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Serving? Or, being served?

This past week one of the patient's I saw in clinic gave me pause. Our patient is a 46 year old gentleman with known HIV/AIDS as well as schizophrenia. He also has a history of diabetes. My first encounter with him several years ago occurred after he took his diabetes meds, neglected to eat, and was transported by private vehicle to our center unconscious with a blood glucose of 21mg/dL (i.e. alarmingly low).

When I saw our patient a couple of days ago in clinic, he was thankfully euglycemic and conscious. And, thankfully had been adherent to the medication regimen for his complex chronic conditions. His clinic visit was not motivated by an acute illness. His chief complaint could probably most succinctly be summarized as "unemployed and hungry." His state of physical health is not what gave me pause. Rather, what he did upon my entry into the exam room provoked an irrefutable pause.

When I opened the door to the exam room where our patient had been patiently waiting, he skipped the typical preamble of niceties and immediately dropped to his knees on the cold, hard tile floor. Now kneeling, with arms outstretched, he began to fervently pray... for me.

As an unapologetically faith-based organization, it is not uncommon for prayer to be a part of a typical clinic day. The usual directionality of such intercession is on behalf of patients suffering from various ills. The encounter described above, flipped that directionality in such a way as to properly reorient the doctor-patient, self-other, person-to-person relationship. Duality was erased. Unity and solidarity was embraced. We were both nourished.

We are in rural Guatemala running a non-profit health center in an effort to serve. But, are we serving? Or, being served? If we pause long enough to reflect, we are simultaneously serving and being served. The question of serving or being served presents a false dichotomy. It is both. Always. A more accurate assessment of our intentions would be to say we are seeking to live out lives of solidarity with our neighbors. When I think of solidarity, the quote that most often comes to mind is one from Henri Nouwen.

opening photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash


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