The Lady from Afghanistan

When I was doing the first rotation at Coney Island Hospital, in Obstetrics residency training, I saw a woman in the clinic one day, swathed in drapery and veils, who was pregnant with her 5th child.  She was in her 8th month, and I was getting her first history and physical done, although there were no translators available, and it appeared that she had come to the hospital without a family member to help her with the language.  All we knew was that she was from Afghanistan, and had recently come to New York.  She knew I would be putting her up in stirrups, and doing a pap smear.  As I looked at her cervix, I was overwhelmed with worry, because I saw a cancer on the upper outer right cervical area, about an inch by a half-inch in size.  It was fungating and white, like a small piece of cauliflower, stuck on the cervix.  

I called the supervising doctor over to confirm what I was seeing, and then asked who we could get to translate for her.  There was no one who spoke her language.  Her baby was growing appropriately and the rest of her exam was normal.  I went through all the possible things I could think of, in trying to figure out how to get her to know and understand the seriousness of the situation, and that we thought the best thing to do would be to take the tissue out after she delivered the baby, but it meant she needed to come back to our hospital  when she was in labor, and where we would put all of this in the notes.   Since we did not have an early ultrasound, and I had held up my fingers to ask her how many months pregnant she thought she was, as I pointed to the swollen belly, we would not want to deliver her until she went into labor, trying to avoid an unnecessary premature delivery of the baby.  

Finally, I took her by the hand.  She could see by my face that I was very concerned for her, and that I had made a big deal talking about her with the attending doctor.  We went up to the postpartum floor, from the clinic.  I could not even tell her how to get there, so I took her there.   I asked the nurses if anyone who had had a baby in the past few days was from Afghanistan.  There was one woman, who was in the last room at the end of the hall.  I kept holding her hand, and walking her toward that room.  When we got there,  I asked the woman if she could speak some English.  She nodded.  I told her that this woman was from Afghanistan, and asked if she could understand her enough to communicate with her and translate for me.  

What joy it was, as they tentatively began to speak; and then faster and faster the flow of language between them went,  with laughter like cousins meeting by chance, like a fountain revving up to full glory!  YES, the mother with the newborn said, “ it is amazing, a miracle, I am from the same corner of the country and we speak the same language!” 

After a little getting to know each other, they looked at me.  I said that it was so important that we had found this woman, her new friend,  to translate; because there appeared to be a cancer on her cervix, which the doctors believe we should remove after the delivery of the baby.  She needed to know, to give consent, and that we can put this consent,  now, witnessed by her friend,  in her chart, so that if she delivers at a time there is no one to translate, the paper work would be done.  

It was done!   About a month  later, she delivered a healthy baby, and we were able to get the surgery done, and she was able to get the proper follow up.  She did not have complications. 

Lately, I have laughed to myself about the millions of times I wish I had kept notes, to be able to remember later, so many cases, so many miracles, and amazing wonders like waterfalls in those early years— too many, happening too fast to absorb them all.  Now I have the time to remember, but not that many cases have come up out of the mist for me.  This one did, for which I am grateful; and it was about Afghanistan, as we were ending the war there, and my thinking went back to what I have learned about the country, and its people.  

The need for care for women all over the world, and especially for the risk of cervical cancer, which at that time was still one of the highest causes of death of young women, remains one of the things I have carried with me, from the Peace Corps, until now.  

Wisdom

Wisdom

I am wise in the way I have grown old.  

At first, being retired was terrible, like having my hands cut off, or being a banana without a peel.

I have a skill that is still useful and vital, but now I am learning to let go, to let things flow through me, flow past me, flow through my fingers or my conscious thoughts, without grasping them.

I understand some important things about people:

Drives, needs, physiology, need for stability and need for growth.  

The need for support and the need for adventure.

I understand some of the weight of different social pressures, and the need for a livable pace.

Being able to balance doing and being matters to me. 

Never losing the prayerful center, the I/Thou is crucial.  

Holding heart and head in balance, even though often feeling only wobble, not steady state. 


St. Ignatius said we should try to always be in contemplation in action.  

I see medicine as service, rather than as a platform of authority.  I see we all need to continue to be useful as we are able. Every day is a new challenge in being useful in some way.

