These Bones Don’t Heal

Jaime, Juanita’s eight year old, is part monkey.

Now, she would not admit that to just anyone, but it is true—the kid loves to climb into, jump out of,  and hang onto anything he can reach.

He gets into anything and everything, being generally fearless.

He is a monkey with the heart of a lion. Up until last week, things were good, with no major accidents or disasters. Juanita begin to think that maybe her monkey with the heart of a lion had the good luck of a cat with nine lives.

On Wednesday, however, Jaime decided to try and climb the tree in the back yard. He slipped; he fell; he landed on his wrist.

His mother marched him over to the Brownsville Community Health Clinic, where they took their place in the pediatric waiting area.

The clinic is not an emergency room, and his mother was praying to la Virgen and to God (in that order) that this not be an emergency.

The X-rays came back, and there was bad news all around. The bone was broken and Jaime was going to  need an orthopedic surgeon to cast his arm.

Juanita broke down into tears. She has no insurance and she would need  to come up with $200 to cover the costs.

Jaime began to cry as well. It is hard enough to be a monkey without a tail. It is a disaster to be a little boy without insurance.

There are options for the some 250 families who show up at this clinic during each year. Some of these options are very bad. Some families decide to take a chance and hope that the bone will heal well on its own (they won’t and they don’t–those children wind up with deformities). Other families try some home remedies, usually looking for a huesero–someone (not a physician) who is reputed to be good with massages, and, by extension, with fixing broken bones. (I choose not to imagine the agonies associated with that choice).

The best option is to work with the clinic, and figure out a way to get the treatment that is needed. The pediatrician has the heart of a lion, and so,too, the clinic. There is is a contagious degree of compassion at work here and some resources in a new fund called “These Bones Won’t Heal.” These monies will help assure that children like Jaime will get their broken bones cared for, even if there is no insurance or the cash that is needed.

An eight year old with a broken bone. It is not cancer, it is not injuries from a burn. It is a simple thing that many of us experienced as children and it remained a small memory, not a lifetime affliction.

For these families it is, however, a tragic accident.

It is also something that could be fixed.

And so, each year, in the Brownsville Community Health Clinic, there are over 250 opportunities to turn a tragedy into a small memory.

If you would like to be a part of that effort, please take the time to write a check, made payable to The Brownsville Community Health Center, with a note that the contribution is for the These Bones Won’t Heal Fund.

Marsha Griffin, MD
Brownsville Community Health Center
2137 East 22nd Street
Brownsville, Texas 78521

The donors will receive a receipt by mail, and the child will receive a cast!


In the Name of Heaven

December 16th—nine days until the celebration of Christmas.

In south Texas, it is the time for the celebration de las Posadas. The neighbors gather together, children are dressed up as Joseph and a pregnant Mary and the crowd walks through the streets, praying and singing, until they arrive at a designated home.

And then there is silence.

Which is broken by a sharp rapping at the door with Joseph’s walking stick.

The crowd breaks into a mournful tune that has words that are centuries old, marked by that bitter and desperate sentiment especially familiar to anyone who has ever been without a place to pass the night.

The people in the street sing in Joseph’s name, “In the name of heaven, I ask you for shelter; my beloved wife is exhausted.”

The family, behind a locked door, respond, “Does this look like a hotel to you? I am not opening up, you might be a thief!”

Joseph insists, as the crowd outside sings, “Please, just for tonight! After all, she is the Queen of Heaven!”

To which the family chants, “Yeah, right, if she is a queen, what is she doing looking for shelter at this hour?”

In the end, of course, the family recognizes Mary and Joseph for who they are and open up their home to these pilgrims, and to their neighbors.

There is hot chocolate, and a special bread that has been fried and coated in sugar, and, if we are lucky, tamales.

The smaller kids line up for a piñata; the older ones slouch against the wall and text each other, acting bored, although only after they have had their hot chocolate and tamales.

In time, people drift off—there is still school tomorrow and, of course, work, there is always work.

But tomorrow night—we will gather again, this time to walk to someone else’s home, and once again, retracing the steps of those pilgrims from millennia ago.

Many in the crowd would have made the same sort of journey, would have likewise knocked on a stranger’s door, and many of them would know the humiliation of being refused shelter.

A surprising number, though, would have known the blessing to have been offered a warm place to sleep, to have been served tamales and chocolate, in the middle of the night, in a strange land.

As if they were in the company of the Queen of Heaven.


His mother abandoned him at birth.

His father was murdered when he was five years old.

His grandparents beat him with electric cables and made him sleep on the curb in front of their house. He speaks an Indian language only known in the highlands of southern Mexico, and only has the most rudimentary Spanish.

When he was fourteen, an aunt sent for him. It took him five days to cross the Arizona desert.

He moved in with his aunt, and went to work washing dishes in a Chinese restaurant in a Midwestern city. He did this for three years, six days a week, ten hours a day.

No one spoke Spanish in the restaurant and no one spoke English.

The system finally caught up with him, and today, he was sitting in an immigration processing center waiting room, hoping that the same system would find a place amongst the many rules and regulations and offer him safety.

I had been visiting with him once a week during the past couple of months at a detention facility, and it seemed like a good idea to be with him when he appeared before the authorities.

The young man was sitting across from me, between his attorney and the guard from the detention facility. We all chat for a while, but he soon runs out of Spanish vocabulary and lapses into silence. I worry that he is going to have a hard time in life, if he can’t even speak Spanish.

But a Chinese family comes into the waiting room, and they begin an animated conversation. The young man, seemingly trapped by a lack of language into a life of loneliness, sits up and smiles. The attorney looks at him and says, “Entiendes el chino, verdad?” and he says, Yeah, I understand some of it. And he smiles, not as nervous now, not so alone.