Singing the Healer’s Art

Singing the Healer’s Art

By Dr. Sheri Palmer, Teaching Professor

Although I have taken students many years to Ecuador, a few experiences will always be in my memory.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to take one of the first groups of nursing students from the United States to the only welfare psychiatric hospital in Ecuador. After visiting the psychiatric hospital for the first time, my feelings were mixed with sadness and emotion.  The complex of buildings was old and vast. Cement walls and chain link were prominent features throughout the facility.

We were shown where the younger male patients were, and it was indicated that“over here” were the “forgotten” patients, those who had been left at the hospital many years ago by their families. Patients were everywhere in their tattered, drab clothing; however, they were clean.  Most had no shoes, but of course I had to remind myself we are at the equator.  A large part of their living occurs outside as the weather is temperate most of the year.  I didn’t worry for their physical well-being (after all it was dinner time, and the workers were busy setting up the long tables for the meal, a soup with a big plate of rice).

We passed through ward after ward of patients sitting or standing around the premises.  Sometimes we were led on one side of the chain link fence to see the patients on the other side, and other times we were led inside the wards where we were surrounded by patients.

As we were a large group of North Americans, we drew much attention.  I had the uneasy feeling of being on display, yet ironically, I felt that the patients might also feel like they were on display.  Many times some of the patients would come up to us for a handshake or a hug.  Students were caught off guard by this and many were reticent to touch.  As I hugged and shook hands with as many patients as I could, many students also felt more at ease in saying hello and giving of themselves to the patients. Our tour complete, we passed through the gate to the other side and piled in our van.  The mood was somber and quiet.  Everyone was lost in thought.  Here we were in Ecuador with such high hopes of helping all the sick and infirm, yet we were overwhelmed with feelings of despair.  I felt the Spirit tell me that in this circumstance we could heal with singing, and not just any songs; they needed to be songs of faith and love about Christ and His mission to earth.

The students agreed readily with the idea. Permission to visit the hospital the next Sunday was granted.  We spent the week singing and practicing heartily in the van wherever we went.  Favorite songs were chosen, parts were practiced, and we were ready. The next Sunday afternoon we came again to the psychiatric hospital ready to sing!

We sang two or three hymns in each building. The long drab cement walls provided excellent acoustics. The students’ voices blended beautifully and the hymns seemed even more beautiful in Spanish.  Many patients came over and sat on the ground in front of us, some came to stand by us and sing, and some even knelt with hands together in prayer.  We felt like angels.  The Spirit was strong.  The sweet nuns who guided us around were amazed at many of the songs we sang. Upon leaving each ward, hugs and handshakes were freely given by the students.  We all felt love in our hearts for these patients.

The last ward we visited was the “Children’s Ward.”  We didn’t have the chance to visit this one previously, so I was hoping this would not be a shock for the students.  After walking amongst various bed-ridden children, who were obviously not only mentally handicapped but very physically handicapped, my heart was breaking. I was wishing we had something more to give. We stood in our little semi-circle and started to sing “I am a Child of God.”

One of the patients, a teenager, started getting really excited and swinging her arms, hopping up and down, and screaming.  My first thought was that this was a mental patient who was excited.  But after the nuns helped calm her down, it was apparent the girl was also crying and saying, “I know this song, I know this song!” Two of the students brought the girl into our little choir circle and we all sang the song together. Many of us had tears flowing down our cheeks. We had found a child of faith within these cement walls of the psychiatric hospital! We finished our little repertoire of hymns, and had to tear ourselves away from our new-found friend.

Again, upon passing through the gate and piling in our van, the mood was somber, but reflective. The spirit had helped us touch and heal others in a place where we weren’t sure how it could be possible. We were able to “Sing the Healer’s Art” in Ecuador.




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