Written by Jodi Grahl

Liminal space

Why does that term keep popping into my head?

Liminal space: that moment in time that marks a before and an after. When something deep is about to shift. Transform. Grow in a new direction. It’s impossible to know in which direction, and that is part of what makes it liminal space. Something is happening, and we can only open our hearts to its coming.  

That’s what I feel every time I head off on mission. The need to let go and let it happen was hammered home even harder than usual when, minutes before boarding our plane at O’Hare, the pilot walked up to the counter and announced that our plane was stuck in the repair shop and wouldn’t be ready until the next morning. Multiple phone calls and long lines later, the best we could get were tickets to try again the next day. It was as if we had been ordered back home to think it through. Are you ready for what’s coming?

When we landed in Cochabamba on Sunday early afternoon, 26 hours after our original ETA, we were ready. So were our local staff and medical partners at Viedma Hospital. There was barely time to shower and grab a quick salteña snack before heading to the hospital to reunite with our Bolivian surgical peers and meet our patients for the first time. The one missioner who had made it to Bolivia on schedule, Dr. Gay, had been at Viedma since 9 am discussing more than two dozen gall bladder, hernia and colon cases lined up for her three days of surgery there. She had also taken a first look at Dr. Malcolm’s cases which, as on previous occasions, included several patients in advanced stages of pancreatic, rectal, liver and other abdominal cancers. Dr. Malcolm and his team, including PA Stephanie Lindeman and anesthesiologists Dr. Kathryn Podgorny and Dr. Jennifer Garcia Wojtczak, stayed well into the evening to meet each patient and his or her family and discuss all the options with the Viedma doctors. For some, treatment options are slim, but each patient deserves the best chance we can provide.

As the sun set and rain clouds gathered, we were treated to a warm welcome and opening ritual up on the hotel roof. Our Executive Director, Ann Rhomberg, reminded us of our simultaneously humble and incalculably rich roles within the vast network of solidarity that our organization has become. As missioners, Viedma doctors, Bolivian staff and board huddled under a tiny wooden roof to escape the first rain drops, we could only laugh at our struggle to keep candles lit with the wind whipping up around us. It was the perfect metaphor for the week ahead. There may always be something threatening to snuff out our light, but there will also be someone beside us to pass along their flame. And if his or her flame blows out, we will do the same. And together, we will do everything to keep the flames alive for our dear patients, whose struggles just to make it to this week have been longer and more arduous than we can imagine.

May the after we are now entering be a space of light. An illuminated space. That’s what I’ll hold in my heart from here forward.

We have entered the illuminated space.


Jodi Grahl is the Director of Gynecology, General Surgery, and Pacemaker Programs at Solidarity Bridge. She is leading our 2017 Spring General Surgery Mission Trip, taking place from March 10 to 19. 

Throughout the year, our Bolivian partner surgeons perform gall bladder and hernia surgeries for impoverished patients identified through our Bolivian office in Cochabamba. Our mission teams deliver vital equipment and supplies and provide ongoing training to continue to advance skills in these procedures and expand competencies in these and other high-complexity surgeries such as megacolon and various oncological surgeries. Learn more about our General Surgery Program

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