Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Be Bold....Jacqui's story

with her son Eli's blessing, I publish Jacqui's story

Jan 1, 2014 at Haywood Regional Medical Center I was honored to meet this pleasant vibrant lady, bothered for a few months with a mild nagging cough. She was new to the mountains and her Drs told her she likely had some allergies. It was winter, right? How about diagnosis =bronchitis, antibiotics, home. Easy. Nothing more to do for many docs. Quick dispo, in and out. Have a nice life.

In this day of 'metrics' and nationwide hospital administrations judging us based on how quickly we see and 'move' patients, we are often criticized and financially penalized for spending too much time with our patients. Patients complain about long ER waits, which only serve to encourage administration to twist the screws tighter. It's a vicious cycle. 'Door to doc' times, 'Length of stay', get them in and out, move the meat. Metrics, metrics, metrics. It's a national epidemic and catch-22.
For Jacqui that day, I treated her as I would have had my mother treated. It's how I try to treat all my patients, though I am not perfect. I ordered a chest xray, completely expecting to find nothing, but at least give her the benefit of a doubt and peace of mind. It is easy enough. Next thing we know she is getting a CT chest and 3 days later a biopsy. Diagnosis; non smoker lung cancer.

Barely 15 months later, Jacqui's valiant battle with cancer was over. She was released from her pain this week and is with her God. Our God. Rest in peace, Jacqui.
I was blessed to be a part of her journey through her son's tremendous facebook page Love for Jacqui. Please visit this page to hear her inspirational story and struggle, to draw from her strength in life and her incredible faith. I will always remember the opportunity to visit her in hospice last month in Nashville and to pray with her. It is rare in the ER that we are able to see the results of what we do.
Thank you Jacqui for reminding me why we are physicians and humans. To my physician and nurse colleagues, remember that what you do MATTERS. It may give precious time to people. It is hard to keep up the vigilance in the midst of so much abuse of the ER, but you make a difference every day in peoples' lives. So when your bladder hurts, you are famished, monitors are beeping, the ambulances with emergent toenail pain patients never stop, consultants disrespect you, and when administration is complaining you didn't meet that 10 minute EKG deadline...keep holding the proverbial hand of those patients who truly need you and let the rest wait.

the Antioch Angel, a Christmas story

33 Antioch in Delaware was my home for 3 years, though the significance of that location only recently became apparent.  As is often the case, God shields his intent until or if it is necessary.

Biblically speaking, Antioch is where the first Gentile church was founded.  It was from there that St Paul started on his 3 missions.  It is no coincidence and does not go unnoticed this Christmas that in my 15 years since I was a resident of the small Delware community called Antioch Court, I have turned my life over to Christ.  Medical missions have been an integral part of my life since I departed my Antioch family, and I recently started a nonprofit to better serve those in need of medical assistance.  I am no Saint as was Paul.  Far from it, I am as fallible as the next and in constant need of forgiveness.  But this story is not about me, but how random acts of kindness serve the greater good.  One random act of kindness occurred during my time at Antioch and I share this Christmas story with you in hopes that you recognize that each and every deed will reverberate into the future of those you affect.

It was the summer of 1999 when my uHaul pulled up and my dog, Kiesha, jumped out unexpectedly in front of the townhome.  My new neighbor, Dream, immediately let me know that a poorly trained or loud pet would not be tolerated.  I apologized profusely and reprimanded my pet for starting things off on the wrong paw.  I am just happy the dog did not eat the oversized pink lace butterfly on her hedge.   I often wonder where Dream and her butterflies are.

I was a single and newly minted physician, starting my Emergency Medicine residency training.  This could also be described as 3 years of life-draining, soul-sucking agonizing torture.  Well documented in many current TV shows, I won't belabor the trials and tribulations of the Resident physician life.  Suffice it to say, it was not much of a life and the pay was just sufficient to cover the bills.

But I had an Antioch Angel.  For some reason, this unassuming neighbor at the end of the court decided to take me under her wing.  She was a bit older than my 34 years, and definitely wiser.  I distinctly remember her cozy home filled with antiques, dolls and adventures in taxidermy.  There was always something sumptuous on the stove, and if I was lucky [which was more often than not], I would get be treated to something other than free bagels from the drug company du'jour at the hospital.  If there were ever a weekend I had free from the ER, you could bet I was at my angel's garden repose drinking coffee and enjoying a pastry before going into a coma for as long as possible before the next 12 hour shift.  It was a small piece of heaven, away from the screams, death, blood, alarms, EMS calls, and drama that surrounds a major trauma center.

I did manage to escape for a month to do an Orthopedics rotation in Denver one December.  My angel of course kept an eye on my home.  In true angel fashion, when I pulled up from a 13+ hour cross country drive, there was a small blue and white crock pot with bubbly wonderfulness awaiting me.  It was a Christmas surprise to walk into a warm home with the smell of stew permeating the kitchen.  I kept that crock pot through 5 moves and 13 years and sadly retired it only when my boyfriend gave me a new one large enough to accommodate his larger appetite.  It doesn't seem to cook the tasty meals that came out of my angel's crock though.

The whirlwind of Residency ended with the dubious honor as being named Chief Resident about the same day my father was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer.  He was given 2 years and unfortunately fulfilled that destiny.  My weekends were no longer spent at that little piece of heaven at my Angel's garden.  They were spent driving 18 hours roundtrip to spend as much time possible with my father.  His one regret was always that he retired too late to ever do mission work.  It was then I promised to do it for him.  Now I do it for Him, through my nonprofit AiMIN [Aid for Medically Indigent].

