His name was Ivan, and I put a band-aid on his arm. Actually, it was more like a worn out cloth. He and I had scrounged for it through his house, a one-room, no door establishment in Armenia, Belize. He was the patient, and I, a recently licensed Wilderness First Responder, was this little boy’s first doctor.
“I was climbing the mountain,” he said, gesturing to the large hill that posed an impressive view of the little village. “But Carlos tripped me, and I fell down. I’m tough,” boasted the boy. As to prove this feat, he flexed his bony, slightly malnourished arms that had been wrapped around my leg for most of my stay in Armenia.
“How tough are you?” I asked my friend as we walked through his litter-consumed backyard to the large plastic bucket that held the community’s clean water and powdered soap. Moving swiftly so that my little hero wouldn’t notice, I sprayed the antibacterial solution that we had been awarded for passing the difficult and dangerous 80-hour medical course.
“So…tough…that…YIPE! So tough, that when my bike hit a tree stump last week, I didn’t even cry.”
“What were you doing riding your bike in the jungle?” I ask him as I gently wash out the cut. “Mami will not be happy if I tell her what you were doing.”
“I was looking for Monkey’s bike. He left it there the other day. I wanted to get it for him.” I blotted the cleaner wound carefully with the only other clean fabric in the house, a sock of mine.
“Ivan, you know Monkey can’t ride his bike now. His Mami makes him stay at home, just like your Mami would if your tummy hurt that badly.” I tried to estimate if his arm was so skinny that the bandage would need to be wrapped more than once.
My little friend’s eyes welled up in tears. “But he just wants to go out and play. I would have made him better!” he protested, staging a lawyer’s argument that would have made any jury melt.
As I tied the final knot of the bandage, securing it tightly even though I knew it would not last more than an hour with this boy’s busy lifestyle, I thought to myself, I healed my first patient. With a knowing nod, I sent my little trooper over to help his friend.
And by textbook terms, I had. I had cleaned and dressed the wound just as I had been taught. I had checked for signs of infection, foreign bodies, parasites and fly larvae. He was healthy, and I thought I had learned all that I took to cure something as simple as a tummyache or a boo-boo. But as I watched him and his best friend Monkey a few minutes later, playing together and miraculously, I knew that he had not learned the medicine he had given to his friend in The Wilderness Medical Associates Guide to Emergency Medicine. It was then that I realized for the first time that sitting in a classroom could never have taught me some wounds can only be healed by the heart of a true childhood friend.