Sunday, August 1, 2010

Don't get hurt....

A few years ago I went on a trip to Hawaii, it was amazing (I mean, really, however cliched Hawaii is, how can it not be amazing???) Anyway, on this trip I ended up jumping off of a 35 foot cliff, which I thought would be a great way to overcome fears, and have an incredible Hawaii moment. What ended up happening though, was, me hitting the water in a sitting position, and spending the next 24 hours or so lying on my stomach and begging for someone to euthanize me, because I was sure that death was the only release from the suffering. What made the pain worse was the realization that it was a direct result of my stupidity. Who jumps off of a 35 foot cliff??? Granted everyone else had done it with no problem (if all your friends jumped off a cliff would you do that too!??!). This was a time in my life where I started realizing that maybe fear was a warning and instead of overcoming it, I should embrace the fear, so that I would never have to suffer like that again....Unfortunately I applied that to other areas in my life besides jumping off cliffs!

I have always been a bit emotionally reserved, walling off a portion of my heart, so that I wouldn't get hurt by people. At times this policy has served me well, but I'm not sure that it is the best way to experience life. When I went to Africa, I decided not to hold anything back in my relationships with people, I wanted to meet people where they were and accept them, and allow myself to love them without reservation. I decided that even though I only had 2 months I was going to open myself up, knowing that I was exposing myself to the pain that comes with separation. I definitely don't regret that decision. It was for sure one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and even though when I left it felt like physical pain, I don't look back on that time with sadness. Instead I feel like the love that I felt for the people there has multiplied, even though I miss them, when I look at pictures of them I mostly feel joy.
For a long time I felt like I had a finite amount of capacity to love in my heart, and that if I allowed myself to love and get hurt I would lose that love permanently. What I have learned is that pain can be valuable, even if you allow yourself to love and get hurt there are lessons to be learned. Pain, painful, but it doesn't have to last forever, and at the end of pain there are usually rewards.

So, besides overcoming the fear of the unknown, allowing myself to embrace adventures and take risks, I am allowing myself to break down that wall in my heart, in every area of my life, including my work. The thing is, I haven't ever heard anyone say they wished they had loved less, even the most painful situations in my life are things I've learned from. I think if the choice is between experiencing great joy with love and the risk of pain, or living safely embracing fear, and not experiencing pain, but missing out on that great joy, I would choose love. So, that's my goal...choose love without reservation. I have been warned by well meaning people not to get hurt, but pain is inevitable, and I think the pain of regret is the least rewarding. I hope that in 50 years I am warning young people not to hold back, to always choose love, to embrace pain and learn from it. I also hope 50 years from now I am still smokin' hot, and using a jet pack as my primary means of transportation :) I'll leave you with a pic of Grammie Bissell, who is most definitely still smokin' hot at 86!

Thursday, March 25, 2010


My natural instinct at times is to lie. My kindness, optimism, and general hopefulness can sometimes get in the way of the cold hard truth. There are times where lying is preferable, and I wouldn't dream of doing otherwise, such as when a large patient gets stuck on the commode, I will lie and say that this particular model is small, and lots of people get stuck in it.

Other times while lying may be more comfortable, it is also harmful. When a patient asks if they are going to get better and I know for sure they are not, or when a family member wants to know how long their loved one has to live. When people ask how God could allow this to happen to them. When they ask me if something is going to hurt, if they will have to dramatically change their lifestyle because of this illness. There could be the easy answer, that God has a plan for them, or that it will only hurt for a minute, but not only is that dishonest, these types of pat answers are trite, and diminish the scope of suffering.

How could I say to a child orphaned by AIDS that God has a plan which involved you not having a mother, in effect, God did this to you so that He could carry out some cosmic plan? How could I say to the patient that had to have their bowel removed and now must carry around their poop in a bag outside their bodies that their lifestyle will not dramatically change, that this will not in some way define them for the rest of their life?

