~Major Migdalia Lavenbein, The Salvation Army Greater Philadelphia
Our third clinic day took us to an orphanage about an hour away in a village called Orfanatorio de San Rafael. The orphanage also served as the town’s local school. It was a day filled with mixed emotions. I found myself wanting to adopt all the children who were all in desperate need of someone to love them and who needed a place to call home.
Before patients are treated, the entire team gathers in the triage area in front of all the patients for last minute instructions. We then sing the doxology and pray. Usually this is done with the chatter of the locals. They probably all think we’re crazy! Today as we started there was the usual chatter from the children as well as the locals who had come to see the doctors, but as we finished singing you could hear a pin
drop. The people who had gathered together to come to see the doctors joined together in unity to pray with us and give thanks to one God.
The kids at the orphanage were so sweet. As we began setting up several kids came to the window of our room. I immediately went over and greeted them. I asked them their names, ages, what grade they were in school and if they were coming to see the doctor. They each proceeded to tell me their ailments along with funny antidotes which made me giggle. I was grateful that the team of doctors I’m with just went about setting up. To them there is no “I” in team. I love that I’m able to just carry on with this silly but yet valuable conversation with the children. When they leave I am glad to have spent the few minutes with them.
I turn my attention to helping the most demanding of all the doctors in the general medicine room. My doc, Dr Kevin, is needy! If at triage they forget someone’s weight… I have to go get a scale. If they forget a patient’s blood pressure, I have to run and get a blood pressure cuff. I have already started a list of all the things I need to bring for him for next year. All items must be purchased from Target. It seems to be his favorite place. In all seriousness the guy rocks and keeps me laughing all day long, but please don’t tell I said that. He already has an inflated ego 🙂
Just as we were preparing to see the first patients I see my friends are back at the window, waving me over. I go over and say hello and they ask me which “gringo” (meaning “white guy”) was the dentist. I told them that none of the doctors in this particular room was the dentist. “Too bad,” said one of the boys. “We wanted to come to your room.”
Everyone gets a form at triage with their name, age, weight and blood pressure. Also on that sheet the nurses will write down their chief complaints and any meds that they might be on. Let me just take a moment to say that this effort could not be done as effectively as it is without the incredible staff of dedicated nurses that we have. They hit it out of the park every single day. They see every patient. Hear every concern. They make the magic happen. I honestly wouldn’t want to even imagine this effort without them. They are the first sign of kindness and hope that the people see and they are the face of angels.
One of the boys from the orphanage just wanted to come through to get hugs. Hugs. That was all. Just hugs. I would bet every person’s paycheck reading this that he could have gone through a dozen times and we would have gladly hugged him each and every time!
As kids and adults alike come through the clinics we try to give them new shoes. This is really challenging because there is just not enough to go around. The teens from the local Salvation Army spend the week traveling with us. One of the jobs that they do is give out the new shoes. I know that sounds so simple and easy but let me explain this beautiful expression of love.
So many people walk barefoot, or with shoes that have broken soles. Their feet are filthy and sore and achy from walking with shoes that look like scraps. The teens tenderly wash their feet and then find them a pair of shoes.
Today as one of the kids was getting his shoes he recognized the person giving him his shoes from last year and told her “you gave me these last year” and lifted up the shoes he was currently wearing. We can’t even imagine that back home.
Our room is General Medicine. This room is all male doctors who have some of the biggest and kindest hearts. They also know discovered today that I am terrified of bugs. Why you ask? It involved a scorpion, a terrified me, some screaming and some amused guys. Now in our room we see everyone so it’s never dull. Every kid is deathly afraid of vaccines and they tend to start screaming as soon as they see the stethoscope. I’m not going to lie, it’s kind of funny. Dr. Kevin does all kinds of sweet talking with his fancy sticker collection which usually works. Some of the kids have very good lungs!
I have had the honor of occasionally translating for Dr. Cliff Raymond who is also in our room. He is such an impressive doctor. He’s kind and caring. He’s sensitive and listens intently to the needs of his patients. He’s efficient and very precise. He constantly looks to do the most for every patient that comes through.
Most of us in The Salvation Army are familiar with the Raymond name. This family is known for its service. Yet don’t assume that you know Dr Cliff. He is branching out and doing his thing to serve those in need. This fun, cleaver, witty doctor has a tender heart of gold.
Dr. Cliff attended Navy Medical School. He told me he wanted to do something different and he wanted to give back. He worked at Walter Reed Hospital where he treated our wounded veterans and says he had never worked so hard as he did there. “Working there gave me a whole different perspective on service and sacrifice.”
Today when I translated for him we had a family who all had the flu. The youngest, age 2, was dehydrated. This poor little guy was just miserable. He didn’t want anything to do with anything or anyone. When Dr. Cliff tried to examine him he was not trying to have it. Dr Cliff didn’t want to upset him further so he moved to mom. Dr. Cliff had me ask her a question but his attention was still on the child. As I was answering, Dr Cliff was drawing a smiley face and trying to make him smile but the little boy was just too sick to care. He could not move on until he had done the most for his little patient. He does this with all his patients and that’s what makes him awesome!
Today I also had the opportunity to watch him give a patient an injection in the knee for pain management. He is very kind when he explains what he is about to do in hopes of giving the patient some relief. We have seen a lot of people in so much pain, even children in pain. Life here is hard on the people of Honduras. Many look older then they are.
Being at the orphanage was hard. It seemed strange for children to come through without an adult caregiver. In fact it seemed wrong. At dinner we discussed the things that spoke to us. I sat silently as I listened to others. My eyes began to water as Dr Francisco spoke about the little boy who only wanted a hug. I wanted to hug my boys. I suddenly felt like I had been away from home for a very long time and I really really missed them. I wondered if I had truly loved them enough. If I loved well. Someone talked about how small some of the children were. Everyone seemed to have done encountered one elderly woman who seemed to be the ray of sunshine. Dr. Kevin treated her and she truly was the sweetest thing. I continued to sit there silently with my thoughts. Dr. Tom had a young teenage girl who came in with her young siblings. They had no parents. They were both dead. The younger children were in the orphanage but she was too old. She appeared to be too traumatized to even vocalize what she felt, what was wrong and how she felt.
That’s when it happened. I began to cry. I could no longer contain the sadness of the day.
Loneliness, pain and suffering are universal. It’s found everywhere. Stopping what you’re doing to engage in conversation with someone who you don’t even know can make a difference. Giving a hug to someone who has the courage to ask for a hug can make a lasting impact. We have to make time to pour ourselves into people’s lives. You could be the person someone has been waiting for to help turn their situation around. Be the light in someone’s dark world. Make a choice today to be the difference that someone needs.