March 20, 2016

Philippines (Part 1): Feeling Uncomfortable

When you jump down from the jeepney and look around at all the faces lined up outside the hospital it can be a bit uncomfortable.  Many have shown up for you to take care of their needs and have most likely been there a while. Some of them in pain.  Many of them afraid.  Perhaps not all of them completely trusting.

The wait ahead for these people is lengthy to say the least. The line will just get progressively longer throughout the day.  I personally don't like to have people wait for me.  I'm impatient by nature and waiting for others at times sets me off.  So, for me, showing up to all those watchful eyes waiting in the hot sun for me to get myself in gear was unsettling.

However there's another underlying feeling.  I felt a bit like I was being observed.  Especially when awkwardly finding my footing climbing off the roof of the jeepney. It felt awkward, because I'm sure this kind of thing was as natural to them as a monkey jumping from tree to tree.  I did feel different.  Obviously I looked different.  My circumstances were... different to say the least.  The feeling of awkwardness melted away by day 3.  By that time I felt looked upon and welcomed with grateful smiles.

On the 3rd day I became more able to greet them one by one, looking in their eyes during that walk through the front doors. Before the last day I took it upon myself to boldly take a panoramic photo of the entire scene outside our clinic.  I slowly made a circle and photographed them all waiting in plastic chairs.  Waiting under plastic tents. Holding children on their hips.  Grasping their paperwork.  I'm not entirely sure they were completely aware of what I was doing.  A number of them could speak English and laughed when I proclaimed that I now had a photo of each and every one of them!  "I've got you all right here in my phone!" LOL they did.  If there's any culture of people who loves to laugh it's these people.

I have recently returned from a medical/dental mission trip to the Philippines.  One of the first things I learned is that there is no time for resting, and that you don't use two Ls when spelling the word Philippines.  Almost within the first minute that we rolled our suitcases into our rooms we were told to change and get ready to start working in the clinic.  This would not have been so hard if we hadn't been traveling for the last 17 hours to get there.  Funny but now I can't remember the tired feeling as much as I remember the faces in the waiting crowds.

When we arrived that first day we saw perhaps the largest crowd of the week.  We met with the man in charge and he choked up during his welcome speech.  We knew were in the right place.  Getting organized and ready to see people that day was probably the hardest thing we did all week.  Much of our equipment had not arrived yet, so we were reduced to working with 1 syringe to numb people up with.  We just wiped it down between patients. We saw 50 people that afternoon.

On day 2  I needed a distraction, (our scalers hadn't arrived still), so I grabbed a bag of  found toothbrushes and started teaching the kids in the crowd how to brush.  A translator soon found me, offering to carry my bag around while translating.  Being that close to the people I strangely felt like I should have worn different shoes.  My tennis shoes were florescent green and yellow and I felt like they made me stick out even more.  No one was mentally criticizing my footwear I'm certain.

Most of the kids were happy to get a toothbrush but some were too shy to interact with me.  Then I found one girl who was eager to learn what I had to say. This sweet girl wore a blue striped T shirt and I decided to teach her to floss as well.  Floss samples were not something we had for everyone, but I gave one to her. The thing that melted my heart about this girl was that she not only absorbed what I had to say,  but that she went and got friends that were willing to listen and brought them to me for instruction. That made my day!  I truly feel that cleaning someone's teeth is a good deed, extracting rotten teeth and avoiding infection is critical & making someone a partial denture is super!  But teaching a young child the value of putting bristles to gumline and flossing interproximally.... that is the best thing of all!  That prevents the need for everything else. The fact that I taught someone who wanted friends to know this great thing, made my dental hygienist heart swell.  It was a true highlight.

And another thing I learned that day was that people aren't so scary when you go out in the hot crowded hallway with them and start to teach their children.  I definitely felt the stares of welcome friendship and gratitude that afternoon.  I saw smiles and nods. It was not uncomfortable. It was not awkward. I found my footing in my loud green shoes.

When Igore (our philanthropist/organizer) came up to me that day and told me I should probably find a cooler place to work, I know he meant well and was encouraging me to pace myself.  But I couldn't think of a cooler place to be.



Our Jeepney (a multiple passenger vehicle)

My dental savvy friend, and my shoes : )

Adorable kids!!!


A comparably small crowd that morning




 

January 16, 2016

Missing Eric

Yesterday I realized that I am still mourning for the loss of my brother Eric. You don't realize how much you miss a person when they are not really a part of your everyday life.  We didn't live close enough to interact with regularity. Thus, my daily routine was not upset by his passing.  Yet there is still a hole left when I think about him.  Today marks 2 months since he was able to stop suffering and pass through the veil.

I realized this as I unexpectedly cried while I drove up my driveway and spied the pot of mums dead in the dead of winter.  Dead like my brother.  They were a gift this past October from a kind neighbor who had heard about the pain I was in over my brother's steady loss of health.  His days numbered on this earth motivated a visit home for me to see him and rub his feet one last time.  My friend and carpool buddy had been in the loop driving more for me in my absence.  The mums were an act of kindness during a hard time and now serve and a reminder of life missing where it once bloomed.

Today Eric's daughter will likely give birth to his first grandson.  I can imagine he is hanging around the hospital room whispering encouragement to his loved ones, saying "take good care of each other."  Life is amazing and hard.  It comes and goes with so much goodness and difficulty in-between.  I hope the new spirit entering that family will be just the healing balm they need to help them recover.

I have been swirling with memories of my young boys lately.  We unearthed some family home videos of our little boys.  So much happy crazy joy to behold on our 10 inch portable VCR.  One wishes you could go back through time and live one or two of those days again.  Baby Drew pretends to be a tiger from "our zoo." During a feeding session on his 3rd birthday, said tiger suddenly learns to feed himself picking up a slice of bread and carefully eating yet avoiding crust. Evan insists his name is Darth Vader and builds amazing Lego swords.  Nathan learns to write the number 5 (the trickiest number for him to learn) in "11 or so" tries.  Where did those years go?  I cry readily at the thought of their passing.  When things are taken from us we mourn their loss but we also neglect to feel the joy of the now due to our sadness!  LIFE!  EXPERIENCE!  PAIN! LOSS!  Why why why???

I know it will all make perfect sense one day, but a Mother's pain at the very thing we knew would happen (kids growing up and leaving us) is sometimes more than I can bear!  Yet what did I think would happen to them if I brought them to earth and kept feeding them?  Did I somehow not realize this was part of the deal?  Why do I take this so personally?  We want them to be good people and leave us right?  It's what is best!  I should be planning my fun times with Troy, we've only got 3 left at home and setting the table is so much simpler.  Vacations can happen with more ease and less hotel rooms right?  ...Right?  There has to be a bright side to this.  I struggle to be content with these perks. I want my little walkie talkie toting school walkers back!

Perhaps God wants us back with us too and that's why our time together is limited.  We will all be together in the end.  I'll hear my brother call me Kelly B or say "how's my beautiful sister?" once again. And I need to learn to enjoy my adult children more and not cling to the past.  It was lovely but it was also a trial in it's own way. Why don't we remember the hard stuff as much?  I just hope I didn't mess up too much.  I hope in our future we can remain connected and close.  That's why we really need a cabin or a boat right?  Maybe texting and Skype will be good for now. I wish I could Skype my brother.  What would he say to me?  I am sure it would be some sort of message love.  He'd tell me how great it is to be with your loved ones on earth and not to waste a single moment of it.

I love you Eric