I don't know what I believe about God and suffering, and in the long run I don't think it matters as long as I am trying to diminish that suffering no matter who caused it. That's the thing, though, its so much easier to give a pat answer to lie and say it will all be ok. People die, children die, mothers and fathers die, every single day, every day that I go to work I confront suffering. There are times when even the most happy meds I have in my arsenal will not diminish your pain, and you will be crying out saying that you would rather die than experience this for one more second.

There are times when the circumstances of your life are so ridiculous that the thought of God somehow orchestrating them is incredibly disheartening. Those are the times when words cannot help you, those are the times when I would like to lie and leave you clinging to false hope.

Instead I am silent, when I can only hold your hand, and the only words that mean anything, the only thing I can say that is not a lie is "I don't know why this is happening, but I will stay here, I will walk with you through this, if its happening to you its happening to me." I am trying to live a life of compassion, and most of the time its so hard, because being compassionate is not just words, its being there at those times when no action can be taken, its taking suffering upon yourself. I fail more than I succeed, and all I can do is keep trying to be there, alleviate suffering where I can, but where that is not possible, to just to be there, and hope that it is enough.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Village mamas

So, I know I've been remiss in my blog posting, and probably I've lost all my readers (all thirteen of them), but I've been thinking about Africa and missions lately, and I thought of a story that I would like to share with you.

In the Clau-Clau feeding scheme there was a group of ladies who were paid a small amount to help mama Bonkiwe prepare the meal for the children who came after school. They were, collectively, "the mamas", and I miss them. This photo at the top is one of them, serving the children.

One of my favorite memories of Africa, is sitting around in the afternoon with a group of the mamas, and some of the older girls who got out of school early and just chatting. It was so fun to ask them about what its like being a woman in South Africa, where they go to have their babies, and what they believe about women's health. I loved these ladies, and they loved me, when they wanted to talk about health stuff, they would always start the question by addressing me as "Doctor", which was a sign of their respect for me! This is one of the reasons I am continuing my education, because I am passionate about the health of women and children, and I believe that these women should have access to a practitioner who can appropriately diagnose and treat them!

The best thing about my trip to South Africa, without a doubt was the relationships I built with the people. I loved those times of sitting around in a circle of women whose lives were incredibly different than mine, and being able to count them as my friends.

Lately I've been so stressed out with my work, because the model of care in America is so different, its hard to get that relational aspect in a hospital setting, and there's just no time to sit and get to know where your patients are coming from. It can be very frustrating! There are always bright spots, though, patient's that are so grateful for the care they are receiving, and there are some perfect days, when the physicians, other nurses, and ancillary staff are on the same wavelength, and we actually are working together because we all care about the patients, those are the golden days, and they do happen!

Please stay tuned, because I have a feeling that there are some very exciting adventures ahead in my life, and I would love to share them with you! I promise I will keep blogging on a more regular basis!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

WIld things

So, I saw the Movie "Where the Wild Things Are" with Olivia yesterday, I liked it, it was a very sweet and fun movie. Definitely for those of us who loved to imagine and dream as kids.It reminded me of some "wild things" that I met in Africa. I don't know what it is about naughty children, but I find them to be a tiny bit more precious than the good ones. Don't get me wrong there's nothing better than a well mannered child (and I certainly was one), but there's just something about taming a "wild thing" that is special

It specifically reminded me of this wild thing. He's Mama Marie's baby from this post. (I wish I could take credit for this photo, but one of the women on the team took it, and its definitely my favorite picture from the trip!) I love this kid! He's definitely a mama's boy and until the last two weeks of my trip he could not be pried from his mother's arms without screaming like a banshee.

I developed a three pronged system to tame him, though. It involved feeding him various fruits like he was an Arabian sheik, then never standing still, keeping him in constant motion, and finally humming several classic rock songs in succession in a low and comforting tone.

The sweetest thing, though, is when a "wild thing" after all the wild struggling falls asleep in your arms, and even though this kids was hefty to begin with, and completely a dead weight when sleeping it was lovely to hold him and kiss his chubby cheeks, and enjoy his peaceful face while he was sleeping.

I don't really have any great spiritual truth or lesson learned from this, just that a wild thing tamed is a precious thing. Until they wake up, that is : ) Mama Marie actually asked me to take him back to America with me in a fit of exhaustion, I said no mostly because I don't think there are enough fruits and classic rock songs to keep this kid calm on a 16 hour flight!