Sadly, I lost track of many old friends over the next 13 years.  That was before facebook and the internet made this almost inexcusable.  I heard that tiny voice out of the blue a few weeks ago to look up my Antioch angel.  Miraculously she was on facebook, thank you Mark Zuckerberg.  We have barely had the time to reconnect when I noticed a post she had made, imploring help for her neighbor who was to be evicted on Christmas day.  Who else but the Antioch angel would start such a campaign?  I understand business, having been a landlord, but this was disgraceful.  Our Lord Jesus Christ was homeless on Christmas, have we not come any further along than this?

I was blessed to have an angel through some difficult times.  Now there was someone else in my old 'hood who was having harder times than I can ever imagine.   The next voice I heard was 'pay it forward'. Without the Lord's numerous blessings, my angel's support, as well as the incredible support of my family from afar, I would not be where I am today.  Through AiMIN's Christmas Pay-it-Forward gift, we were able to give Mrs Marshall the Christmas present that our Lord never received....her home.   Welcome back home, Mrs Marshall. May you be blessed in the New Year with a full recovery and a landlord with a more compassionate heart.

And to my Antioch Angel, you know who you are.  Thank you for all the random acts of kindness you do...they have multiplied beyond what you can imagine.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Doctor Rita

Clearing the morning fog

'Docto-rita' they were whispering to themselves as I tried to clear my mind's early morning fog with the last cup of palatable coffee I would enjoy.  When the mission first started I chuckled briefly as they were calling me "Rita" when my name was Lisa.  I have never been one to demand to be referred to as "Dr Flora".  That is my dad's name.  But they were just calling me the diminuitively respectful 'little Doctor'.  I was not offended, afterall I was a relatively young female physician in an austere environment of tribal Indians and rough loggers on the Amazon.  We were now enough days into the trip that I sensed unease as the Peruvian assistants scurried about their morning tasks, avoiding direct eye contact.
We were on a 14 day mission, launching out of Puerto Maldonado, Peru, to journey by canoe up the Amazon for several days to reach the Machigengua Indians.  They are a protected tribe to whom Peruvians, much less foreigners are rarely allowed access.  It poses a uniqutely fascinating medical potential to visit peoples untouched by the vast array of disease encountered in other regions.  But that's an other blog.  This mission was not only unique in the opportunity to treat and evangelize to an isolated group of Indians, but also in that we had to bring all our own food and housing, along with medical supplies, as we were camping on the banks of the Amazon each night.
The daily grind of setting clinic up on muddy banks
The routine was to tie up the canoe on the bank, allowing enough rope for the nocturnal rise of the Amazon that happened predictably in that time of the year, despite the overall seasonal recession of water.  We then hiked up the steep muddy embankment and camped high, with only enough of our personal effects to get us through the night:  2 meals, water, a change of clothing, and a toothbrush.  In my case, I felt compelled to include my passport in that small backpack on this day.  Did I really think it was at risk of being stolen?  I shrugged and stuffed it in.  You never know.
The last I saw of my luggage

We had our clinic but very little evangelizing.  Part of the agreement to reach these peoples were that we could only introduce Christ if we were invited into their homes.  That happened rarely.  
While we were busily attending to the villagers, our team leaders were meeting with tribal leaders.  This day in particular, it was apparent their wants were not for foreigners with foreign concoctions to ease their ailments.  They didn't want to hear about our Saviour.  They simply wanted mosquito netting.  And a lot of it.  It should have come as no surprise as the first day we had to arrange for emergent transport of an infant who potentially had malaria.  That night we had a special prayer session, asking God to help us find a way to supply these people with what they desired.  We went to sleep, realizing the next day we would be gone and most of us would never learn of the outcome of our prayerful intercession.

As I was one of the few who spoke Spanish, the local assistants finally had to make known their whispers to me so I could inform our team leader.  In my decaffeinated state I looked quizzically as I asked them 'What do you mean my luggage is lost?'.  'Doctorita', they informed me 'the water did not rise, but it fell and the canoe capsized.  Your luggage was on the top and it tumbled into the Amazon.'  I asked in disbelief, 'Let me get this straight, my plane tickets, $600 cash, my DVD player, my books, my clothing and my food...all gone?' I didn't need an answer.
The rest of the trip I would become completely reliant on my teammates for all my personal needs.  They shared food without question and ultimately donated monies so I could get home.  By the grace of God I had my passport and was relieved for that small miracle.  Of all the whispers I heard in those 24 hours, that was the one that made it through my admittedly thick skull.
We continued on, though I spent a sullen morning, admittedly irritated that the local boat captain had failed to realize 'Yomibato' translated into essentially 'the place where the Amazon doesn't rise at night'.  Duh.
Dr Glen Shepard, Ethnobotanist

We happened to pass Dr Glenn Shepard, an medical anthropologist and ethnobotanist, on the river the next day.  He is an expert on the Matsigneka tribe, having lived and studied their lives for years.  I told him jokingly to let me know if my luggage ever washed ashore.  Surprisingly he said he would spread the word and was fairly certain that when the Amazon receeded a bit more, they would be luggage diving once they learned what was in it.  Right.  Amongst piranhas, caiman crocodiles and who knows what else.  Glenn, if you are out there, you were right.
Several months later, at my doorstep in California was a beat up, muddy black suitcase.  There were some zippered compartments and dirty documents inside.  I heard they burned my clothing.  I never heard what happened to the $600 but I have a pretty good idea that our intercessions to God had been answered.