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International Competence and Compassion

It didn’t matter to me at all what accent carried the phrase to my ears, “Well, it looks like we got it all!” 

Some years ago, I traveled with a medical team to western China.  Our Chinese hosts took us to a number of urban hospitals in Gansu Province, a region just south of the Gobi Desert.  At one point, however, our hosts took us to a very rural outpost, to a small clinic with a small, but very dedicated staff of young medical technicians and one physician.  As we toured the small facility, one of the local elders engaged us in conversation (see the photo).  He expressed his delight that Westerners had traveled to his village to show an interest in what they were doing.  Through our translator, we had a delightful conversation with this very jovial man who said, “It’s so good to meet you and know that even though we look so different, we’re united by this one thing: we so desire to ease another person’s suffering.”

This local leader in a small rural village in Western China took great delight in the visit of our medical team from the United States.

In fact, you don’t have to leave UAB Hospital to know the truth of that elder’s remark.  Just read  the names and you travel the globe: Yang, Davuluri, Angarwal, Buczek, Jeyarajan, Salvador, Schneider, Jones.  The ancestors of those names send roots back into the history of every continent on the planet, the names of doctors and nurses that focused their attention on me long enough to bring me through a very tough and threatening time in my life.  And I’m struck with the fact that humanity’s capacity for incredible excellence and compassion  – the desire to ease another person’s suffering – is profoundly intercultural.

Indeed, UAB Medicine is a global crossroads, as so many academic medical centers around the world tend to be.  Whenever I sit in the atrium of the North Pavilion, I see plenty of folks whose ancestors, like mine, came here from Europe and we don’t wear any special clothing beyond the attire that identifies our hospital discipline.  But I’ll also see the turbans of Sikh men and the hijabs of Muslim women, along with the yarmulkes of Jewish men.  In this hospital, the faces, complexions, and statures of every ethnic group imaginable weave a mosaic of humanity with vast differences in cultural and religious practices. But whether they’re from the Indian subcontinent, the East African savannah, or the Australian Outback, they’re all united in the mission of medical excellence, of easing another’s suffering.

“My Medical Team” came in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and it all translated into healing.

Reality, you see, stubbornly levels the playing field.  It doesn’t matter if you’re Anglo or Latino, a necrotic adenopathy calls for a biopsy.  It doesn’t matter if your mom spoke Maori or your dad prays facing Mecca, a metastatic lymph node needs excision.  It doesn’t matter if you’re Protestant or Catholic, when you see the glowing spots on the PET scan, you take particular notice.  Left alone, a malignancy will eventually kill you, no matter what language you speak.  Certain things are true above, beyond, and deeper than cultural or religious practices and when I contemplate that, I know much more unites us than divides us.

That’s another lesson this experience with cancer has brought home to me.  Compassion, competence and caring define the best of what it means to be human.  It didn’t matter to me at all what accent carried the phrase to my ears, “Well, it looks like we got it all!”  Right away, it eased my suffering.

By Drexel Rayford

Drexel has been senior pastor of four churches in Kentucky and Virginia, a psychiatric ward chaplain, denominational bureaucrat, and an erstwhile indie singer/songwriter/story-teller and seeker of authentic human vocation. Currently, Drexel is working at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Medical Center in the capacity of The Support Team Network manager, a hospital-based community partnership aimed at nurturing healing communities for discharged patients. He loves kayaking, road cycling, hiking, and all kinds of photography, but he loves his wife Vicki and blended family of three adult children more. He holds a Ph.D. in the Psychology of Religion and a pastoral counseling certificate from the University of Louisville, Department of Psychiatry.

One reply on “International Competence and Compassion”

Sounds like your care givers were following the example of Our Lord, to live well and love others. We are singing His praises for your healing and kind, loving care. May He continue to hold you close as you continue to mend. Prayers continue for you and your care givers. Live, work, pray, praise and sing for Joy, Jean



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