By: Raymond Greiner
Myrna Davis was born in 1950 and raised in an American mid western town. A beautiful child genetically influenced by her mother combining with her quick and agile mind. Myrna was chosen homecoming queen in her high school senior year, savoring the honor and attention of this exciting event. Myrna’s formative years bore the hallmark of a living, Victorian valentine.
Popular males sought Myrna’s company during school years with her Mother Dorothy serving as her self-appointed guidance counselor.
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 a special effort to contact Myrna. Macgregor was a good looking young man but also arrogant, accustomed to having his way, given a new Corvette each year from his father. Macgregor had a reputation for short-term relationships with young, beautiful women and on a continual prowl seeking a new trophy for his shelf.
Myrna eventually succumbed to Macgregor’s advances and a dinner date was planned. Macgregor was scheduled to pick up Myrna at 7:00 PM, arriving at 7:30 without a hint of apology. Myrna’s mother greeted Macgregor with a smile.
“William it is 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 town’s most expensive and lavish restaurant. During dinner he centered conversation on himself, explaining his intention to assume ownership of his father’s Chevrolet dealership when his parents move to their Florida home permanently. He detailed his plan to move into their mansion and 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.
“Well Myrna, how about you and I escalating our relationship a bit, moving to a more physical level?”
Myrna was silent for a moment, then said: “William Macgregor, the son of an affluent auto dealer, a member of the gentry. During our dinner date you have dominated the conversation, 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 total 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 are self-centered think of yourself as beautiful. You really don’t do it for me anyway.”
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. He was quiet but driving like a maniac, swerving in and out of traffic, speeding over 70mph in a 40mph zone. He glanced at Myrna evaluating her degree of fear. Then it happened. A truck pulled directly in front of them, the truck driver incorrectly calculating the Corvette’s speed. It was over in flash. Myrna 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 ICU the lacerations were stitched and her entire face bandaged leaving only space for her eyes and mouth. She remained unconscious on a respirator. It was a horrid, tragic scene.
The year is now 2010 and a small medical clinic in a Kenyan village is the focal point of 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 the tragic accident, returned to college receiving a medical degree. She was 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 receiving radiation and chemotherapy treatments and in time 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 awareness of this woman’s achievements deflected superficial judgment. Dr. Davis was an iconic figure and professional respect for her was a powerful presence.
One morning while sitting on the side of her bed, worrying about her clinic and many patients Myrna was writing in a notebook. A nurse, Julia and a friend, asked her what she was writing. Myrna told Julia it was her personal journal.
“Can I read it sometime?”
“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 am also documenting my life in Africa and recently my experience with cancer.”
Myrna’s bedside phone rang: “Hello Myrna? This is Monique; I received a call from Kalisha informing me of your cancer. I requested a two-week leave from the hospital and they graciously allowed me time off. I am at your clinic now and will begin seeing patients in the morning. Kalisha will help me organize. Please don’t worry I can handle this.”
“Praise God, I have been so worried. Kalisha is as qualified as any trained nurse and is familiar with the patient’s ailments. 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 work 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 my recovery progressed and the bandages were 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, creating opportunities. When I finally went home my parents were loving and supportive. This seemed to help, but the anxiety was far too great to overcome as despair intensified.”
“On my dresser was an envelope from New York. 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 told me they were very interested in meeting with me. Of course now such a notion was out of the question. My thoughts ended in a dead zone with no clear pathway forward. It was a certainty my 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, it’s a comfort to be seen with a beautiful friend creating social acceptance and identity.”
“I healed enough to resume classes, which was extremely difficult. I did not return to the dorm, lived at home and commuted, shunning people as much as possible. Academic pursuits became my salvation, creating purpose, allowing a small vein of life to flow forming 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 erased because of my disfiguring injuries.”
Johnson: ‘I will 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 resolve 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 then assigned to a local hospital to serve my 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 immersed myself 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 a hospital residency. Her name was Monique Destivelle her father was French. Anti-government forces killed her father when Monique was a teenager. She lived with her mother and planned to reunite with her 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 small towns as a child.”
‘Myrna, have you read about 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 14-day trip up the Ocooue River to access the remote village they chose to build their small hospital in 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 the choices that stood before us. Monique was a brilliant woman; reading and study consumed her life. I read Schweitzer’s astonishing story and 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 help the oppressed.”
“Anguish from my disfigurement had dissipated; my life now is filled with hope and meaning. I have supporting parents, a solid career goal and a wonderful friend and colleague; however, dismay remains. Industrialized, economically driven cultures are plagued with ubiquitous over consumption, socially patterned in shallowness, image portrayal, revering material wealth and status as godlike 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 10 million dollar settlement but was awarded 5.5 million. The judge reduced the settlement amount. My fee will be 10%; the balance will be deposited in your bank account. I am gratified to have assisted 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 would enjoy an occasional message informing me how you are managing your life as your medical career develops.’
‘Mr. Johnson I am without words, and I am very grateful for your effort and achievement. I will most certainly 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. I have 5 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 wider dimension to your future, fusing with your medical skills. It is exciting to think of the possibilities. Money is the source of most corruption but also can be used for altruistic purposes.’
‘I want to open a free clinic in Sub Sahara Africa, like Schweitzer. If I am 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 is possible, offering meaning and purpose to my life.’
‘I will support you any way I can. It’s within the realm of reality. It can happen. I know you can do it.’
“After our internships Monique took the Johannesburg opportunity planning to share 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 50% of Kenya’s populous is in absolute poverty. Many villages are without educational systems or medical services. The next meal is a challenge and often not attained. Monique and I 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 that 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 me. When I compared my ordeal to this child’s day-to-day struggle I felt a deep sense of guilt that I was 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 300 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 inundating. I commissioned an enabler to assist navigation of bureaucratic complexities allowing 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 seeking local builders. Before I left the US I contracted an architect to draft a plan of 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. The villagers gathered each day observing 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 strikingly tall and 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 foreseen the dimension of this village’s need for medical services. It was an extreme awakening, also taxing to know where to begin. My building plan included a traditional school classroom attached to the main building. I would see patients until around 1 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 effort became more efficient. In time responses came and enough funding flowed 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 my 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 am appreciative of the opportunity to read your journal. Reading details of your life exemplifies the power of persistence, discovering renewal, revealing new direction and purpose. This is a compelling story. I will 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 am 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 desired to expand her school and if Monique, Alain and Kalisha assumed the bulk of 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 and 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 natural occurrences. It seems impossible what we have experienced is coincidence.”
“Myrna I have never believed in coincidences always felt our lives and destinies are pre ordained and how we react to pre ordained energies embodies manifestation toward goals and achievements.”
Epilogue: The following year Monique and Alain moved into their small house. Myrna was so very 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 creating opportunity for greater dedication as a teacher.
At the present all is well at Takula village 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 how much they enjoy 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 with increasing monetary gifts.
Myrna’s was inspired from the effects of her crisis to rise above her disfigurements. When Myrna and Monique discovered that wayward child gleaning for drops of soda in discarded Pepsi bottles their hearts were pierced, confirming promise to that child and promises to themselves, energizing ambition to improve the lives of those in great despair.
As in Robert Frost’s elegant poem Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening states. “I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.” The team of caregivers at The Place of New Hope clinic also has promises to keep and miles to go before they sleep.
The voice of destiny sings in varied rhythms and 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.
“I want to open a free clinic in Sub Sahara Africa, like Schweitzer”. Dr. Myrna Davis