I am an adult. As an adult I do many adult things, however, as an adult I can also have some childlike tendencies. The small green cow that I carry in my pocket may or may not be one such tendency. I justly named him “Cow,” which may or may not be another one of said tendencies. Nevertheless, for the past three weeks I have been eating, laughing, and overall adventuring in Costa Rica—and Cow has been with me through it all.

Where Cow Came From: When I was a senior in high school, my mother retired from her position at the Colorado Department of Corrections. Since then, she has pursued the opportunity to take 4-month long contracts with various military bases out of Colorado Springs as a family and child counselor. Working with children of various ages, situations, and abilities, my mother and her co-workers employ transition objects to help the children stay focused and keep their hands to themselves. With a transition object in hand—typically no larger than what the child can hold in his or her fist—the individual has a point of focus, a concentration, and an aide to achieving the goal of arrival at his or her next destination.

Cow is not exactly a head turner based on superficial appearances. He is as plastic as it gets, roughly the size of a stick of Trident gum, and as green as the leaves on the trees here in Costa Rica. He is simple, but certainly not to be underestimated.

Since I have been in Costa Rica, Cow has been with me across the longest zip line in Latin America, on the smooth sands of Manuel Antonio, and even on the dance floors while we strut our stuff. The most important transition, however, that Cow has accompanied me through was my first trip to a hospital in another country. It started with a bit of pain and light sensitivity and a lot of redness and inflammation in my left eye.

My senses were wide open as I walked through those front doors with my program director as my copilot, translator, and pillar of emotional support. We were helped right away, though the way I fumbled through my Spanish made the doctors and even the receptionists quick to dismiss my attempts. I felt like a child as I sat helplessly listening to a conversation about my own health care that I could not participate in. The general practice doctor that I saw made a special call to the resident ophthalmologist who drove in at 8 pm on a Saturday specifically to see me. My visit was just about completely covered by my study abroad insurance but we were notified that the fee to even wait in the nearly empty waiting room would be $300. Once I was in the care of the ophthalmologist, he identified my condition as an ulcer-causing infection that was common amongst beach goers (a.k.a. all Costa Ricans) that I probably picked up last weekend. The wounds were only superficial and would be an easy to heal with diligent eye drop application for the next few weeks. It is important to note that 90% of this set of information was relayed to me through my director’s translation. The doctor spoke some English, but there were a few medical terms that were difficult for him to translate to me. Through this same translation, he informed me of the procedure that he would need to do in order to fully assess the health of my eye. It appeared to be a procedure very similar to eye dilation—similar to one that years of appointments at Skyline Vision had prepared me for. In reality, that’s when things got interesting. I had a mildly severe reaction either to the drops used or the pain that ensued when the doctor pressed a tool to my eye to clear out some of the remaining pieces of sand embedded in my conjunctiva—I’m still not sure which. My body shut down and when I came to I was disoriented and extremely nauseas. For the following two hours, I felt little to no control over my own body. Even common Spanish phrases that have filled my past few weeks like, “¿Cómo te sientes?” were challenging to translate on my own. When I was feeling well enough to climb into a wheelchair to get my vitals checked, we learned that the hospital could not release me after my procedure due to abnormally low blood pressure and blood sugar.

Though this experience was wild in itself, the point of this story is not of what happened to me, but what could happen to anyone. As I sat in the designated patient waiting room sipping on my juice box and munching on some type of caramel covered pastry—yes, it was doctor’s orders—I held Cow in my hand and let my mind wander over the transition that I am in. I am in a brand new country where I know enough language basics to write a paragraph about my daily routine and tell Mamá tica when I’ll be home late after dance class. As I wasn’t vulnerable enough from the language barrier, I felt great intimidation to speak to the health care professionals that were working so hard to return me to a state of comfort. I had the luxury of a translator that I know and trust, however, millions of individuals who enter the health system all over the world never know this luxury.

Every individual that you meet is undergoing a transition. For some the transition is as familiar as a jaunt down the hall from class to class, for others the transition takes form as a new home in a new nation with one foot always in the unknown. Not everyone going through these transitions carry a small green cow, but every transition comes with a degree of pain in the separation from the comfort of familiarity.

I encourage you, as the reader of this blog, to keep this concept in mind in all the relationships that you build this week, this month, or this year. Every January is a time for great transition; I encourage you to make yours a move towards empathy for those experiencing a new place. Instead of criticizing individuals in the supermarket who “shouldn’t be here if they can’t speak English,” offer a smile or a wave, for their struggles may be far beyond what they seem in the cereal aisle.

“The Lord himself will lead you and be with you. He will not fail you or abandon you, so do not lose courage or be afraid.”
Deuteronomy 31:8

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