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Words by Raymond Grenier
Image by J. Ray Paradiso
*Editor's Note: Originally published at Literary Yard Journal.
Myrna Davis was born in 1950, and raised in an American mid western town. A beautiful child genetically influenced from her mother, which combined with her quick and agile mind. Myrna was chosen homecoming queen during her high school senior year savoring this prominent event. Myrna’s formative years bore the hallmark of a living Victorian Valentine.
Myrna Davis was born in 1950, and raised in an American mid western town. A beautiful child genetically influenced from her mother, which combined with her quick and agile mind. Myrna was chosen homecoming queen during her high school senior year savoring this prominent event. Myrna’s formative years bore the hallmark of a living Victorian valentine.
Popular males sought Myrna’s company during high school, as her Mother Dorothy served as self-appointed advisor.
Myrna received a scholarship from a nearby college entering her freshman year staying at the dormitory and returning home on weekends. Male attention escalated with frequent dates to campus activities. Bill Macgregor, the son of the local Chevrolet dealer made special effort to contact Myrna. Macgregor was a good-looking young man, also arrogant, and accustomed to having his way gifted a new Corvette each year from his father. Macgregor had a reputation for short-term relationships with young, beautiful women and on the continual prowl to seek a new trophy for his shelf.
Myrna eventually succumbed to Macgregor’s advances and a dinner date was established. Macgregor was scheduled to pick up Myrna at seven PM, arriving at seven thirty without a hint of apology. Myrna’s mother greeted Macgregor with a smile.
“William, it’s so thoughtful of you to invite Myrna to dinner.”
Macgregor nodded mumbling, “Nice to be here.”
Myrna looked ravishing, her dark auburn hair contrasting with bright, blue eyes accenting her intense beauty.
Macgregor reserved a table at the towns’ most lavish restaurant. During dinner he centered conversation on himself, explaining how he intended to assume ownership of his father’s Chevrolet dealership when his parents retire to their Florida home. He detailed his plan to move into their mansion with ambition to expand the dealership increasing sales and profits. Myrna was unimpressed with Macgregor, his egocentric demeanor made her nauseous and uneasy. He showed no warmth or humor, never smiled or even a slight compliment directed at her.
Macgregor said, “Well, Myrna, how about us escalating our relationship a bit and move to a physical level.”
Myrna was silent for a moment, and then said, “William Macgregor, the son of an affluent auto dealer and a member of the gentry. During our dinner date you’ve dominated the conversation with incessant patter revealing a quest to increase your wealth when your parents retire. So, how am I to respond to this? Am I to feel honored, on a pedestal under a spotlight, overwhelmed by my good fortune of your interest in me? Why are we here, William? I want you to take me home now.”
Macgregor was stunned at Myrna’s reaction and at a loss for words. Anger then appeared on his face. “Alright, you ungrateful bitch. Do you realize how many women come on to me? They line up for my attention. You’re self-centered and think of yourself as beautiful. You really don’t do it for me.”
The valet brought the Corvette around and Macgregor got in on the driver’s side slamming the door. Myrna opened the passenger door and barely got inside when Macgregor screeched the tires lurching forward before Myrna was able to fasten her seat belt. Macgregor was silent, driving like a maniac, swerving in and out of traffic, speeding over seventy mph in a forty mph zone. He glanced at Myrna to evaluate her degree of fear. Then it happened. A truck pulled directly in front of them, as the truck driver incorrectly calculated the Corvette’s speed. It was over in flash. Myrna’s head was driven through the windshield. The ambulance and police arrived pronouncing Macgregor dead at the scene; Myrna was unconscious and bleeding profusely from deep lacerations on her face, head and neck. Myrna was taken to the nearest hospital. After hours in the ICU her lacerations were stitched and her entire face bandaged with only space for her eyes and mouth. She remained unconscious and on a respirator. It was a horrid, tragic scene.
The year is now 2010 and a small medical clinic in a Kenyan village is a place of prominence in the village, with an attached room serving as a classroom to teach local children. A gray haired woman with a stethoscope hanging from her neck is tending a long line of patients. Dr. Myrna Davis healed from her tragic accident, returned to college, and received a medical degree. She is the most respected person in the village. Then one day she discovered a lump in her left breast causing concern. She traveled to Nairobi and x-rays revealed a tumor. She remained hospitalized, and received radiation and chemotherapy treatments and her cancer was diagnosed in remission avoiding surgery. Myrna became acquainted with a few of the doctors and nurses, who all knew of her work and clinic. Myrna looked dreadful without hair and an aging, deeply scarred face, but recognition of this woman’s achievements deflected superficial judgment. Dr. Davis was an iconic figure and professional respect for her was a vivid presence.
