Bailey Merkel

ACU claims its intent is to equip students to make a real difference in the world, but I remember as a freshman wondering what that really means. How can I make a real difference in the world? How can I demonstrate the leadership and service that ACU hopes to prepare me for? How can I truly leave a significant impact on the world around me? The idea of leaving a lasting impression on the world seemed like such a daunting task. At 18 years old, my soul was filled with longing to live a life full of passion, meaning, and love. However, combined with my previous experiences and beliefs, the next three years spent growing and maturing at ACU would reveal to me exactly how it was possible to accomplish these lifetime goals.

An unrealistic view of how to make a real difference kept me believing that small contributions were meaningless. Yet the moments that have taught me otherwise have all been simple. During spring break 2012, I had the privilege of flying across the ocean to another country to serve on a medical mission trip sponsored by Health Talents International with the ACU Body and Soul program. Along with a group of about twenty other aspiring doctors-to-be, I set off on an adventure to truly learn what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world today. Although we had some minor setbacks with travel and weather issues, we finally made it to the beautiful country of Guatemala to begin our mission at Clinica Ezell. It was a surgical week so I spent most of my time doing pre-op, post-op, or else aiding in surgeries. There was a team of doctors from America that consisted of an Optometrist, an Ophthalmologist, and an orthopedic surgeon. I spent the majority of the week with Dr. Lee Coleman, the ophthalmologist, and Dr. Michael Brown, the optometrist, since my area of study in the future of medicine will be the eye. It was fascinating to observe and help with surgery after surgery removing cataracts and pterygiums. I journaled every night about specific surgeries and patients who I met, who will forever remain unforgettable.

Some of my experiences interacting with the Guatemalan people in the clinic have been burnt into my mind as memories which tug at my heart, and remind me why I have chosen the medical field for my future profession. One elderly patient had severe cataracts in both eyes, so we removed one of them. (It is only possible to remove one cataract at a time, in order to allow each eye time to heal between surgeries). The morning after, we did post-op rounds and removed the bandage from her eye. Looking around her and seeing for the first time in years, she began crying and saying “Gracias!!” repeatedly, hugging us and sharing her joy of sight. Another time I was waiting for a man to awake from being under anesthesia after an orthopedic surgery on his knee, so I waited by his side until he gained consciousness. Once awake, he and I began a conversation in the best Spanish I could manage. We were the only ones in the room and communicating with him in his language brought him comfort and enjoyment. After awhile he said something so beautiful to me that I will never forget it: “You are so beautiful on the outside, but your heart is what is the most beautiful”. This simple phrase almost brought tears to my eyes with how genuine and loving it was. The last patient who really impacted me this week was a young girl who was having her eyes examined by the optometrist and was extremely timid and scared. With patience and gentle coaxing (and a few bright stickers), I helped her to open up and feel at ease. Simply accomplishing this connection with a young child made the work at hand seem that much more meaningful. These simple moments and experiences are just a few examples of touching a life and making a difference in the world.

A year later, I was blessed to journey yet again to Guatemala during the spring break of 2013 to serve the people there for a second time. This second trip was mostly focused on mobile medical missions, so every day a small team of students and doctors would pile into a minivan and make the trip to an isolated jungle village for the day. We conducted both basic clinics as well as dental clinics. I spent two days with the dental team, but decided very quickly that I am not inclined to pull peoples’ teeth! The wide range of medical issues we saw there was incredible. The hardest part was that most of the cases we saw were almost entirely preventable and treatable; however, most of the people in Guatemala lack access to even the most basic medical care. It was heartbreaking to see patients repeatedly diagnosed with infectious bacteria and other diseases that were caused simply because of the lack of knowledge of proper hygiene and food preparation. This trip opened my eyes to the need for knowledge in countries such as these, where the people desperately need to learn and implement methods for proper sanitation.

In my lifetime, I have been blessed to serve on multiple mission trips, through multiple organizations, in multiple countries and states, for multiple purposes. However, none of my experiences have been as fulfilling or as convicting as my trips to Guatemala. God has clearly laid upon my heart a passion for the people of Guatemala, and a desire to continue to serve the people there through the medical field. The faces of the people I have encountered there are forever engraved on my heart. The young woman who begged us to remove her four front teeth because they were so rotted they caused her pain constantly, the children eagerly waiting to play with the American students with a dirty old soccer ball, the earnest prayers of people praying over the clinic before the day begins, a smile on a young girls face when she discovers her symptoms are all proof of her unknown pregnancy. These are all moments I will forever cherish and hope to gain more memories like them someday.

I have always been a very passionate person, filled with a desire to share compassion, care, hope, and healing every opportunity I am given. In these moments, I was able to connect the passion of my heart with the needs of the world. Gandhi wisely said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,” and it is in these moments I find myself truly making a difference, satisfying what I feel called to do. I have been blessed with the fortune of knowing that a career in the medical field was the perfect fit for me for a long time. The legacy I aspire to leave behind is that of a servant-leader, someone who gave selflessly to help others both in the medical field as a doctor, but also extending that healing by creating a lasting worthwhile connection with my patients My favorite quote from Frederick Buechner states, “Vocation is where your deepest gladness meets the world’s deepest need,” and I embrace it as my joy and privilege to someday meet the world’s deepest needs through serving in the medical field.

BodyAndSoul
ACU pre-medical and pre-dental students shadow doctors for real-life experience.
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