Monday, September 28, 2009

My 16 year old pregnant girl

This is "my 16 year old pregnant girl" I love her. This girl is such a sweetie, she doesn't really speak any English, but she stole my heart. She told me through a translator that she didn't know who the father was, and later on it came out that her mother was making her go out and sell herself, and then taking all her money. makes me so sad. So, I gave her a supply of prenatal vitamins, but what I really want to give her is a sense of self worth. She has such a servant's heart, she doesn't go to school, but she helps Mama Bonkiwe (of the clau clau feeding scheme) with preparing food, and then she helps serve the food in the afternoons, she gets a little money from that, but her mother takes it all : ( It makes me mad, and it makes me really really sad.

My heart is especially tender towards pregnant people, I love the miracle of birth, and so many times in depressed areas the women and children are the ones who get neglected. Part of what I would like to do in the future is to train health advocates in prenatal care, and childbirth. Right now, though, at this very moment, I wish that I could take this girl home with me and spoil her, and let her know how special and lovely she is. I wish I could sit next to her again and tangibly remind her that she is beautiful and worthy of love, that she deserves more.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Back in the USA

So, I am back home, and still adjusting to living in the States. I miss all the kids. Alot. More than I thought I would. I miss the mamas. I miss this:

This was a favorite passtime of the kids in Clau Clau, me taking video of them being crazy and then they all gather around to watch it on my little camera screen. They all loved to be the one to press the "play" button.

This kid below in the blue shirt LOVES to take pictures with my camera! He did a good job too!
Here's a picture he took of me, which isn't particularly flattering, I don't think I'll every wear that sweatshirt again. So, this sounds super corny and sentimental, but when I look at this picture that this kid took of me, whose name I can't even pronounce, much less spell : ) I feel the love that he has for me. I don't even know why this kid loves me, but I know for sure that he does, and I don't know why this unflattering picture makes me feel so loved, maybe because when I handed him my camera that was the first picture he took, and kept taking pictures of me until I encouraged him to turn his attentions to the much more photogenic children and mamas.

All I know is this: those kids taught me so much about love, they also left me with alot of questions. Like why was I born in the States to two parents who love me and were able to protect me. Why have I been blessed with so much and these kids have so much to overcome. I've always felt like there is nothing I can't do, and these kids have no garuntees that they are even going to be able to make it to 4th grade, much less university. Those are questions, I'm sure, that have been asked before by people smarter than me, and I don't have any good answers. I know, though, that me feeling guilty won't solve anything, and help or "charity" given out of guilt rarely does anyone any good.

I'm not sure exactly what that will look like, but I have to believe that I've been given me these overwhelming opportunities, and blessings, and resources, so that I can make the lives of people who have been given nothing better. A lot of times people will say something to the effect that I am a special person to go and do things for other people, but you have to know that the rewards are so tangible and so ginormous, that there is no sacrifice involved for me, its not like I'm some Martyr or something (and HELLO I am enjoying all the first world comforts of America right at this very moment one of which being the iphone) This is definitely a passion, and I can't think of any other way that I'd rather be living. So, just know that I am nothing special, and I am blessed beyond what I could ever earn or deserve.
(I know this is a big relief, because you were totally thinking Michelle is Awesome and how can I devote more hours in my day to pondering her awesomeness ; )

If you are going to ponder anyone ponder Princess and her sister Bongi, who takes princesses bossing with grace and loveliness that I can only aspire to : ) Sorry this pic is so blurry, but I just love bongi's expression even though princess is hogging the shot, she's stealing the show : )

So, I have about a zillion photos and stories to tell, I hope that you will stay tuned because I am planning on keeping up with posting even after I've exhausted all my Africa adventures. I am definitely not ever going to stop having adventures, and I hope I will always be able to share them with you.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

This is a short one

Hey guys! The team is here and I don't have any time to post!!! Just wanted to let you know I'm not dead, and also I will be posting some AWESOME posts once I get home! Love you all, and see some of you soon!