THE MONKEY LADY AND THE BLIND MAN
By WALT PFEIFER
Children in the village would taunt her yelling, “There goes monkey lady- monkey lady- monkey lady!” as she hobbled along the streets of Corozol Town. I never did know her name, so for story purposes I’ll call her by the most popular female name in Belize, which is Meera.
Corozol Town is the northernmost city in Belize only nine miles from the border with Mexico. Most of the inhabitants are poor, and if they have work, it is usually in the surrounding citrus plantations or laboring in the dense tropical forests harvesting lumber. Meera and her family lived in a humble dwelling of wooden floors and walls with a palm fiber roof. A front veranda and cover graced the exterior. Splitting the small vegetable garden located out front was a dirt path leading out to the graveled street. Leading from the path onto the veranda was a four-step narrow stairs that was in dire need of repair.
Common denizens of the area are the long-tailed spider monkeys that have learned to hang around humans to get hand outs and raid the refuse pits. These critters are an annoyance to folks carrying groceries or produce on their way home. It isn’t unusual to see them jump onto moving trucks laden with mangoes or bananas from the farms. Young boys are hired to ride atop the loads to shoo the invaders off the trucks using cane poles. Since the monkeys have human-like hands, like our raccoons, they have learned to open latches, trash can covers and gate hooks.
One morning as Meera was leaving her home, a spider monkey that had been asleep on the veranda, startled her while taking the first step on the stairs, causing her to fall hard onto the ground. Making the fall more injurious, her left foot caught on the steps and flipped the foot downward and backward, thus it was dangling straight down aligned with her leg. She could hardly call for help as the sight of her foot caused her to throw up her breakfast. Finally, she was able to call out loud enough for her two daughters to hear her cries and come running out of the house. They were stunned at the sight of mom on the ground and her foot grotesquely out of place. With the help of the hysterical daughters, Meera was able to sit upon the edge of the veranda.
Days past before Meera was able to walk about using a borrowed crutch. Since her left foot dangled and dragged the ground, she put an old thick sock on to keep down scratches and scrapes. Local doctors just threw up their hands about what to do about the injury and essentially said Meera would just have to adapt and live with it. So, for nearly two years, she made her way on the streets to and from her errands. Hobbling along on the crutch and dragging her left leg and foot behind her she became an easy target for insults and jeers from kids that knew the story that she was frightened by a monkey.
“Monkey Lady! Here comes Monkey Lady! Look out for the monkeys!” were the usual hoots and hollers.
Each year a medical mission group sponsored by the Church of Christ in College Station, TX, travels to Belize. One such group had an orthopedic surgeon among the doctors. By coincidence, or providence, the doctor saw Meera struggling along the street while on the group’s way to the clinic. “Stop the van, please,” he told the driver. He and others got out of the van and approached Meera. He quizzed her about the injury and resulting physical pain. The doctor invited her to come to the clinic in the next day or two to see him.
“Do you think you can help her?” someone asked as folks were loading back into the van.
“Yes, I am pretty sure that I can.”
Meera found a ride to the clinic site to meet with the doctor, relating the entire story, adding that the doctors she had seen said there was no hope. Relieved to hear the doctor say he could fix her foot was a miracle she had been praying to receive.
In an examining room, Meera laid down on the table comforted by two nice ladies that had come with the team and one male nurse. The nurse took off Meera’s ragged sock and washed her foot for the doctor. “Now, Meera, this will hurt for only a moment – are you ready?” The ladies on each side of her assured her by holding her hands and smiling.
“Yes, I’m ready.” Meera squinted her eyes shut.
Holding her lower leg on a pillow, the nurse pressed her ankle down firmly. Neither he nor the lady assistants were prepared to witness what would happen next. The doctor placed one hand under Meera’s heel and the other tightly gripping beneath the arch of her foot. With a strong, quick jerk he flipped the foot over to its natural position. Ankle bones made a cracking, popping sound as the motion was performed. “There we go!” he said. Meera was fine, but the three helpers were about to pass out!
“Use your crutch for a couple of weeks until you get your ankle and foot strength back, then throw it away – you will be dancing soon,” Doc said with a grin.
Meera cried and held onto the Doc’s arm for a while, thanking him repeatedly. Monkey Lady was going to walk like before.
Another medical mission group came back to Corozol Town a year later with two ophthalmologists and one surgeon specializing in knee joint replacements. Since the government approves permits for foreign visiting doctors, the President of Belize learned the knee surgeon was going to demonstrate the latest techniques to surgeons at Belize City Hospital. He insisted the training surgery be performed on his brother. It never hurts to grease the political wheels.
Rico had recently passed his 56th birthday, but he had been unable to see his birthday cake or candles for the past 20 years. The lenses in his eyes had become opaque due to cataracts. Losing his sight also meant losing a chance to work, so although his wife worked as a housekeeper for wealthy families, Rico sat in the parks and begged for coins from passers-by.
The Church of Christ in Corozol spread the word about the upcoming medical clinic. Led by his wife, Rico entered the clinic site and was seated in the gym area to await an exam by one of the specialists.
A month earlier, a container was shipped from Houston with medical supplies and equipment for the medical team to use. Equipped with the bare essentials, the eye doctors and their assistants spent the first day at triage to determine which patients were candidates for treatment and which were not. Rico was one of those whose eye issues was not going to be easily treated. He was asked to come back on the next to the last day, and if there was time, they might try to treat him.
It was a Thursday afternoon that Rico came back with hopes to be treated. Seated in a U.S. Military surplus exam chair, the doc scanned each eye with a scope. “Rico, let’s try to do some surgery that can restore a lot of your sight if the retina is not damaged. Are you willing to let us try?” the doctor asked looking at the wife also.
By late afternoon, the procedure was finished and Rico, eyes covered in cotton gauze and tape, was sent home with instructions to return around noon on Friday. Right on time, Rico and wife arrived at the clinic to the sound of folks packing up equipment for the flight back to the States on Saturday. Mounted on a stool, the doc rolled up next to Rico. “How do you feel today, Rico?”
An open door in front of Rico spilled sunlight into the room. Doc began to slowly peel the gauze away until only the cotton coverings remained over each eye.
“Now, Rico, keep your eyelids closed until I tell you to open them,” Doc instructed.
Rico’s wife leaned over to look at his eyes. Squinting and wrinkling up his face, he remained quiet, although now his eyes were uncovered.
“Rico, what do you see?” Doc and the assistant were concerned as he remained silent for a seemingly long time.
Finally, Rico said, “I see a white cross on top of that church down the street,” which surprised the Doc, who had to strain to see the distant church himself. Rico turned to his left and continued, “And I see my beautiful wife.”
Astounding are God-given skills of the medical practitioners, that we often take so lightly. One facet of the medical missions is not only do they expose the needy and helpless to healing, but to the Gospel. The Gospel and healing are synonymous. The Great Physician put it this way: Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”
Monkey Lady and Rico had reason to be jubilant.
Walt Pfeifer, a longtime Abilenian, published a book of life stories in 2017 that he wrote for family members and a class at Highland Church of Christ. He is now writing a second book.