Thanksgiving day marked one week since beginning my journey. I have had my ups and downs adjusting to the reality of being alone, and not having a place to call home. In my last blog I wrote about my struggle with explaining my goals to those who do not understand them. Instead of the typical Thanksgiving, I had the honor of spending the day with someone who shares my same values when it comes to quality and comfort at the end of life.
Dr. Canul is one of two physicians who runs Belize Hospice and Palliative Care. Along with Dr. Thompson, he provides free home-based services to patients who are near the end of life. Dr. Canul drives a beat up old Chevy SUV with a cracked windshield down bumpy gravel roads to get to any patient who may need him in and around Belize City.
He works under less than ideal conditions, but does not go home until he is certain that all of his patients’ needs are met. He says he can get off work whenever he wants, but he often continues until 8:00 or 9:00 at night, because he worries about their condition. The areas he addresses are similar to those of hospice in the United States; pain, comfort, wound care, emotional and spiritual distress. However, he is a one-man show with no other disciplines to help aside from volunteers.
There is no job too big or small for Dr. Canul. Need help moving? He does that too. He took apart a patient’s hospital bed, put it in his truck, and drove it to the patient’s new home at his sister’s house.
We also stopped to see a patient he had just seen the day before, because he was very near the end. He planned on going to the family meeting for this patient on Saturday, his day off.
All of us as healthcare workers are overburdened and underappreciated at times, but Dr. Canul doesn’t take on these responsibilities because he has to. He does it because he truly cares about his fellow human beings. He doesn’t complain, and is grateful to serve others.
The eight patients we saw varied from around thirty to seventy years old. Some had hope, and some were tearful and in pain. No matter the case, time was spent listening to each individual and helping them work through their stress. All were surrounded by loving supportive family, and all welcomed me into their homes not knowing who I was, or even having being told I was coming.
I am so thankful I had the opportunity to meet and learn from such inspirational individuals. I have reached a point in my life where there isn’t much in the realm of material goods I need to attain to be happy. I don’t need more money, a bigger house, or more degrees.
I have been so fortunate to be able to get an education, build good relationships, attain a career I find meaningful, and be awarded this scholarship. I have literally been able to do everything I had ever dreamed of, but never thought I could, as a depressed and struggling adolescent. Honestly, it is a bit unfair. I say these things not to brag, but to explain how it has been possible.
Though I have worked hard, I can assure you that most of my success is due to the good fortune of having been born into a society where I am valued. People of my race and gender are included, and I am allowed to participate in educational and professional pursuits of my choosing. Many of those in the countries I visit will never be allowed into mine. I have the luxury of living somewhere I feel safe, drinking clean water, eating healthy food, and marrying who I want.
These simple things we take for granted are not a reality for millions in our country, and across the globe. There are so many that work much harder than I do, yet will never be able to pursue their passions in the way that I have. It’s called privilege, and it’s a real and palpable phenomenon in our modern day world.
The only thing left for me to do is to give back in the only way I know how. There are so many causes I am passionate about, but making a difference in the way people grow old and die is number one. If I can make death a little more peaceful, and a little easier to handle for people of any background, it will be privilege well spent.
I am grateful for my health, my healing, my happiness, and my freedom. I am grateful for you, my family, friends, patients, and colleagues. I am grateful for the hope that my dreams will continue to become a reality, a hope I will try to never take for granted.