Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Look at her face

Tomorrow is my last day with students. There is other work to do, evaluations, clearing out my office, graduation ceremonies, etc., but tomorrow is it for a large part of my life's work. I'm still in kind of a daze at (for me) the momentousness of it all. I don't seem to be able to get very far with my thoughts about the past or present or future. The last time I looked at the clock last night it was 2:30am. The students had a wonderful lunch today - and included the promotoras and several of my community health friends. This evening I'm thinking about some of the people my students and I and others (especially Leslie) have been with over the years ...

Pheap T. - We took care of her for several years while she died of cancer and alcohol. I remember a student kneeling, praying beside the dirty little couch Mrs. T. stayed on - it was the only time anyone really touched her that I knew of. Photo - Outreach with Cambodian refugees
Tresia B. - When we turned her over the first time 100s of little roaches scattered from beneath her great bulk. She had the most amazing candida infection I've ever seen on anyone without HIV. She died from cancer, followed very shortly by ...
Nicholas E., the man who lived with Ms. B. He and I used to sit at the coffee table in their apartment while the students did what they were doing with Ms. B. Alison helped - like an angel.
The old Vietnamese/Chinese couple who fixed me cafe sua da every week. My friend Jay would come over and we would sit in the doorway of their little apartment in the back of 4400 San Jacinto, drinking the sweet strong coffee and watching the always happening parking lot - people walking through, children playing. When they moved to Cali they had us over for a huge lunch. We'd never done a single thing for them.
The little girl with the big nevus on her face who we got into Children's for plastic surgery - whose mother had this tiny little store in her apartment where she sold soft drinks, cigarettes and candy to people in the neighborhood. One day the girl and her mom were getting into my truck and she said, "My mother says that man over there has a gun." He was walking toward us and I was pulling the mom into the truck driving backwards through the apartment parking lot (1418 Annex) and over curbs. 30 minutes later the man and his partner were in a shoot-out with the police on Central Expressway.
Rith S. R. and Yan S. - Yan was about 4'8" tall - Leslie got her a job at a hospital - she looked so great standing next to her 6'6" supervisor. Later their lives were unbearably sad. We still talk every Christmas.
Tep K.S. - who Leslie did so much for as he died - when I took him to the hospital the last time - where he died in the hallway, I asked him if he wanted a stick of gum and he just shook his head. His wife and daughter sometimes bring us curry, still.
The man who died in his sleep and was kept for autopsy while his children went to another satte. His daughter would sometimes run naked and baying through the streets. Leslie was always the one taking care of her. Leslie was the only person at his funeral - you could do a lot worse than that!

The Vietnamese woman who had been a prostitute long ago and the student with her at Parkland going head to head with a doctor who wanted the woman to sign an (uninformed) consent for cancer treatment. The doctor called me to report the student and I was saying, "Uh-huh."
The girl the students and I sprang from her apartment prison - the students distracting the mother-in-law while the 16 year old girl tossed her possessions in 2 black garbage bags out of the 2nd story apartment window to me standing below. Then the students and the girl walked out past the m-i-l.
The Cambodian family that fixed a wonderful lunch for the students and I. Such a nice lady.
Lay Rith, beautiful beyond measure, taking us in as we took her in. I visited her and her husband in Long Beach - gunshots in the background, one of her boys showing me his pogs. Her beautiful daughter Re already a gangster. Photo: In the waiting room
The two teen girls the students found living together in an apartment with no furniture - just a couple of blankets on the floor, on the run from their molesting "father." One of the girls ended up in prison, the other still comes in to the clinic.
The two people we made suicide contracts with last week.
The 1000s of people who have a place to go for healthcare, thanks to Bobbie, Leslie, me, others. And the 1000s who were cared for at the East Dallas Health Coalition, thanks to Syl, Pauline, me, others.
The boys who were being molested and told Alison's friend, Sandy. They called on Leslie, who made everything else happen and the guy went to prison for life and Leslie and Alison were there when he was sentenced - gonna follow your casket down in the pale afternoon.
The girls Martin and I were talking to one day and the next day their father called me, crying - one had drowned and the other barely lived. Martin and his colleagues did the funeral.
The woman who was a terminal alcoholic who said to me one day in her cracked, quavering voice, "Help me mister." I said, "____, there's nothing I can do to help you if you won't stop drinking." She died that night - there was blood on the walls outside her apartment. The minister didn't show at her funeral, so two Mormon missionaries and I did the service.
Guadalupe S., taken care of by everyone. She lived in about the most run-down house in East Dallas. Leslie was there one morning and her husband was sitting beside the house having a beer and jalepeño taco (nothing but jalepeño on that taco) for breakfast.
The Dalai Lama was in Dallas and we managed to get him to Grace Church to meet with the Cambodians. This was about 1983. After his homily there were about 30 people around him and I was standing on the periphery. He had never seen me before and there was nobody there to tell him what I was doing. He reached through the people around him and took my hands like in a prayer, giving me a blessing, saying, "Keep doing this work." Photo: Something beautiful for God
The Mexican woman with rheumatoid arthritis - Leslie went with her to the doctor who said, he didn't think she was having much pain. Leslie said look at her face - tears running down ... Look at Her Face.
The young Muslim woman dying from breast cancer, taken care of by my students Megan and Stephanie (who taught us all about spiritual care), by Leslie, and by Diane - not to mention a Jewish oncologist and the Jewish dentist Leslie found who did the work free, then a Muslim women's association stepped in and paid for some of the dental work. Meanwhile her brother descended into complete insanity and the psychiatrist said, "I don't understand why you people are calling me."

Each one of these little stories is a lot longer. It just goes on and on and on.

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