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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


December 1, 2001 - Issue 50


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A Healer Gladly Returns To Her Own People


On Thursday, I visited with a living tribute to UND's Indians into Medicine program. Monica Mayer, MD is proof to me that Dr. Robert Eelkema, author of this program, had exceptional insight and a vision that would reach far beyond the school.

Back some 18 years ago, when I first returned to the reservation, I was sitting around the table with an old friend drinking tea and getting to know the community. Avis told me that her daughter, Monica, was considering medical school. She was a student at UND. I wondered how this young Hidatsa woman, in spite of the fact that she was exceptional, could become a medical doctor. There were none on the reservation at the time. Her father was deceased, and her mother worked as a secretary. There were few American Indian doctors nationwide.

Having no role models on reservations is a problem. Young people need to see that it is possible to become a doctor. If you have parents who went to college and became lawyers, doctors or teachers, you are likely to follow in their footsteps. Unfortunately, many of the professionals who "make it" don't come back to the reservation because there are no or few jobs.

But for Mayer, her goal was to work at home with the Arikara, Hidatsa and Mandan people. So, when she walked across the stage in 1995 in Chester Fritz Auditorium, she wore a buckskin dress rather than the traditional cap and gown. That would become a symbol that she would find a way to practice on the reservation.

She spent the first few years completely immersed in healing at Trinity Hospital system in Minot. Then, Trinity hired her to work the New Town, N.D., clinic -- work being the key word. Her clinic hours were 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with an hour to race 35 miles to the Stanley hospital, where she worked the night or until 8 a.m. Then, she returned to New Town to begin her clinic for the day there.

My goodness, I asked her, when you did you sleep? It was tough, but now she does that only once a month, she said with a big smile.

This weekend, during the girls basketball tournaments in Minot, Mayer will appear for recognition for her accomplishments in basketball while in high school. She was a two-time all-state girls Class B basketball selection and was on the first all-sportscasters/writers state team. She also was a state bowling champion four times. Mayer seems to take on everything like she did in her high school and college years -- with the commitment of a driven person.

When her knee began to give her problems, and she couldn't bowl or play basketball any more, she grew interested in Lewis and Clark. She took on that study with the same gusto that she did her other endeavors. Much of her interest in them comes from questions about their medicinal cures on their journey.

She laughs easily and giggles as if life is good. But some of her experiences in the clinics have been harrowing.

She told me of her race to save a Down syndrome child who was about 6 years old. The child came in from playing, the father told Mayer, and her hand was swollen. They live in the northwestern part of the reservation and in the Badlands.

They thought the girl had broken it and took her to the clinic in New Town. An X-ray showed no breaks, so she was taken to Stanley, where Mayer was on duty.

Now an hour has passed, and the entire arm is swollen so that it looks like the skin is ready to pop. Mayer took a magnifying glass and started to go over the arm. She found the twin fang marks of a snake between her pinky and ring finger. It was an exceptionally good year for rattlesnakes on the reservation, she said.

As luck would have it, no anti-venom was on hand. So, four vials were brought by the highway patrol from Bismarck, but that wasn't enough. A helicopter carrying more vials air-lifted the child to Denver.

The child is home now and doesn't seem to be any worse for the wear, Mayer said.

The doctors from Denver called Mayer. They were mystified that she was able to function with so few "modern" resources in New Town. She laughed at that. They think North Dakota is really an outback, she said.

She delivered her first baby in the Stanley hospital while on duty one night. The mother and father were headed for Minot some 70 miles away. The mother was only 36 weeks along when it became evident that the baby wanted out right now. Mayer said the baby was premature, but she marvels at the child today. She is beautiful and healthy.

I am amazed at this woman who was just a little more than a teen-ager when I first met her. She has taken on the health needs of the tribe and surrounding community. I hope that she will inspire more young people to move back to the reservation to help the people, and I pray that she will stay with us and continue to heal our families.

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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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