Writing my first letter

A visit with my grandmother

Writing My First Letter

Nana is dancing in the kitchen, frying weenies for dinner.    The weenies are sizzling in the black iron frying pan, with steam and stinging droplets of fat rising from it. She  is doing a little jig, and poking the weenies with a pancake turner.  I am standing in the doorway in my quilted robe and slippers, and just came from the hall which has the floor heater, standing over it and letting it blow warm air up my legs.  Sunlight pours from the window in the bathroom into the hall behind me, but the kitchen is in shadow, and is cooler.  The old black telephone is on the hall table, and if it rings, Nana will come to answer it.  Popie, my aunt, has gone to work at the high school, and we are at home this morning, just the two of us.  Later we may go to town.  I have come to spend a few days at my grandmother’s house.  

Nana came to get me, over the mountain from our house in Fillmore, to bring me to visit her and my aunt at the farm.  

She has me sit at the Mexican table in the breakfast room to write a letter to my parents.  She has bought me some wonderful stationery, with yellow ducks marching along the bottom of the page, and it has lines, so I can practice writing.  I copy the letters she shows me.  I ask her to help me compose this letter; 

“Dear Mommy and Daddy,” ( It takes an eternity and half a page to write that ).  “I am having fun with Nana”.   (This takes another half a page and a lot of time, but it is legible! ). “Love, Tina.”

Nana is going to take me with her later to the P.O. and she will address this first letter I have written, and put a stamp on it.  I feel so grown up, so wonderful, to be able to put words on paper, above that line of yellow ducks.

I am happy we are getting to eat weenie sandwiches for lunch.  I love them, half-charred, and covered with mustard.  My grandmother carefully cuts them vertically down the middle, and splays them so that the flat edges of the insides get braised in the frying pan.  She presses on the rounded outer sides of the twin halves with the pancake turner.  They want to curl up, but she keeps them flat.  

The bright yellow mustard is the same color as the yellow ducks on the child’s stationery with the wide lines.  We eat in the breakfast room, redolent of smoke and bright Mexican blue— the walls, the chairs and the table, although it is covered by a red tablecloth, and there are little red flowers painted on the cross-bars of the chair backs.  

My grandmother is laughing and cheerful, and the house is peaceful and warm.  Nana drove to Fillmore to get me, to bring me to her house.  I am not sure why my sister didn’t get to come too, but I am glad to be getting my grandmother’s full attention.  When Popie gets home, we will do something together, the 3 of us.  I am a very happy child.  Nana and I sing little songs, like “Twinkle, Twinkle little star.”  I can’t remember all the little songs, but I am familiar with them, and chime in when I can.  I love to hear my grandmother sing.  

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota by James Wright

The quiet and beauty are what we need to be able to heal. We are in existential dread with the sweltering heat, scared of a future of more climate change. I want to hear the cows on the hillside, and feel the air dancing the ginko leaves!

Heart Poems

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

Lying in a Hammock

When I first read Wright’s poem, enticed by the title, I came to the end and broke into smiles. I realize it may not strike you this way. Certainly that last line is an abrupt turn around from all the gorgeous pastoral images – butterfly, leaf, cowbells, sunlight, golden stones, a chicken hawk floats over. What does he mean?

I’m not going…

View original post 176 more words

The Divine Touch – A Sermon On Mark 5:21-43

This is a very beautiful meditation on the power of touch. It is a remedy for so much of the isolation we have been feeling!

Interrupting the Silence

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8, Year B – Mark 5:21-43

I’m usually the one that drives when my wife, Cyndy, and I go somewhere. If we’re going further than a few blocks I almost always roll up the sleeve of my right arm, lay my hand in her lap, and say, “Would you rub my little arm please?”

On the one hand it just feels good and I like it. On the other hand it’s about so much more. I want to be touched. I want to be seen, recognized. I want to be reminded that I am real and that I matter. I want to feel connected to someone and something beyond myself.

“Would you rub my little arm?” She’s heard it a million times. I don’t think I am the only one that asks that. I think all of us, in…

