Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Back Again

How to begin?
That nagging question flashes over and over in my mind, synchronized with the pace of the blinking cursor on the blank screen.
How to begin….how to begin… to begin….
Well, I suppose I should begin by saying hello to all my readers out there. Thanks for stopping by. I hope this blog entry finds you all happy and well.
At the moment, I’m sitting amidst a chaotic scene in my bedroom. My mother will tell you that this room is always a chaotic scene, but tonight, my surroundings have reached new depths of devastation. My fourth trip to Nicaragua looms on the horizon, and I am in the throws of preparation for another trip south. Once again, to my amazement, my passport hasn’t collected nearly as much dust as I always anticipated it would. Four trips to Nicaragua. Four stamps in the passport. In my mind’s eye, I can see many of my friends and family just shaking their heads.
Four trips to Central America in fourteen months?
I know. I’m shaking my head too.
So how did I end up in this wonderfully strange position? What in the world happened during those fourteen months to create all this commotion? That’s really an excellent question. So before I set out writing the next chapter of this crazy story, I think all of the new readers out there, and perhaps you veterans too, deserve a bit of a recap.
Don’t worry, the recap has illustrations. 
I remember being a junior in high school, wrestling with that big question mark that seemed to hover just beyond the exclamation point of graduation. Sometime over the course of that year, I developed this inspiration to become a family nurse practitioner. It had a lot to do with my best friend, Vernon, who was already a practicing FNP. It also had a lot to do with how cool I felt when I put a stethoscope around my neck for the first time. Though the cool factor eventually wore off, the interest in nursing stuck. Sure enough, in the fall of 2006, I had started down the road toward my Bachelor’s degree in nursing at Robert Morris University. To condense those four years down to a sentence,  they were the most academically rigorous years of my life. Fortunately for me, I got to slug through them with a great class.

Here we are wearing those super cool stethoscopes. Yup, that’s me, up there in the back row. The lone male. People have asked me what it was like being the only guy in a class of all girls. I tell them to try and imagine having 24 sleep-deprived older sisters. As rough as that sounds, those girls looked out for me. Together, we managed to keep our heads above water through the 12 hour clinical days, 15 page patient report forms, and  everything else that those four years threw at us. It pretty much goes without saying that we are all faithful Starbucks patrons. 

During our senior year at RMU, twelve of us had the chance of a lifetime. We got to travel to a place none of us ever expected to go, a small country in Central America called Nicaragua. Before our trip, most of us wouldn’t have been able to pick out Nicaragua on a map if it bit us in the face. But all of us know where it is now. The Latin country sits about 1,700 miles southwest of Pitttsburgh. And it feels even farther.
This is the point in the story where another popular question comes up. So what do RMU students do down there?
Well…how much time do you have?
To put it simply, we did more adventurous things in those ten days than most of us had done in our entire lives. We climbed volcanoes. We ziplined across lakes. We toured hospitals, cathedrals, and slums. We assessed whole communities, dressed wounds and educated families. We played with the children, prayed with the sick, and passed what supplies we had on to the less fortunate. We crossed the spectrum from laughter to tears more times than we cared to count.

Very simply, we had our hearts stolen. More life-changing than anything, we made friends.
And the first friend I made was this kid named David.

Quite a smile, right?
If you live in or around Pittsburgh, you may have seen a commercial on TV recently about David and I. If not, you can catch it right here...
But that television spot is just the nutshell version of the story. David and I became friends quickly, and good ones at that. He loved practicing his English, and he loved practicing his music even more. David didn’t know this at the time, but every night during my first trip, I had been writing about him and his homeland. Back home, those stories were beginning to be passed around campus. The tale of David’s stolen trumpet soon became a special mission for me and my nursing class. The commercial you see on the air doesn’t embellish any emotion – it really was a moment that we will all cherish forever. Such a simple thing to us. But it meant the world to him. 

Few moments in life are truly unforgettable. This one right here....

....this one was one of those moments.
Not long after that, my alma mater made a big gamble. Robert Morris University decided to produce and launch an advertising campaign that centered on the importance of student-led community service. By this time, word had gotten around about David's stolen trumpet, and it was decided that his story was the perfect example for the ChangeALife campaign. And suddenly, seemingly overnight, David and I were the new faces of Robert Morris University.  For me, it meant a third trip to Managua, this time with a film crew charged with the task of capturing the repercussions of a simple short story I had written just one year before.  The whole escapade was unlike any adventure that I ever dreamed I would be a part of.

The ChangeALife campaign was launched in Pittsburgh media markets this past September. Television commercials, radio spots, website pages, even billboards…

A few weeks ago, I stood underneath one of these gigantic billboards for the first time. As I looked up at my friend's contagious grin, I couldn't help thinking back to those late nights on my first trip when I sat in my room at the hotel, feverishly typing, trying to capture these moments in words, to describe David's homeland, this mysterious place called Nicaragua.

I thought back to those nights, overwhelmed with that simple truth that I’ve witnessed again and again. Little pebbles make ripples. Ripples make waves. Waves make all the difference.
With all of this said, I’m once again thrilled to be accompanying a group of Robert Morris nursing students to the barrios of Managua, Nicaragua. I’ve been asked by the nice folks at Robert Morris University to keep you all up to date with notes from the field, and I am pleased to do so. In fact, Notes from the Field sounds like just the right title.
So check back soon for the next entry. Pass them along to your friends. I love the tales of this forgotten people. Their story changed my story, and it just might change yours too. I'm reminded of what  Dr. Ross often tells his students. "It isn't always possible to cure. But it is always possible to care."

Now it’s back to the chaotic mess for me. 

Tomorrow is going to be a big day.

- David Lee Folk, RN