Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 9, 2009
Medical mission opens minds, hearts and souls
Monique Bilodeau holds a 12-day-old baby, the youngest patient that she treated in El Salvador.
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
BEAUMONT – On Monique Bilodeau’s first night on the job, a man was brought to the medical clinic with machete wounds to his neck. Another man, stomach bloated, unable to walk, had not eliminated waste from his body in three months. A woman, who was psychologically traumatized over a recent abortion, said she wanted to kill herself.
These were just a handful of the tragedies witnessed by Bilodeau while serving on a medical mission in El Salvador. As a therapist with Essence Health & Wellness, near Beaumont, she specializes in craniofacial therapeutic massage, which helps the organs and nervous system.
Her decision to volunteer on the mission came about after two close friends went to Afghanistan.
“When my friends left, I decided that I would go away on a medical mission, and it was the easiest thing I’ve ever done. I just went online and looked up what medical missions I could participate in. There were two that seemed to offer what I was looking for,” said Bilodeau.
The one that she opted for was Helping Hands Medical Mission, established 10 years ago by Regnum Christi, an offshoot of the Legionaries of Christ.
On Oct. 31, 2008 she flew into El Salvador’s capital city of San Salvador. During the following nine days she treated more than 2,500 patients in Sonsonate and two nearby towns, Nahuizalco and Izalco. The mission team did a combination of evangelization and providing medical aid.
HEAL BODY AND SOUL
“More or less the role of this mission was not only to evangelize to people, but also to help them out by giving them vitamins and making sure they saw a doctor,” said Bilodeau.
Her typical day started with Mass and prayer in the morning, followed by treating patients at either a clinic or assisting with surgeries at a hospital. She treated patients as young as 12 days and as old as 101 years.
CLIMATE OF VIOLENCE
Nothing about her workday was routine. On her final night, a man died from seven gunshot wounds.
“There is one thing I will never forget. We were in this one hospital room and there was a person completely naked on a bed, hardly recognizable as a woman anymore. It looked like she came straight out of the Nazi prison war camp. It was incredible stuff that you would never see out here that really wakes you up.”
Some people were too sick to even leave their homes and come to the clinic. In those situations, the medical team made house calls, which were potentially dangerous.
“The violence is down there. We were never allowed out past 6 o’clock in the evening, and we needed to be back in our gated complex. If we were out with our group doing house calls, then you needed a police escort to make sure you got back safely.”
The tragedy of poverty was pervasive, yet the people were grateful for whatever medical attention they could get.
After a family thanked Bilodeau for her kindness and generosity, she told them that she was equally touched. “I told them that they need to come to Canada and teach our Canadian people how to be more appreciative,” said Bilodeau.
At one community, the thankful patients gave the mission team beautiful handmade gifts made from grain.
“Their first comment was that they didn’t have any money to give, so they were giving something from their heart. That was the most memorable thing because it taught me you don’t need a fancy house. If you have that luxury, there’s nothing wrong with that. But just to be appreciative of what you have and being able to give of yourself is more important.”
Another challenge of the mission trip was the limitedness of the treatment. Rather than promoting a health and wellness-based lifestyle, patients were treated with pharmaceutical products. “It was really sad because we’d give them the drugs to numb the pain, but we weren’t giving them the real help that they needed,” she said.
The volunteers were offered a transforming experience, and the opportunity to share their faith while selflessly serving the needs of others. The direct way of evangelizing was a shock to Bilodeau.
“When we were doing our house calls, part of the house call was also evangelization. We’d go to their houses in the middle of nowhere and ask these people, ‘Do you want to become Catholic?’ They would either say yes or no or maybe they just wanted more information. It was something we would never do out here.”
A MISSION OF FAITH
Volunteering on the mission served as a reminder to Bilodeau of how fortunate Canadians are. In El Salvador, used pill containers were made into chambers for asthma puffers and used IV bags became makeshift catheters. Despite these hardships, she recommends that others go on medical missions in order to deepen their own faith.
“Of the 20 per cent of the world that is wealthy, they use 80 per cent of the world’s resources. It really makes you wake up and be resourceful at home.
“For example, there was this one clinic, you had to make sure you went to the washroom by 1 o’clock, otherwise they shut off the water because they have to conserve the water,” she said.