A Blessing in Disguise

Lynda Mintz, RM in Brockville, shares her story in which a host requested a relocation of her student, but changed her mind after a visit to the hospital with her. The simple  act of “listening curiously” helped them forge a new beginning to their otherwise tense relationship.

Maria” arrived in homestay in August, and since then had presented herself as quite the challenge for her homestay, “Carol”, to deal with. Maria had particular requests and demands of Carol, from refusing to eat certain foods based on colour, to doing activities she is not allowed to participate in, and generally showed a lack of interest in engaging with her host and daily homestay life.  So, in early January, the host requested that the student be moved, and I explained that we would work on trying to improve the situation first before relocating her.

Towards the end of February during one of my school visits, Maria came to see me. She said she had a lot of pain in her lower abdomen. Given the various challenges we had already faced with her, I wondered if she was trying trying to seek more attention. Nevertheless, I followed protocol and took her to the ER immediately to ensure she was checked appropriately. I called Carol, who fortunately also works in the hospital in a surgical capacity. I stayed with Maria for a few hours until Carol was able to join us, and she took over until they were seen in the ER. During the several hours waiting in the ER, they spent a lot of time talking and getting to know each other better and the host discovered much more about the student’s background.  After the tests were completed, the ER staff said they couldn’t find any cause for concern, and sent Maria home that night recommending Tylenol and/or Advil for any pain.

The next morning, I received a message from Maria explaining that her pain was worse and she couldn’t go to school. I told her she needed to go back to the hospital right away. She took a taxi there and I met her at the hospital around 8am. I noted the student’s willingness to go to the hospital on a Friday morning, and wondered if she was trying to get out of school…

Maria and I spent that whole day together, and it gave me a chance to speak to her about a lot of subjects, particularly her family and her personal medical background.  Carol was also working at the hospital, and was able to check in with us during her breaks. Meanwhile, I asked Maria general questions about whether this had ever happened before to her and so on as we waited to hear the doctor’s assessment. Time was passing slowly, so I tried to make things more interesting for her and started to check out different medical instruments in the room and in the drawers. I asked her to guess what these instruments were. Surprisingly, she knew what most of them were, and was even able to tell me how they worked!

This was a defining “Ah Ha” moment for me.

It prompted me to ask more specific questions. The obvious question being:

How do you know so much about all the instruments in the hospital?”

This led to more questions such as “What were you in hospital for and how often?”

I responded with empathetic comments like, “that must have been so difficult for you and your family” which helped her to open up about her family as well.  I asked her more questions around the areas she was willing to share and really just listened to her tell her story. As I heard more about her background, I realized that her medical issues have been ongoing since she was a child and her family life was difficult.

Soon after, the doctor informed us that they would need to do an ultrasound and a CT scan to rule out appendicitis. When the student informed her mother (by text) that she may need surgery, her mother’s response was “ok.’   That was it.   There was no phone call that followed, nor any additional questions by text.  This was a heart breaking yet another eye opening moment for me. I knew then that we needed to let Maria know we were there for her, that she was not alone and we cared for her.

Up until this point, I had focused on “collaborating optimistically” and “growing courageously” by encouraging her to make more of an effort with her host – to communicate what food she likes to eat, cooking something together, offering to help set the table, watch a TV program or sharing her interests and background with the host, none of which she had done so far.

Now I realized that what she really needed was to feel secure and cared for, and my values approach focussed on “listening curiously and giving wholeheartedly”

When Maria went for the CT scan, her host Carol came down to check in with us. She and I discussed what we had learned about Maria and recognized that she needed love, care and kindness. Carol waited until Maria came back from her scan and we let her know that we would be there with her the whole time, and if she needed surgery, we would stay at the hospital through her surgery and recovery. Something seemed to change in Maria in that moment as well.

Luckily, after all the tests were run, the doctors confirmed she did not have appendicitis and Maria was cleared to go home. Relieved, I gave her a hug and said I would check in on her the next morning.


I called to check in with Carol and Maria. Carol had taken great care to ensure Maria took her medication every 4 hours as prescribed, giving her a warm gel pack to use for her pain and making sure she was comfortable in her bed, checking in on her regularly. I told them to call me if anything changed or if they needed to go back to the hospital again.


I spoke with Carol, and she said that things took a major turn in the household over the weekend – with a series of “firsts”.

On Saturday, Maria was feeling better and for the first time since she arrived, she asked the host if they could go grocery shopping together. She also sat with the host in the living room, chatted with her and watched television. On the Sunday, Maria asked if they could make cookies together, which they did.

It was clear that after the hospital visit, Maria’s attitude had changed for the positive because she felt cared for.  They have formed a bond from their time at the hospital, and are on their way to building a positive relationship.   In reflecting on the events the past couple of days, and how things at home had changed for them, Carol summed it up by saying  “this hospital incident was a blessing in disguise”.

Learning moment

I think it is important to recognize that while the hospital was not able to find anything physically wrong with the student, often emotional and mental pain can transpire into physical pain or symptoms. As soon as this student started feeling truly cared for in a maternal way, her symptoms disappeared – over the course of the weekend. In tandem with my role of Relationship Manager dealing with a student, I needed to be a caring adult figure listening to a child. I needed to let her know that she was important, being listened to, and was cared for so that she felt safe and heard.

This situation taught me to put aside my assumptions, and made me realize that I needed to change the values applied at various stages of dealing any given situation. Whilst we are always using these different values in any given situation, the most predominant one used here was that of “listening curiously”. Without doing this, we would not have been able to know to apply the other values of guiding compassionately and giving wholeheartedly.

– Lynda Mintz, RM in Brockville