“Have you been feeling okay?” “How much do you have?” “Are you out?” “A bottle lasts you 12 days?”
Paula Merrill, SCN, asks these questions and others of her patients at Lexington Medical Clinic in rural Mississippi. Sister Paula has served in health care ministry in Mississippi for over 30 years. She has served at this particular health clinic as a nurse practitioner since 2010. “I’ve been a nurse forever,” she says.
Located in central Mississippi, Lexington Medical Clinic offers health care to all ages. In 2014, the clinic provided nearly 8,000 patient visits. The socioeconomic needs are great. Approximately 40 percent of the patients are uninsured or have only Medicaid, 41 percent of the county’s population lives in poverty, and 62 percent of those living in poverty are children.
A headache brought Jacobi, age 4, to see Sister Paula (video above). She checks his ears, asking his mother about his symptoms. She asks about his medications and listens to his heart and lungs. She notes no infection and diagnoses the boy with a cold. Her peaceful demeanor keeps the child calm and relaxed and he smiles as he tells her about his favorite cartoon characters.
Sister Paula takes her time with her patients. She answers questions and gives medical advice. She listens to their concerns.
“That’s part of the training. That you listen,” Sister Paula says.
Born and raised in Massachusetts, Sister Paula moved to the South as a second-year novice with the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. Her landscape changed to include the green, climbing, beautiful but invasive kudzu and acres of cotton fields that look like snow. She had to get used to the thick heat that lasts until December. But she felt a connection and a need to serve the people. She has been there ever since.
“I don’t know why,” she says. “Why move again?” she laughs.
At the clinic, Sister Paula serves both children and adults. As much as her ministry serves the people medically, Sister Paula also spends time helping people in other ways.
“We do more social work than medicine sometimes,” she explains. “Sometimes patients are looking for a counselor.”
Sister Paula shares the bulk of the clinic’s caseload with Margaret Held, OSF, who is also a nurse practitioner. Every other week, the doctor on staff, Dr. Abboud, visits patients at the clinic.
Dr. Abboud is very appreciative of the care both Sister Paula and Sister Margaret give to their patients. “Paula is great. She is thorough and aggressive,” he says. “They help the patients so thoroughly. That’s the compassionate way to do medicine. They go the extra mile. No doubt about that.”
Willie Paul, a local farm worker, has known Sister Paula for 12 years. He started out as her patient and over the years, the two have become friends. Sister Paula has helped him become a healthier person. He says he’s not sure he’d be alive today without Sister Paula’s advice and encouragement.
“She’s great. She’s an honest person. I can’t look for a better doctor. I’m telling you the truth. My friends would say the same thing.”
Story adapted from the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth website – see the full story here. Happy National Catholic Sisters Week to Sister Paula Merrill!