By Roxanne C. Rabino, R.N., Missionary Nurse, Taytay, Palawan Project
It was a warm and lazy afternoon in the Academy. I was about to finish my class teaching Home Nursing to fourth year students, when a woman holding a single hibiscus flower peeked through the window. I thought that she was a parent visiting one of my students, but I was then told that our visitor was mentally challenged and was brought to our remote campus by her wandering mind and greasy feet. The class was dismissed shortly after the distinct and vibrant sound of the bell echoed the halls. While I was halfway to the cafeteria, where an adjacent room served as my quarters, I saw her from a distance dancing under the torrential downpour. Memories of my psychiatric nursing exposure flooded me, but I shrugged off the wild ideas forming in my head. Tired from the eventful day, I changed into my casual clothes and ate a bowl of corn kernels. Then again, my eyes caught her from afar sitting under a mango tree enjoying the same meal I was eating. Someone kind enough acted on the idea that she might need the food. The nagging thought that told me to approach her won’t keep still. So when I finished my meal, I asked Caleb, a working student, to go with me and approach the mad woman who will soon change a portion of my life forever. As we walked towards her direction, I tried to recall as fast my lessons on therapeutic communication and nurse-patient interaction. I never did thought that I could use it on the mission field but it proved me wrong. I breathed a prayer to heaven asking for courage, stillness, and compassion.
She doesn’t appear violent, though her eyes wander in all probable directions. I asked her if I could sit beside her, she answered me with a crisp “yes!”. I started to initiate a conversation while Caleb played his guitar nearby. The other worried-looking students stood in awe, if not amused.
“What is your name?” I inquired.
“ Divine.” She answered while staring into unknown space.
I couldn’t get her to look at me. I noted looseness of association, flight of ideas, disorientedness and all other signs that told me she had lost her grip of reality. She had an unruly, curly hair, drenched clothes, bloody shorts and a string of cloth tied around her waist. Upon further assessment, I realized she had boils just above her buttocks which caused the bleeding. From time to time, she would answer rationally that I was able to put the pieces of her story together. I just know that most of her coherent answers were true. A mad woman could never get as consistent as this one. I was enveloped by a certain degree of sadness, empathy and a sense of mission. The Holy Spirit works in a heart in ways that could catch us off guard sometimes.
Divine C.A. is 28 years old. She was the youngest among the 6 children. I’m not sure if she told me the truth when she stated that she graduated with a course of Computer Science Technology at a university in Puerto Princesa City. I don’t even know that such course existed. Minus the “technology” there at the end, possibly. Divine was married. She gave birth to a baby boy on May 9, 2011. A week after giving birth, she returned to work as a vendor to make ends meet. Since she has not recuperated fully, she started to get sick and her negative symptoms appeared. To make matters worse, her husband left her, bringing their only baby with him. This caused her depression and further decline of mental soundness.
In the middle of our conversation, it started to rain so we sought shelter from the girls’ dormitory. She looked uneasy and paranoid because of the staring crowd. I tried to get more information from her to make sure she knows her way home. The sun was already setting and the rain shower was no help. I informed the principal that she was still around. A student who knew where she lived was asked to inform Divine’s family so she could be fetched from the academy. I tended her oozing boil. I cleaned, medicated and dressed it to prevent further infection. I realized that the traditional cloth tied around her waist was to cinch her abdomen after birth. She was wearing it for 2 months post-partum! The cloth looked like a fertile breeding place for aerobic and anaerobic creatures alike. I discarded it and made her look a little more human. I could only wish I could make her smell half as bad.
7:00 PM- It was raining hard, she was still with me. My missionary partner, Hersheys, and I invited her to eat dinner with us at the cafeteria. When I told her to pray, she fervently bowed her head, folded her hands and closed her eyes. Her prayer was for a baby to be kept safe wherever he is and be protected from danger and sickness. I guess she did pray for her lost son. Even though she forgot to pray for the food, she never did forgot how it felt like to be a mother, always praying for the baby she held in her arms but for a moment.
9:00 PM-I was feeling really sleepy, but I couldn’t leave Divine alone. It’s almost 3 kilometers from their place to the academy. In the first place, FAA was situated far from the main road and transportation was never easy. One needs to own a motorcycle, a jeep, or in the least a carabao to get to the campus. The question of how she got here and who led her could only be answered by eternity. Meeting her never occurred to me, but God has a better Idea. That’s for sure.