One morning while sitting on the side of her bed worrying about her clinic and her many patients Myrna was writing in a notebook. A nurse, Julia, and a friend, asked her what she was writing. Myrna told Julia it is her personal journal.
“Can I read it sometime?” Julia asked.
“Of course”, handing Julia the journal.
“It describes my early life, before Africa, telling of events inspiring me to commit to those entrapped in poverty. I’m also documenting my time in Africa and the experience with cancer.”
Myrna’s bedside phone rang, a familiar voice said, “Hello, Myrna? This is Monique; I received a call from Kalisha to inform me of your cancer. I requested a two-week leave from the hospital and they graciously allowed me time off. I’m at your clinic now and will begin to attend patients in the morning. Kalisha will help me organize. Please don’t worry I can handle this.”
“Praise God, I’ve been so worried. Kalisha is as qualified as any trained nurse and familiar with patient’s conditions. How can I ever thank you enough, you are my savior. I love you so much. My cancer is in remission and I should be back at the clinic before your two-week leave is up. Call me tomorrow to update me on things. I’m feeling pretty good today.”
Julia thanked Myrna for allowing her to read her journal. That evening she began reading Myrna’s story.
The Journal Of Myrna Davis: “As recovery progressed and bandages removed I could barely tolerate looking at myself in the mirror. The facial scars were horrid, and deep. My right eye muscles were damaged and the eye was stationary, adding to my disfigurement. Depression overwhelmed me, and my life seemed over. Prior to the accident physical beauty was my greatest asset carrying me to better places, opening opportunities. When I finally went home my parents were loving and supportive. This was helpful, but the anxiety was far too great to overcome and despair intensified.
“On my dresser was an envelope from New York City. One of my dorm mates was a photographer; she assembled a composite of photos submitting them to a major modeling agency in New York City. The agency’s response letter said they were very interested in meeting me. Of course now such a notion was out of the question. My thoughts ended in a dead zone offering no clear path forward. It was a certainty social life would come to an abrupt halt, and it did. No more fixating stares from male admirers, mostly turn away looks, and women also distanced themselves. Women are drawn to pretty women, giving comfort to be seen with a beautiful friend creating social acceptance and identity.
“I healed enough to resume classes, which was extremely difficult. I didn’t return to the dorm, lived at home and commuted, shunning people as much as possible. Academic pursuits became my salvation, creating meaningful purpose, which allowed a small vein of life to flow forming a personal sanctuary.
“A few weeks after resuming classes an accident, injury attorney contacted me and scheduled a meeting. The attorney was Fred Johnson. He told me William Macgregor had a long history of speeding and reckless driving and advised me to file a claim against Macgregor’s estate. In his view it was a clear-cut case. I explained the modeling agency’s letter and he said it would be important regarding settlement since this opportunity is now void because of my disfigured condition. ‘I’ll seek a multimillion dollar settlement. Macgregor owned one third of his father’s dealership, and with his tarnished driving record no jury would refuse a large settlement. This case may take two years or more to settle but should go forward.’
“I agreed to the lawsuit and returned to my study routine directed toward a medical degree. The lawsuit proceeded slowly. McGregor’s father waged an expensive, drawn out battle to protect his assets. During this time period I completed my medical school curriculum receiving a medical degree and assigned to a local hospital to serve an internship. This was my best time since the accident. My hospital associates differed from my college contacts, revealing no degradation toward me because of my appearance. I was beginning to feel a sense of my old self again. My previous physical beauty seemed less important as I became immersed in caring for patients and learning hospital procedures.
“The hospital where I was serving my internship a young black woman was also serving her internship. She was an exchange student from Johannesburg, South Africa on a scholarship grant planning to return to Johannesburg after her internship where she had been offered hospital residency. Her name was Monique Destivelle, and her father was French. Anti-government forces killed her father when Monique was a teenager. She lived with her mother and planned to reunite upon completing her medical training. Monique and I became close friends, and I looked forward to our meetings and discussions. She was delightful to talk with, and I enjoyed her French accent. She also was fluent in several native African languages from experiences during her father’s work as a diplomat. She often accompanied him to villages and towns as a child. Monique asked, ‘Myrna, have you read of Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s historic work in Africa? It’s such a wonderful and amazing story, how he and his wife established a small hospital in a very remote region of Africa now called Gabon. A fourteen-day trip up the Ocooue River to access the remote village they chose to build their small hospital in the spring of 1913. You must read his wonderful book The Reverence of Life. This book inspired me to pursue a medical career.’
