As an 18-year-old student at the Institute for G.O.D. in 2006, I took Introduction to Primary Health Care from Robert Munoz and Celesta Bargatze. Rob has earned a Master’s in Public Health, and he’s been my instructor in numerous primary and public health courses. Celesta has become a Certified Professional Midwife, and she’s caught two of my babies. In 2010, during my last semester of the undergraduate program, Jaimee Arroyo taught the course to a new class of 18-year-olds. I sat in, both to assist her, and to learn how to teach. Jaimee has now become a Family Nurse Practitioner, I get to work in her practice, and she’s still teaching me every week. These faithful health care professionals have given me the invaluable resources of their knowledge, experience, and time. Most importantly, they’ve given of themselves. Their examples have inspired me to love health care and the opportunity I get to teach it.
Today, I’m teaching Introduction to Primary Health Care to yet another class of primarily 18-year-olds. I get to pass on to them the blessing I’ve received--not just the information, but also myself--my stories and experiences, why I care about health, and why I care about them. I get to show them Jesus’ concern for human health, not just offering them awareness, but the necessary steps toward able-ness. I tell students, “When you start with science and it runs out, you’ve met your end. But when you start with faith, anything is possible.” And faith is not just prayer, though it does require praying. It includes the action following the prayer, the preparedness and know-how to respond responsibly, and to find creative solutions when necessary. I love this part, the human, soul-connecting part.
When students realize how extraordinary the body is, all of its systems and intricate processes, and that every person, including themselves, consists of this elaborate network of cells and tissues and organs constantly working for them, it makes them want to take good care of their body. They’re not learning about something disconnected from them; it’s inside them! There’s a heart that’s been created just for them and it’s theirs and it wants nothing more than for them to stay alive and well. The same can be said for each part. Why participate in activities that make it work harder, that damage it, that indicate you’re not committed to that same goal? When we know the processes at work inside us, it should make us want to live more in support of it all. That’s what I want the students to feel.
Then there’s another, also soul-connecting part. After learning each system, the students do research papers on a particular disorder or disease related to that system. One of my favorite parts of this assignment is getting to draw out the connections between how the body works and the symptoms that result from having a particular disease. For example, one of my students recently studied polycythemia, an abnormal increase in red blood cell production. One of the symptoms of polycythemia is an enlarged spleen. Previous in the course, my students had learned that the spleen helps to filter blood, and considering the increase in blood cells, the spleen has to work harder than normal, causing it to enlarge. By knowing the functions of body structures, disease symptoms make sense, and the puzzle starts to come together.
What’s the soul-connection here? Realizing that on the other side of every symptom and disease is a person, and usually many persons. For most of the students, they choose which disease to study because they know someone who suffers from it. So now they not only understand the disease, but also how it affects people they care about--what symptoms they might have and why. Fathers, brothers, relatives, friends at home, friends abroad--all of these have been represented in students’ research this semester. It’s touched me to hear them share about these experiences.
Through our study of anatomy and physiology and the diseases that threaten both, students are making real connections--human connections. Quinn is the 16-year-old daughter of our East African cooperatives, Lawrence and Josephine Ssemakula. She suffers from sickle cell anemia. Brittan Botzum, one of the students, knew this about Quinn. Now she understands better the pain and vulnerability Quinn must deal with, and why she needs extra nutritional and medical care. Jesse Grooms knew his brother was born with a cleft palate. Now he knows the purpose of all those surgeries his brother endured. Jesse has newfound compassion for his brother, who faced such challenges, and also for his mother, who carried this burden. They, among others, have found themselves better connected to someone they care about.
During one class, after students presented on cleft palate, leukemia, and fibromyalgia, everyone was moved to pray for people suffering from all types of facial deformities, blood cancers, and muscular disorders. They shared not just the facts, but the stories that make the facts worth learning--the raw realities of having incurable conditions. We were all impacted by the challenging and painful experiences of both people they knew, and all the people represented by the statistics. Together we asked God to help us be part of solutions toward greater health rather than contributing to more deaths. God was near, he stirred in all of us, and it’ll be remembered.
I’m compelled to work toward health, to choose wellness and help those who lack it. It’s this impression that God’s left on my heart which motivates me to teach students what I have been taught. I’m inspired to follow my teachers’ steps, demonstrating both a knowledge of health care and God’s Word, so that people can experience the holistic care that they deserve.