We waited for the principal to come back from a meeting so we would know what to do. While waiting for the next move, we sang songs. I was amazed of how she could carry a tune even if the lyrics are merely neologisms. She told me her favorite song and sang quite well. Her eye to eye contact at this time was improving and I don’t need to reorient her moment by moment. I also saw a tear drop while someone sang a love song. I know “why” questions are untherapeutic but I couldn’t help but ask. She replied, “lungkot ako…(I’m sad)”. This led me to a greater understanding that even mentally ill people can generate feelings. They might not be able to comprehend but they are humane after all. I could only pray to God to ease her pain. She also verbalized she needed a friend. I made a silent promise to myself that while I am here, I will be the friend she needs. It’s not everyday that someone could actually build a bond with a person who created a world in her mind.
“What is my name?”
“Roxanne!” She replied in a childish voice.
“What is your name?”
…and my favorite part of our simple drill was her saying:
“Roxanne and Divine..FRIENDS!” with two fingers brought close to each other, intertwined.:)
It’s now past 10:00 PM- her relatives won’t come to fetch her. It was decided that kuya Tom,who will drive the motorcycle, and I would bring Divine home. The rain never stopped pouring. While the motorcycle was being prepared, She combed my hair with her fingers( She washed her hands this time, I made sure of that ^_^),killed the mosquitoes and insects that would touch my skin, and gently held my hand like they were the nicest pair she’d ever seen. I instructed her of the things she must do after she got home like to take a bath, change her clothes and brush her teeth. She nodded and repeated every instruction I gave her the same way I stated them. She was way way better than the first time I talked to her under the mango tree.
Divine closed her eyes when I invited her to pray for the last time. I offered a sincere prayer for her healing, peace of mind and recovery. When I opened my eyes, she smiled at me and said…”Alam mo ate, and ganda mo talaga…(You know sister, you are really beautiful)”. It was the purest and most unadulterated compliment I have ever received in my life. I believed her deeply in my soul and thank God for it was not me working. I am selfish in nature, tarnished with sin and only God can let beauty and love permeate from the heart.
On the way to her home, of which we have no specific idea where, I sang songs of Jesus’ love hoping that it could get through her in one way or another. She would just listen to me, sometimes glance back and smile, more often sing along with her make believe lyrics. Have I told you she held on to my hands like she was afraid that I’d fall off from the motorcycle?. She cared for me. I felt it. That was the only proof I need to know to say that she is not a hopeless case.
We stopped by a store to ask for directions when a man buying whiskey interrupted our conversation and volunteered to bring her home. He was in fact Divine’s brother-in- law who at the right moment walked the distance from their home to be there when we needed the directions. Our problem of finding their house was no problem at all. Divine was being searched for the whole day by her family but they never thought that she could reach as far as the academy. Her brother-in-law thanked us profusely and led her home with an umbrella over her head to keep the rain from soaking her even more. While walking away, her eyes lingered on my direction for far too long.
When I asked God to show me a lesson, He didn’t let a book fall upon me so I could read about it. Instead, He made his very creation walk and peek through my window with a red hibiscus on her hands.
When I was feeling lonely and homesick, He sent me someone to comb my hair with her fingers which is one thing I miss about my mother.
When I thought less of myself and felt like I’m not doing what I ought to do as a nurse, God reminded me that nursing is in the heart not in the hospital.
When I complained about the things I don’t have, He made me realize that I have my sanity.
When I felt I’m non-existent and so unsure, He sent someone who thinks my hands were perfect and that I am beautiful.
When I sing with inhibition and complain about the talents I should have had, God introduced to me dancing in the rain and the joy of singing with mismatched lyrics.
When the paranoia of Malaria kept on bugging me, the works of His hand came to remind me that He cares to kill every mosquito or insect that could hurt me.
When I am in doubt of why He placed me in this strange place too far from the comforts I’m used to, He lead someone to walk a little more than 3 kilometers to remind me that I am needed here to treat boils and sores, provide comfort and listening ears, and even teach a poor soul how to brush her teeth.
When I wonder how miracles happen, He showed me through a “Divine” encounter with an angel.