“My friendship with Monique was like a gift from God, we spent all our spare time together involving deep, insightful conversations about our lives and choices we are facing. Monique was a brilliant woman; reading and study consumed her life. I read Schweitzer’s astonishing story describing the struggles he and his wife encountered. During Schweitzer’s time European influence was inundating the continent. I became captivated by the lives of this dedicated couple as they transcended barriers and challenges to establish a hospital for no reason other than to assist the oppressed.
“Anguish from my disfigurements dissipated; my life now is filled with hope and meaning. I have supporting parents, a solid career goal and a wonderful friend and colleague; although, dismay remains. Industrialized, economically driven cultures are plagued with ubiquitous over consumption, socially patterned in shallowness, image portrayal, revering material wealth with godlike status, separating from the oppressed. William Macgregor types have expanded in numbers. Selfishness is dominant. Humankind’s covetousness seems boundless.
“I received a call from Fred Johnson, and a settlement had been finalized. ‘Myrna, Macgregor had a large life insurance policy on his son with double indemnity upon accidental death, and the court was clearly in your favor from the get go. I initially tried for a ten million dollar settlement but was awarded seven million. The judge reduced the settlement amount. My fee will be ten percent; the balance will be deposited in your bank account. I’m gratified to assist you, creating potential improvement and opportunity to your life. Hopefully your future will be altered in a positive manner and it has been my pleasure to represent you. I’d enjoy an occasional message to inform me how you are managing your life as your medical career develops.’
‘Mr. Johnson I’m without words, and very grateful for your effort and achievement. I most certainly will keep you posted regarding my venture forward in life.’
“I was eager to discuss this event with Monique. We met at her small apartment.
“Monique, settlement on the Macgregor lawsuit has finalized at seven million dollars. I’m in a daze at this point. ‘Myrna, this is deserved, the suffering and effort to rise above your crisis may now open new dimension to your future combined with your medical skills. It’s exciting to think of the possibilities. Money is the source of most corruption, but also has the power of altruism.’
“I want to open a free clinic in Sub Sahara Africa, like Schweitzer. If I’m careful with the money I can build a clinic and write grant proposals for operating expenses. The clinic will exhibit validity to potential benefactors. I feel it’s possible, offering greater meaning to my life.”
Monique responded, “I’ll support you any way I’m able. It’s within the realm of reality. It can happen. I know you can do it.’
“After our internships Monique took the Johannesburg opportunity sharing an apartment with her mother, also as a support during her Mother’s aging years. I convinced her to take time and accompany me touring poverty stricken Africa to assess potential sights for my clinic. She agreed and the experience with Monique in Africa was monumental, a life-changing event.
“I had studied in depth the various regions of Africa and knew that someplace in Kenya would be my choice. Nearly fifty percent of Kenya’s populous is mired in absolute poverty. Many villages were without educational systems or medical services. The next meal is a challenge and often not attained.
“We rented a car and traveled for many days to various locations in Kenya. We neither had seen nor could have imagined the degree of squalor we encountered. Children roaming streets with swollen stomachs from malnutrition, gleaning trash heaps for anything of the slightest value. One small boy kept repeating in broken English ‘Pepsi, Pepsi’. He had discovered frequently large, discarded, plastic Pepsi bottles would have a swallow or two remaining in the bottles and was ever watchful to discover this treasure. It was heart wrenching beyond description, tears formed in my eyes. As Monique and I spoke with this child, sorrow engulfed us. When I compared my ordeal to this child’s day-to-day struggle I felt a deep sense of guilt for feeling in such despair, consumed by self-pity. Kenya needed me and I needed Kenya.
“Monique left for Johannesburg and I concentrated effort on central Kenya about three hundred kilometers south of Nairobi. Several small villages were in this region and one particular village stirred my interest, Takula. The government red tape and paper work was overwhelming. I commissioned an enabler to assist navigate bureaucratic complexities to permit land purchase. Also by owning land, building and residence my visa became permanent. Building permits of various types were required. Within two months everything was in order and I began to seek a local builder. Before I left the US I contracted an architect to draft a plan for my clinic based upon research of similar clinics. Finally all was in place, and construction commenced. During construction I lived in a tent on my property.