View original post 1,564 more words

So last night I watched the movie “The Social Dilemma” and came to the conclusion which I reached 50 years ago, that we have to “solve one damn problem after another” trying to make the world a better place, rather than trying to make money. If you were wondering about how you can make a difference, in trying to stop Nestle and other big companies from privatizing the water supply of the whole world, leaving millions of people to die of thirst, here is an answer: Charity: Water. Every penny goes to helping bring clean drinking water to small villages all over the world. They have a separate business for generating the plans, engineering, and support system, so that every donated penny goes to getting the water to the people. You can give $5 a month, or more. It is easy to do. I watched their ad, the night I was watching Midnight mass from the Vatican, and they are a total inspiration. I wrote a poem about it. “WATER FROM THE SPOUT” Little faces lit with joy, as they put their whole heads under the spigot, and their hands, eagerly cupped to catch the clean sparkling water as it pours generously, dancingly, a ribbon of miracles, continuously from the pipe.
 Water (the Health Inspector says:) So the baby will not get dysentery, so the mother can wash the clothes, so the children can go to school, and not be thirsty, Or nauseated, or anemic, because of amoebas and worms, because of this new spigot, because of the gift of the well, drilled by someone who wanted to be of service, to make a real difference: A miracle in the desert. Water They have seen only mud holes, wet by opaque brown water, glaucous as a cataract, full of bugs, where animals have washed, and drunk after walking through the dust, toward the pond which seemed a mirage, there are footprints all around the slimy rim. Dancing down the road, these strong children carried on their heads big oil drums and plastic containers full of contaminated water, for miles, their feet dusty and hardened by walking on the earth with bare feet, singing and flashing their smiles, on their daily walk from the mud puddles, back to their homes. Water. They laugh, they sing, watching the clear, clean water splashing from the pipe. The well is in the middle of the village, women come with their baskets. full of clean washed clothes, children play in the open air, their voices full of excitement and joy, their hands clapping and touching, clean hands and clean faces, bright smiles of happiness, Water!

Unless … – A Sermon On John 12:20-33

This is a beautiful and compelling reflection on the word “unless”. Where we put conditions and blocks to faith and to personally bending our will to try to do the will of the One who created us.

Interrupting the Silence

Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B – John 12:20-33

“Unless a grain of wheat ….”

Last week I spoke with you about the contradictions in our lives, the many ways in which we contradict ourselves through our thoughts, words, and actions. Today I want to talk with you about the conditionals in our lives, the “unlesses” with which we live. I don’t know if “unlesses” is a real word but I am using it as one today. It’s a noun and the plural of unless. 

We all have our “unlesses.” They are lenses through which we see. They are the restrictions, limitations, and conditions that shape and inform our relationships and understanding of each other, Jesus, and ourselves.

Let me give you some examples of the “unlesses” that I’ve either heard from others or lived with in…

View original post 1,147 more words

when we get through this Maya Stein

wonderful poem for coming out from under the pandemic, into Spring!

Heart Poems

When we get through this, I want us to set a table with all of the loaves of bread
we’d practiced in our quiet houses. I want us clutching fistfuls of the cilantro we coaxed
from our city windowsills, and I want the nascent musicians, the ones who learned
old songs on their new ukuleles, or warbled choruses on isolated balconies, to take
the stage together. I want all the knitted, crocheted, stitched, and mended things pooled
at our feet, warming our ankles. I want us to greet each other in unfamiliar languages,
to tell the stories of those who have been lost. I want us to look, in unison,
toward the world millions of miles and light-years away, to take in what is before us,
and beyond us. I want us to wake to the magnitude of our fortune against the smallness
of our time. And then I want…

View original post 279 more words

Prince Caspian

(Book 2 in the Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis)

The Chronicles of Narnia are some of my favorite books. (I also love the Oz books). I got the Prince Caspian second book, on audio, because of the headache I got from the vaccine, so I was delighted to have someone read to me. It turns out that the wonderful voice reading the story is Lynn Redgrave. I highly recommend all the books, but this is one of my favorites! I love Narnia, and I go back and read the books every few years, when I have forgotten the stories, but sort of remember the general gist. I had forgotten that the woods come to help fight the great battle against the Telmarines, and that the trees wade in the earth, as they come forward. Maybe this is a bit of extension of the metaphor from Shakespeare in Macbeth– “til Burnham woods do come to Dunsinane”. CS Lewis has a wonderful imagination, and I believe there is a deep consciousness of good and evil in the stories. I had not realized until reading the book “Becoming Mrs. Lewis” that he fought in WW1, in the Somme, at age 19. His experience of war and probably also of the despair and PTSD of being a soldier in that disastrous event shaped his whole later life. I think the story where Lucy is the only one who can SEE Aslan, because she happens to be the youngest, is poignant. AND I LOVE Trufflehunter, the badger, who says that the animals don’t change, they stay loyal and true. Where others can betray and switch sides because they seem to see a new advantage, he stays loyal and true all the way through. It is a great book!