a cell phone attached to my hip, without television, without a local grocery store, mall, movie theater, or restaurant, without paved roads, clocks (outside of our house and clinic), and my own car, and without a local hospital or medical options outside of basic medical care to refer people to or to run to myself whenever i want to for almost 6 months now. and yes, there are definitely days where i miss these things. but, today, as i pondered the life that most of our patients live, i also realized the price that comes with most of these things we in america consider necessary for life: relationships become confined to phones, answering machines and emails, "time-savers" end up taking more time to figure out and use than to actually do the action in the first place, entertainment ends up costing more than it is usually worth, time becomes something that we never have enough of, and we make medicine into a god that should fix us whenever we want.

and more than anything tangible or specific, there is a pressure that comes with this expectation that all of our wants and needs can and should be met. and even deeper, there seems to be a fear which we are always running from that these wants and needs and expectations will never be met.

and so i look back at these beautiful people - hands that are rough from planting corn, feet that are tough from walking barefoot on paths and dirt roads, shoulders that are sore from carrying babies and washing clothes by hand, clothes that have been worn days in a row for years and years... and then i remember that most of the time i need to let go of many of the expectations i have for my life on this earth. and that "the good life" is not defined by a life in which all of my needs are met... that even the good life involves frustration and tears and disappointment.

that sometimes we need to pause for a moment, take a deep breath, put a smile on our face, say a thank you to our Father for the good life we have been given, and go on our way. even in the midst of unmet needs....

even when we are walking away with ibuprofen when we should be getting surgery.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

savior of the world?

passion. this word has seemed to be an integral part of my family since the day i was born. it becomes most apparent to me in times like when i am sitting at one of my grandmother's full-blooded italian family reunions surrounded by loud, laughing, loving, always "right," yet always "ready to have fun" aunts, uncles, and cousins. and i see it in myself when i am telling someone about the starving children i met in africa or the experiences i have already had here, or talking with friends about our faith or what we think the church in america today should look like, or "discussing" with my father my political views and our responsibilities to the world around us... or playing the game in a pickle, as i have discovered the past two nights. and while these moments (except for when playing in a pickle) are born out of my desire to see all people live in love, grace, and freedom, it would not be unheard of for them to conclude with me crying and frustrated while making claims that are "slightly" lacking in logic, and my father terming me a "bleeding heart liberal." if you have not happened to be lucky enough to be a part of one of these times, any member of my family and close friends should be able to fill you in on the details... :)

and i think that passion is a good thing, a necessary thing in this life. these past couple months i have been reminded about the necessity to fight and to persevere, and i think that passion is part of the fuel that keeps us going during these times: passion for our God, passion for the people around us, passion for the life that God has placed in front of us to work out with His help; it is what keeps us in the "middle of the mess" when sometimes we would much rather just walk away.

but, it is interesting to me that sometimes the experiences that seem to bring about the most passion in our lives also seem to lead to our demise in the end. i do not think that i would have gone into nursing if i did not want to be helping people, but i have discovered that i often take this a step further and convince myself that i can not only help those around me, but actually go beyond that to save them. and it creeps up little by little, drawing from different pressures and insecurities in my life, until i find myself ranging between the guilty pressure of feeling like i should be saving the world and the prideful thoughts that i actually can save the world. and this prideful/pressured temptation of mine has had plenty of room to flourish as i have found myself in a foreign country, surrounded by needy people, without any of the normal crutches i use to fall on when the road gets rocky, and living in the midst of my passion to use my nursing to help those around me.

i have always tended to be one to passionately dive into the gray areas, coming to aid of the helpless and defending the defenseless. recently i have helped take care of a little girl that i now could say i would give my life for if i thought it would ease some of the pain in her eyes. and i have found myself battling the desire to never leave her bedside, to be there in the midst of her pain, in the midst of her life, in the midst of her dying. and i know that this is not a bad thing, but as i have had some time away from her these past few days, i have been confronted with the question of how much of my desire to be there is also about me: about me feeling like i actually can control the suffering of those around me? and more-so, the dying of those around me?

this morning, i hit my snooze button for about 45 minutes and then laid in bed for another 20, feeling little motivation to leave the protection from the world that my covers provided. i felt the weight of the questions this situation has brought on, and i felt myself somewhere between saying, "none of this is in my control, i just want to go back to sleep and forget about it all" and "i love this little girl, i must get up, fight for her life, and do everything i can to be there by her side." (i also had told myself that i would start running again in the mornings, although that has never seemed to be enough motivation in and of itself to entice me to get out of bed...) so, i found myself torn between these three options, and trying to somewhat open this conversation in my head up to God. and then it was like it suddenly became obvious; we must fight for those we love and for what we know is right, but we fight first in prayer, the place where these two extremes meet. so, i got out of bed, put on my skirt, tee-shirt, and tennis shoes and walked out the door, down the dirt road that runs behind the clinic, and into the mountains where i always seem to find the presence of God to be clearer. and as i walked, i surrendered my desire to be the savior of the situation and then fought for martina's life and death in prayer, giving it back to the only One who can save her.

and as i have started to relinquish my need to save the world to One who already has, i am finding that i must hold a little more loosely to the things of this world: martina, our patients, my family, my friends. and this is not easy for me... there is a reason that my father has termed me the bleeding heart liberal, and it is not because of a history of a tendency towards rationality over emotion :) i am learning that we all need an "aloneness" in ourselves, a place between just us and God, a place where these depths are worked out: where our pride is destroyed, where our hurts are healed, where our sorrow becomes joy, and where this passion then springs forth from. and this is not easy for me either, but i am learning that i must closely guard this place in my life.

and so, once again, i find myself placing everything back in the hands of my Father, remembering that this road is not easy, that i am still learning, and that the fight is much greater than we can fight alone. but that we have a Savior who has already won the battle, and we have each other to lean on as we continue to walk on.