Blessing in disguise

Maria” arrived in homestay in August, and since then had presented herself as quite the challenge for her host mother “Carol”, to deal with. Maria had particular requests and demands of Carol, from refusing to eat certain foods based on color, 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. As per the process, Maria’s relationship manager Lynda, explained that she would work on trying to improve the situation first before relocating her.

Shortly after, during one of the school visits, Maria came to see Lynda – explaining that she had a lot of pain in her lower abdomen. Given the various challenges already faced with her, Lynda wondered if Maria was trying trying to seek more attention. Nevertheless, she followed protocol and took her to the ER immediately to ensure she was checked appropriately. Fortunately Carol also worked in the hospital, and together with Lynda, the two women tag teamed to stay with Maria until she was 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 Carol discovered much more about the student’s background. Fortunately, the ER staff did not find any cause for concern, and sent Maria home that night recommending Tylenol and/or Advil for any pain.

However, the next morning, Lynda received another text message from Maria saying her pain had worsened and she needed to go back to the hospital.

Maria and Lynda spent that whole day together, during which they spoke about many subjects, particularly her family and her personal medical background. Time was passing slowly, so Lynda tried to make things more interesting and started to check out different medical instruments in the room and in the drawers. She asked Maria to guess what these instruments were. Surprisingly, she knew what most of them were, and was even able to tell Lynda how they worked! This was an “Ah Ha” moment for Lynda and prompted her 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?”

Lynda empathized with Maria, which helped her to open up about her family and as Lynda just listened to her, it became clear that Maria’s medical issues had been ongoing since she was a child and her family life was difficult.

Soon after, the doctor informed them 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 Lynda. She realized then that Maria needed to feel cared for, to know someone was there for her and that she was not alone.

When Maria went for the CT scan, her host Carol came down to check in with Lynda. They discussed what she had learned about Maria and recognized that she needed love, care and kindness. Carol waited until Maria came back from her scan and let her know that they would be there with her the whole time, and if she needed surgery, they would both 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. Carol took 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.

After that night, things took a major positive 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, and 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.

Maria and Carol formed a stronger bond from their time at the hospital, which helped them rebuild a more positive relationship.  If we put aside our assumptions about our students, the answers can sometimes be found just by listening curiously to them. We know that emotional and mental pain can often manifest as physical pain or symptoms, and it was clear that after the hospital visit, Maria’s attitude had changed for the positive because she felt cared for and her symptoms disappeared over the course of the weekend.  In reflecting on the events over the past few days, and how things at home had changed for them, Carol summed it up by saying “this hospital incident was a blessing in disguise”.