More than Silver Linings

If I’ve learned anything in the DR, it’s how to stay positive – how to carry a mental divining rod that seeks out the silver linings tucked within dark clouds and how to celebrate minor victories in the face of great tragedies. However, this isn’t always easy. The DR’s immense geographical and cultural beauty is thrown into sharp relief by shadows of unemployment, racism, corruption, and illiteracy. If you let your guard down, you start to wonder whether the idea that any one of us can make a real change is egotistical and absurd. It’s a place where good intentions are often tempered by difficult realities. It’s a place that has made me understand the title of President Obama’s book, “The Audacity of Hope” on a visceral level – for holding out hope in the face of such challenges can seem like a proud act of defiance, bordering on hubris. However, for once, the first week of March was not about silver linings or small triumphs, but rather about clear-cut successes and great joys that showed me why we all have the right, and even the responsibility, to keep on hoping.

The week began with a reading of Luisa’s biopsy results. Luisa had been having extremely long, heavy periods and her doctor suspected cancer. While HHI was able to pay for Luisa’s biopsy, we did not have money for further follow-up care. I found myself lying awake at night pondering Luisa’s fate and the role that HHI would play in it. However, when Luisa’s biopsy results came in, a smile crossed the doctor’s face – he explained that her condition was benign and could easily be treated with medicines. Shortly thereafter, I received a phone call from a Canadian family on vacation to the DR who had seen one of our brochures and wanted to support HHI. They bought Luisa the medicines she needed and she is now recovering at home with her family and friends.

Wednesday brought more good news. Paola, a 33 year old mother of three, underwent a successful surgery to correct injuries that occurred when she was left in the hands of an unlicensed medical student during childbirth. For years, Paola struggled with scarring, chronic infections, and bladder prolapse. She was told by doctors that she would never fully recover. However, during HHI’s January medical service trip, Paola received a referral to see a gynecologist. She was taken to Clinica Buen Samaritano where Island Impact, another local NGO, was hosting a team of gynecological surgeons. HHI worked to get Paola pre-surgery labs and Island Impact provided her with surgery, free of charge. At home with her husband and children, Paola now smiles and says that she feels like the woman she used to be.

But perhaps Friday brought the best news of all. Since September, HHI had been working to get Soraida, a bright 20 year old, treatment for painful polypoid masses that had invaded her sinus cavities and the orbit behind her left eye. Many doctors speculated that the masses were cancerous, that Soraida’s condition would be inoperable, and that even with the best medical care, she would still likely face a poor outcome. Indeed Soraida had undergone countless lab tests and seen a surgical oncologist, a radiologist, a hematologist, a maxillofacial surgeon, an ophthalmologist, and two otolaryngologists before finding a surgeon that had both the equipment and skills necessary to remove the masses. Even then, the doctor was concerned that Soraida might lose her left eye. However, on Friday morning we learned that the surgery was successful and that Soraida’s vision was intact. Shortly thereafter, we celebrated the news that the masses were benign and that Soraida would not have to undergo chemotherapy as originally suspected – she had reached the end of her long journey, as healthy and as strong as before.

Soraida smiles with Meg after her successful surgery in Santiago.

Luisa, Paola, and Soraida remind me that even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges, it’s possible to rise above and beat the odds. They also remind me that while no one individual can create real change, together we can. The doctors who saw these three women during HHI’s medical service trip, the hospital administrators who gave us discounts on their care, the surgeons that provided them with expert treatment, the donors that bought their medications, and the community health workers who helped coordinate their care have all had the audacity to keep on hoping. They are inspirations and I will forever be grateful to them.

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3 Comments

  1. Wes
    Posted March 21, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Wow. Just wow. That is all.

  2. Liz
    Posted March 21, 2011 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    I’m loving the good news and positive reports. I know it can be discouraging when looking at the many things going against your work, but to these individual people – you have made their lives a million times better 😉

  3. rebecca hickey
    Posted March 23, 2011 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    This was a beautiful update, Nicole. Thank you for the work you do and sharing your joys with us. You are correct…these are “more than silver linings!”

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