Today I had the pleasure of seeing a woman that I met in December when she came in for an exam. She was very quiet, and I couldn’t quite place her accent at our first meeting. She had a sweet, round face with rounded cheeks, and a very large scar that started at her right eye, and extended toward her lip. I asked her where she was from, and she told me Sierra Leone. This was in the thick of Ebola terror, and my heart clicked a second before I asked her how long she had been in the country. She had been here for over 6 months, and wasn’t ill, thankfully.
She was homeless, living in a shelter, and as we talked more our conversation was very easy and kind. She seemed to be coping relatively well, despite living in shelter, and it being Winter. Homeless shelters close during the day for cleaning, so it can be very hard on those that live there when the weather is harsh. We finished the exam, and I gave her some recommendations to alleviate her complaint, and she left.
Today when she came in, she greeted me warmly and wished me a Happy New Year. It was quite unclear what her presenting issue was, what led her to be seen today in our clinic, but I was happy to see her again, and was eager to see how she was doing. She had had a GYN issue that wasn’t present at the moment, but also discussed her persistent low back pain, and stated that the medications prescribed by the internist weren’t helpful, and in fact, made her dizzy and dry – mouthed. We discussed alternatives, I showed her some gentle stretches, recommended that she keep up with her frequent walking to keep her active.
She didn’t seem to want to leave yet, and I didn’t have any more patients waiting, so we continued to talk. She showed me her hands, and her index finger which was bulging and crooked at the distal joint. She explained that when she was younger, she was cleaning a fish, a red snapper, and the bone sliced her finger wide open. It didn’t heal well, and the delayed surgical repair of the joint left it partially contracted.
“What happened there?” I asked, referring to her facial scar. It hadn’t healed well. It twisted and curved, at one point as wide as an inch. I was amazed that whatever caused it didn’t sacrifice her eye.
She fidgeted and looked down as she started to tell me that in 2009 it was an election year in Sierra Leone, and she was a supporter of the opponent running for parliament office. She was being threatened and chased by the opposing supporters, and was in a terrible car accident. Her husband died. I felt my eyes welling up, and looked down at the counter we sat at. I didn’t want to insult her with my tears, for fear she perceive them as pity. Or worse, distance us in this moment of recognized strength that somehow, she had survived and made it out of a tormented country in Africa, and was now here in the US. Homeless, yes… Widowed, yes. But alive. She was going to school to earn her GED, and working with a case worker for employment and housing.
Outside in the hall I heard my nurse call for me, I checked my laptop to see if my clinic schedule revealed a patient waiting, but there was none. She stood up then, and started to collect her things. “We’ve been in here long enough. You need to go.” she said, smiling. I told her that I was so happy to see her, and that if she needed anything, to come back and see me, or call.
As we left the room, my nurse poked her head out of an adjacent exam room, calling for me again. I escorted the patient toward the exit and we said our goodbyes, then went into the room. There I found my nurse and the 3 pediatric nurses smiling and laughing with one on the exam table, who is 20 weeks pregnant. They wanted me to do an abdominal ultrasound to see her baby. I cheerfully complied. There s/he was, wriggling and rolling, spine erect, heart fluttering away, fingers curled as it held the requisite fetal boxing stance. The gals cooed and aww’d as they tried to see if just maybe one could decipher the gender. The energy was giddy and warm, this was her first baby and we were all mothers, excited for her to be starting her journey into motherhood.
I was then struck with thunderclap awareness of the perpetuity of the life cycle; the world continues to spin, and lives wind and unravel. From childhood I have tried intensely to wrap my brain and heart around why some are born into such harsh conditions whereas some are born with gilded cloth. The only thing I’ve found as solace is to do my best to be of service to all who need what I can offer, to extend love, support and kindness to those I meet, and to live, to the best of my ability, in ardent recognition that moment to moment, we are gifted each breath. We are social creatures, and we need support and interaction to thrive, and the energy given amazingly reciprocates. To share space and commune with other women enlivens us and provides deep strength, and I am deeply thankful for the opportunity to do so.
In love and light-