“It was indescribably emotional witnessing my dream materialize, building this small clinic bringing medical services to the lives of many in need. Villagers gathered daily to observe progress. I immediately began introducing myself explaining my mission. A young early teen girl named Kalisha visited each day and spoke English well. Kalisha was tall and strikingly attractive; her bright mind was clearly evident. Kalisha became my interpreter and guide. She schooled me on the native dialect, which was an immense help. After the construction was complete the organizational phase began and Kalisha became my paid assistant, an invaluable source relating to the entire effort. The clinic was named The Place of New Hope opening on June 1st 1982.
“I had not anticipated the dimension of this village’s need for medical services. It was an extreme awakening, also challenging to know where to begin. My building plan included a traditional school classroom attached to the main building. I would see patients until one PM and the remainder of the day taught children basic school curriculum. This became my routine, and also my passion.
“I wrote grant proposals in the evening, sending them to every source I could locate. With the evolution of the Internet this procedure became more efficient. In time responses provided enough funds to meet operational costs and basic personal needs.
“Monique married a fellow resident doctor, a Frenchman, Alain Bissonette. Over the years they have visited often and built a small house on my property planning retirement, envisioning becoming contributors in an effort to assist these beautiful people. As age descends on me such assistance is most welcome. Monique and Alain are gifted, dedicated physicians.
“Now I am fighting the invasion of cancer and am grateful to be in remission. Cancer tends to reoccur and I will do all in my power to prevent this.”
Nurse Julia returned Myrna’s journal the next day.
“Dr. Davis, your life has been a challenge few could imagine. I’m appreciative for the opportunity to read your journal. Reading details of your life exhibits power of persistence, discovering renewal revealing new direction and purpose. This is a compelling story. I’ll never forget reading of your life.”
Myrna returned to the clinic and was delighted to be back at her workspace and home. She greeted Monique and Kalisha, “I feel like I escaped from prison. I’m weak, but improving each day. Monique I am forever grateful for your help. Your presence erased my worries.”
That evening Myrna and Monique discussed their overall situation. Monique and Alain planned to retire next year, looking forward to moving permanently into their small house becoming active participants assisting in patient care. Myrna planned to expand her school and if Monique, Alain and Kalisha assumed most clinical duties it would allow Myrna to escalate her teaching ambitions.
“Monique, I must discuss something with you that has been haunting me.”
“Of course, tell me.”
“As I ponder my life’s unfolding arriving here with you at this clinic a sensation settles in my heart and mind. Contemplating my early life, William Macgregor, the horrid experience of the accident, the money from the lawsuit, our meeting and your introducing me to Schweitzer planting a seed leading us to where we are now. These events indicate spiritual influence, abstract, yet distinctly evolutionary generating from life’s natural occurrences. It seems impossible what we’ve experienced is coincidence.”
Monique said, “Myrna, I’ve never believed in coincidences, always felt destiny is pre-ordained and our reaction to these energies embody manifestation of goals and achievements. This does emit spiritual presence as we serve the purpose and direction given us.”
Epilogue: The following year Monique and Alain moved into their small house. Myrna was grateful, as her patient count had become difficult to manage. Myrna performed some medical duties, but Monique, Alain and Kalisha carried the bulk of patient load. Myrna loved working with children, and this new support team created opportunity for greater dedication as a teacher.
At the present all is well in Takula village at The Place of New Hope clinic, as this dedicated ensemble formed a bond delivering love, harmony and assistance to many in desperate need. Myrna’s cancer did not return. Monique and Alain frequently express their joy living in their simple house and truly look forward to each day. Myrna sponsored Kalisha to attend advanced nurse practitioner training in Nairobi opening potential for a higher paying job. After Kalisha completed her training she returned to the village clinic telling Myrna this is where she chooses to remain. The word spread about this small clinic in a remote village in Kenya. Benefactors appeared from everywhere, and the clinic organized a food bank from monetary gifts.
Myrna’s was inspired from the effects of her crisis to rise above her disfigurements. When Myrna and Monique discovered a wayward child gleaning for drops of soda in discarded Pepsi bottles, their hearts were pierced, confirming promise to that child and promises to themselves activating ambition to improve the lives of those in despair.
As in Robert Frost’s elegant poem Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening states, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.” The caregivers at The Place of New Hope clinic also have promises to keep and miles to go before they sleep.
The voice of destiny sings in varied rhythmic tones, often off key and out of tempo, like a catbird singing in a thorn bush. Then the sky opens and darkness becomes light as clouds of doubt vanish.