On Monday morning, I was on my way. I flew direct from Houston to Roatan and then by taxi to the hotel arranged by Mary. I didn’t scuba because I was concerned about my health. Instead I took a glass-bottomed boat tour of the reef and spent the rest of my time lathered in sunscreen sitting on the beach people watching, or lounging in a deck chair beside the hotel pool. When I boarded the ferry for the mainland, I was ready for my assignment. Fortunately, the crossing was calm and although the crew handed out ‘barf bags’ even I didn’t need one. When I arrived in La Ceiba, a four-wheel drive vehicle from the clinic met me.
My ride was driven by Jim, one of the clinic physicians. He was accompanied by his wife. They explained that they were in La Ceiba on a monthly excursion to purchase groceries. They took me to their grocery store so that I could purchase necessities, including food for my visit as they informed me that I would be fending for myself during my stay in the clinic guest apartment.
Just outside La Ceiba, we came to an ad-hoc police check point with gun-totting, uniformed, youths inspecting traffic. Our truck was waved through without inspection. Jim’s wife explained that they believed that their pale gringo faces combined with the Red Cross on the cab doors gave them a pass. The episode made me anxious, I began to wonder why on earth I had taken this assignment. I leaned back in my seat. I wanted to disappear. From my back-seat vantage point I was able to peep out of my window to take in the evidence of poverty combined with majestic views of mountains, ocean and tropical greenery. By the time that the paved road gave way to a pot-holed dirt road, and we slowed to a bumpy crawl stopping to avoid the occasional group of cows on the road, I felt braver and began to converse with my hosts. We exchanged pleasantries about the weather, my trip, where we all grew up, what brought us all together, the clinic and its mission.
Our friendly banter, coupled with the absence of additional police check-points emboldened me to hazard a question,
“There is a rumor in the US about a gifted Healer at the clinic?” My comment got an instant reaction. Jim swerved and seemed to scowl while his wife laughed nervously. Her laugh was like a disdainful chortle. She turned and gave me an angry look,
“What do you mean?’ she paused and continued with raised voice, “A gifted Healer? It’s a clinic. Of course, there are healers ALL the doctors, Jim, my husband, included, are healers. They are ALL dedicated to their mission. ALL are gifted healers, spiritual and physical!” She then dismissed me by turning to face the front. I meekly recoiled in my seat. I had begun to realize that this assignment was going to be more difficult than I had expected. I shut my eyes and pretended to doze off.
When we arrived, Jim’s wife seemed to have forgotten her ire along the road. She showed me around, helped me get settled in the guest apartment. She concluded with an invitation to join their family for dinner. Half way through dinner an urgent request for a type AB negative blood donor came over the radio. It was Dr. Wendy Heath looking for a donor with this rare blood type for a child who had been hit by a motorcycle. Although I have AB negative blood, I kept quiet.
“Really,” I thought, “my health isn’t good. I’m too sick to give blood; anyway I’m sure someone else will step forward.”
Dr. Jim explained that the clinic had no blood bank, and that they relied upon themselves and their visitors to give blood when an inescapable life-threatening need arose. The call came again, Dr. Wendy’s voice was breaking. She asked if a Robert Wright had arrived as his profile indicated that he had AB negative blood. I sighed as if awakened from a deep sleep, my voice was urgent, my heart beating,
“Take me to the clinic. I’m AB negative; I’ll give blood to save this child!”
Hours later, I lay on my bed in my apartment. It had all been easy. I hadn’t experienced the dizziness I had expected; in fact, I felt better than I had felt in weeks. I even wondered whether those blood-letting quacks of the past might have known something overlooked by modern medicine.
I spent the next two days talking to staff, testing my Spanish talking to patients and discretely monitoring clinic activities. My only profound observation was that Dr. Wendy’s clinic always seemed fuller and more active than those of her colleagues.
I also witnessed a telling moment when a small Honduran child, possibly three-years old, pinched a finger in a door and began to cry. His wails were loud and urgent. His mother attempted to console him. Dr. Jim and Dr. Wendy passed by and when I inquired whether the finger might be broken Dr. Jim glanced down at the child and declared that the child was bending the finger and that this confirmed that it wasn’t broken. Dr. Wendy, however, knelt beside the little boy and took the finger in her hands. She gently wiggled it and spoke soothing words. The child stopped crying. Dr. Wendy gave the finger a kiss and she and Dr. Jim passed on.
“Perhaps,” I thought, “this is why her clinics are larger than the others. A simple explanation could be that she empathizes and takes longer than the other doctors to process her patients.”
Each evening a different staff member invited me to dinner. I was enjoying myself but knew that soon I would have to call Carl to give a report. I planned to do so after dinner at Dr. Wendy’s invitation. I’m not sure why I set this deadline except, maybe, because I already felt a special rapport with her and opportunistically hoped that she was the object of my search – the miraculous Honduran Healer.
to be continued