THE ASCENT OF THE MORNING SUN signaled the start of the routine in the Missionaries of the Poor. Those children probably weren’t expecting visitors in white each day. They ate their breakfast of enriched porridge from plastic or tin dishes or they waited patiently in their cribs for the House Parents to feed them; either way, they carried on.
We arrived at around the ninth hour, together with our medical post-graduate intern, five rehabilitation interns and their field instructor. The instructor (she had the key) opened the prospective clinic, ushered us in; and we went through the rooms methodically, surveying which room felt more comfortable for consultations for a different flock of sick people, mostly the elderly and the very young. As the day wore on, patients slowly came in queues then dissipated in two’s or solitary shadows. In a couple hours, I got to talk to two or three patients about their medical condition(s). We shared a quick lunch with the interns, our faculty and clinic staff around a long table, small talk, and bits of information about our patients’ progress. Then we checked on—or more appropriately, played with—the children in their cribs or in a spacious hall.
That was to be our routine for a week: a total of four trips to the place.
My first encounter with the children of the House brimmed with mixed emotions. Because I came fresh from a dermatology rotation, Family and Community Medicine at first felt like an offshoot of Internal Medicine, because in the Philippine setting, basically, the only fine line demarcating the fields lies ultimately in the patient’s physician preference. So I was completely unprepared to deal with the pediatric population, or worse, developmental or congenital disorders.
The more time I spent with the children, I slowly understood the necessity of pathos to appreciate or highlight the blessings received by humanity. Every smile those children with Global Developmental Delay and Cerebral Palsy made was a manifestation that even such state of physical disequilibrium can be overcome by a far greater force. Each time that infant born without eyes squirmed, babbled and cooed was a manifestation of the optimism of man to see through and survive any kind of darkness. Every time a child poured a tablespoon of yak and rice gruel into his mouth was a display of victory over the struggles that define man’s journey on earth. The longer I stayed and played with them, the better I understood that another even more powerful language unlimited by syntax, vocabulary or diction, Love, ever truly exists.
Maybe this is probably why the Brothers of the Congregation chose to hang the proverb about seeding happiness into a world where there is such scarcity. For maybe to those people who’ve spent years of study, deciphering the elusive mechanisms that characterize the children’s illnesses, happiness has become a distant hope where an indefinite dark horizon spreads over the future of those little lambs. Despite everything, that hope however far continues to shine and illuminate the world, like millions of tiny stars sprinkled over the dome of the night sky. So that even for that little girl who may have never seen a ray of the Sun, perhaps that tiny light of hope that grows from the seeds of compassion is enough to erase all malignant doubts in her heart and enable a most genuine smile to grace her beautiful small face as she turned her head towards the sound of my voice.
“Hello there, little one,” I announced my presence. In a couple hours, I would reach out to enclose her little hands in mine again, and this time, to bid goodbye.
As a medical student, I worry about prognoses of the conditions I have witnessed. As a daughter, I worry about the future of the children and their biological families who may not have the courage yet to face the full magnitude of pain unconsciously inflicted upon those innocent souls. As a person, I worry about the uncertainty of men’s hearts and the frailty of the human body. And then I wonder, too, about the generosity in others, in the abundance that keep coming forth from nothing, like a spring of water emerging from a fault in our lands.
It’s incredible how those half-days stretched to seem like a fortnight of worry and wonder. At the fourth or fifth hour of the day, we return to our main affiliate hospital, our minds pregnant with worry and wonder, and our hearts with hope and compassion.
I have been to a number of immersions before, both in college and in medical school, and across the nation. I have tried my hand at political and economic approaches in community development. Most recently—just last school year, I have set my interests on public health and public policy in upgrading socioeconomic systems and the quality of life of the common Filipino. I have listened to those valiant youth and physician-leaders, who have chosen the mountains over hospitals, the marginalized sectors over the privileged urban districts. Yet in spite of everything, this experience with the Missionaries of the Poor remains a most strange encounter with the human and ethical practice of medicine.