Sometimes, in life, you gotta be a super transformer. That was the message the Peace Corps trainer gave us 24 years ago.
Over and over, he explained that, if we were to be successful during our time as PC Volunteers in West Africa, we would have to be able to adapt to all sorts of new challenges.
Although medical school and residency after I left the Peace Corps were incredibly difficult, it was my two-year stint in PC that best prepared me (if anything can!) to face the puzzle of coronavirus and to adapt and to overcome.
All those years ago in Washington, D.C., our trainer tried to impress upon us the fact that we had literally no idea of the novel situations in which we would soon find ourselves. We would have to transform ourselves to meet these new challenges and to succeed. All of us trainees were 22 years old. We knew almost nothing about the world, and yet we just knew we would conquer these challenges and make the world a better place!
For the most part, we did. In Africa, I was a high school physics and chemistry teacher. I taught in French in a village in Bénin on the West Coast of the continent. I learned to live, teach and survive in a strange new world.
It wasn’t always clear that things would work out for me there. That first night, when the Peace Corps vehicle dropped me off at my new home, I watched the truck drive away into the setting sun. I thought to myself, “Oh, no! I don’t belong here! I belong in that truck!” My home, as I soon discovered, had no functional lock, no running water — not even a bucket for the well. I drew upon my PC trainer’s admonishments to be a super transformer that first night. I knew I had to solve this problem FAST. I rolled up my right pant leg (so as not to catch it in the chain of my Peace Corps-issued bike) and rode off to find help.
My new fellow villagers helped me tremendously that first night, and each day thereafter. With the help of an expanding circle of friends and neighbors, I discovered how to survive in my new home. Even though electricity was sporadic, and it rained on the inside of my house, I made it. I graded papers by candlelight. When the mathematics teacher went on strike, I learned to teach calculus in French also! With each hurdle, I jumped higher. I did not fail. I transformed.
Many people ask me what I learned about the world, during my Peace Corps service. With the passage of the last 22 years since my return to the United States, I have become ever more aware of one surprising fact: While I did learn about the world, I learned equally as much about myself, there in Bénin. The lessons of our trainer were firmly embedded in me and my fellow volunteers. We had become transformers. No, make that “super transformers.”
Fast forward to today.
I never imagined that my time as a Peace Corps volunteer was just a dress rehearsal for being a physician in a global viral pandemic. The ante has been upped.
As an eye surgeon, business owner, mother, and partner to my husband, my transformer skills are being put to the ultimate test. As in my adopted village in Bénin all those years ago, I am not alone. My family, my Marble Falls neighbors and friends, my patients, as well as my medical colleagues around the nation — we are all in this together.
I believe in the triumph of the human spirit. I can do this. WE can do this! I have been training my whole life for this. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Be a super transformer!