Open to Encounter
Written by Catherine Flanagan
Our first day and a half in Bolivia has been full of activity. From our home base at the convent in Tarata, to a gracious welcoming party in Cochabamba, to the Municipal Hospital of Cliza, and visiting the homes of our patients, we have been welcomed and made to feel at home. As we get settled, and prepare for the medical part of our work to begin we’re also grateful for the moments of preparation focused on the personal and spiritual parts of this mission. We were invited here to share our skills and provide medical assistance, but we’re also invited to something deeper. Through our encounters with the lives of our patients, and those of our Bolivian colleagues, we are invited to be transformed ourselves.
We strive to be open to these transformative encounters. On our first day at the hospital, we were welcomed by the staff and administration. After a brief orientation we went to work setting up our clinics, while the surgeons reviewed the cases of the patients they will see in the coming days. Dr. Joe Sherman, serving as our trip chaplain, also visited with a number of the surgical patients.
Afterwards, he shared with our team that many of them are afraid, nervous about their upcoming operations. Some patients have also travelled long distances to be here, leaving home, family, and work behind.They are preoccupied about the responsibilities at home, and hope their families are well cared for in their absence. Marcela Canedo, Community Outreach Coordinator at Puente de Solidaridad encouraged us to open ourselves to mutual encounters with our patients, to walk together and share their fears as well as their happiness and hope.
While our team has spent significant time preparing for this trip, there is always more we will need to learn. To give us a better understanding of our patients’ lives and communities, our partners at Puente de Solidaridad arranged for us to visit the homes of some former patients. Traveling in small groups, we met with several patients and their families. The first was Sara, a former general surgery patient. She shared with us a bit about her medical journey, but her focus was mostly on her family and how her restored health meant that she could spend more time cooking and caring for her daughters. She even shared some of her delicious maize mote with us!
We also met three sisters whose lives have been greatly impacted by medical issues. Losing their mother at a young age to gallbladder cancer, each daughter has also required gallbladder surgery. Two of the women have already had operations through our year-round surgery program, and the third sister will undergo surgery during our mission this week. The opportunity for a healthier future fills them with hope. One sister has dreams of travelling to the US, while Elizabeth, who will be operated on this week, is simply looking forward to being well with her family here at home.
Elizabeth’s husband shared that after the surgery, putting this medical journey behind them, they hope that their home is filled with joy and peace. That is the prayer we have for Elizabeth and for all of our patients.
On Sunday evening, Fr. Bob celebrated mass for our team. As we shared the Eucharist, we prepared ourselves to share in the lives of our patients, to see and be seen, to heal and be healed, to give and to be gifted. We pray to enter into our patients' lives with deep openness, as together we hope to transform their experiences of pain and fear into ones of healing and hope.