Days 24 and 25 – when helping hurts.

PONFERRADA – On day 24, I got my first blister.  And that night I stepped on something that cut my other foot’s heel.  I’m officially a part of the Camino: my feet are injured.  Up to this point, they had been fine.  (Equipment: Keen Voyageur boots + Darn Tough wool socks).  The Camino’s solution is Compeed, a local miracle blister treatment that does well on the Camino.

Seton jumps

In the morning Peter and I hiked down to Ponferrada, a slow decent, broken by a dip in the –I’m not kidding—ice cold river, where we encouraged Seton, who I later learned was from Austin.  The next morning, Seton, her mother, Jordon (another kid from Austin with a UT ball cap) and I would all end up in a coffee shop, and only after I was walking away did I realize four out of five in the shop were from Austin. The fifth was Sister Marsha, a bit of a legend on this cohort of the Camino.  From San Francisco, this is her third Camino, her first in 2004.

Sister Marcia

“So what has changed since your first?” I asked Sister Marsha.

“Alburgues,” she said.  “In 2004, they were pretty primitive, called Refugeso, and sparse.

“Was Manjarin around then?  I was asking about our previous night’s stay.  Yes, and she goes on to tell of the worldwide effort to help Tomas the Knight Templar fund a heart operation.

“The Camino was not so crowded, it was a lot more contemplative, ” she says.  We are a few days away from the 100km mark to Santiago, when 1000s join and walking the last 100km. I hear the Camino becomes Disneyland at that point as everybody and their brother in their new equipment crowd the Camino, and we in our tired old smelly clothes, well….

Peter and retired French Major. Interesting rig. It took them all of five minutes to start an argument. Old rivals.

After Peter and I have a last lunch, he moves on and I’m done in.  He goes another 10km that day, and 40km the next.  I did a half day and walked alone.  I needed time to think about my new problem, how to help my driven, workaholic wife before she burns out.   I will call her My Project.

As I walked, the Camino brought the book When Helping Hurts, to mind.  While this book was meant to address the problem of poverty and Western Aid, I wondered if I could apply the same principals.  If I remember correctly, authors Steve Colbertt and Brian Finkkert identify three main phases of a response to a crisis event:

1) Relief – relief of the pain of suffering. This is usually short term and is symptomatic.

2) Rehabilitation – learning a new way of doing things that does not cause another crisis event.  Long term.  This addresses the cause, or why it hurt.  I went down to Haiti and saw while it was the earthquake that was the Crisis Event, the reason so many people died or were injured was the building codes had not been followed and the shoddy construction crumbled in the quake.

3) Redevelopment – learning to work in the new normal.  Long term.

Here is another example: In 2007 I injured my shoulder while swimming in the ocean in Ghana.

Relief Phase – began when West Africa Rescue arrived and administered pain relieving drugs and transported me to the hospital.  A month later I flew to South Africa where they stitched my shoulder back together.  Relief stage complete.

Rehabilitation Phase – from Dec, 2007 to July, 2008 I had different degrees of rehab. It dictated what I could and could not do. For example:  drive a car, cook, rid a bike, play guitar….  I saw physical therapists, used “The Stick,” a simple but effective pain causing set of exercises that increased my flexibility.  For me, this phase lasted about 24 months until I regained most of the use of my arm and shoulder, and could safely operate a chain saw (the ultimate test).

Redevelopment Phase – This is an ongoing exercise in changing my natural tendencies to not do things that could re-injure my shoulder.

Lots of different stairs to climb

The Authors say that the trouble with Western Aid is that we like (and are really good at) the Relief Phase, and continue it well after it is needed.  For example, I did not fly down to South Africa until a month after I was injured.  The Ghanaian doctors said my injury was just a dislocation and prescribed drugs, which masked the pain but could not repair the shoulder.  It never would have repaired itself.

After the Relief Stage, the next two take much longer, and they depend on building relationships with the people.  I tell you all this because I think my Project and I are stuck in the Relief Stage.  Each night the project comes home from work frustrated, exhausted, and sometimes angry, and I spend the night listening, feeding her good food, and putting her back together, just to go to work the next day to see the cycle repeat.

Imagine if there was this house that got flooded each year by the river.  We rebuilt the house in the same place, and next year the same thing happens.  Year after year.  Rebuilding the house; flooding, rebuilding, flooding.  The Rehabilitation Phase would say, look into why it is flooding.  Perhaps it is the dam that was built upstream, or the fallen trees, or garbage that obstructs the natural flow of water, or maybe this is a terrible place to build a house.

The “Doom Loop”

I know in the case of Western Aid, we are the cause.  We like to provide Relief phase aid.  It feels good, is easy to fund-raise, and volunteers love to “really make a difference; be the hands and feet of Christ…”. It is great stuff, and very much needed, but our need to provide it must never overstay its need.  The Rehab phase is much more difficult, and won’t show the dramatic results.  And Redevelopment, Ha!

In clinical terms, I believe this is co-dependency.  The project’s need for Relief is equal to the care-givers need to provide Relief; Together they are stuck in a doom loop.

“I rather miss my stone,” Peter says mid-morning.  “I liked feeling it bump against my leg as I walked.”

I don’t miss mine, and seem to be forgetting what it represented, though I can still see where I left it.  I know I could remember, but I do not want to,  I want to pick up my mat and walk, and as long as I remember, I may be healed, but I won’t know to act like it.

I miss walking with Peter, but it is good to have time to think about what is mine, what is The Project’s in sustaining our doom loop.

Stairs at Knights Templar Castle


5 thoughts on “Days 24 and 25 – when helping hurts.

  1. The doom loop sounds very tiring for everyone involved. Praying for ways for you to find that new normal. Everyone enjoyed seeing your face and hearing your voice during Dale’s send-off

  2. I’m enjoying your posts, Steve. This one – the cycle – is especially relevant to me at this point in time. How change 40+ years of the loop…

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