The Mule



THE OLDER FILIPINO woman was shaking when she was brought by the EMS paramedic to triage. She clutched my hand, pleading in silence.

The paramedic bypassed the other triage nurse and zeroed in on me, correctly guessing that his patient and I shared the same ethnicity.

“We picked her up at the airport,” he told me. “Her plane had just arrived from Brazil. The flight attendants noticed that she was very agitated and crying uncontrollably. It seems she’s traveling alone, but she won’t talk to us.”


Anybody’s grandma

She was in her late 60s, with gray hair and a stooped posture; she looked like anybody’s grandma. In fact, she looked a lot like my own departed grandma. She held tightly to her purse and her eyes filled with tears. My initial reaction was to pat her shoulder in a gesture of comfort. As I rubbed her back, I felt her tremble.

At that moment, two men in suits appeared and handcuffed “Grandma” to the stretcher. The narcotics agents informed us that she was suspected of swallowing condoms of cocaine and she had to be isolated from the general population. They planned to wait for her to pass the condoms. I hoped that the cocaine packets would remain intact. Rupture of the packets would result in severe intoxication, seizures, and death.

Her story was all too familiar. She was a drug courier—or, in the colloquial term, a “drug mule.” But she was much older than the couriers who’d come to our ED in the past. None of the other couriers I’d seen looked like “Grandma.”

In my naiveté, I wasn’t prepared to think of the possibility of my patient as a drug mule. As I looked at her in disbelief and disappointment, she averted her eyes. Thrown off by my preconceived notions of what a drug mule should look like, I couldn’t help but ask, “Why?” She kept her eyes closed, but tears ran down her cheeks.

The agents were frustrated with the lack of information. “We need to find the people who contracted her to carry the drugs,” they told me. Their interviews with the patient were met with silence. She looked afraid;  she provided all the demographic data for the registrar but refused to give any contact information. Maybe she didn’t want to give any information for fear of repercussions.


Taking a turn for the worse

Suddenly she grimaced in pain as she pressed on her stomach with her free hand. Alarmed, I yelled for the physician STAT. The patient’s BP was rising and her heart rate was racing. I was afraid that the cocaine packets had burst inside her.

“How many packets did you swallow? Tell us, please!” The patient hesitated, but as she squirmed in pain again, she mumbled, “Ten.”

The next few minutes were frantic as we prepared to send her to the OR for exploratory surgery. We were racing against time.

As she was wheeled out of the room, she turned to me and said, “I did it for my family.”


No room for preconceptions

“Grandma” didn’t survive the surgery. As we later learned, she died because she needed money to pay for her daughter’s cancer treatment back home.

Although we’d expected it, the news of her death affected the ED nurses who knew about her story. Our stereotypical image of a drug mule shattered, we were also touched by her sacrifice for her daughter.

To what extent would you go to help a loved one? we asked ourselves. How tragic that our patient felt trapped by her circumstances and fell prey to the drug lords who took advantage of her need.

I learned an important lesson that day: No patient is stereotypical; as unique as we all are, we respond differently to the chaos in our lives. There’s no place for preconceptions in nursing. We should be able to rise above our personal feelings and take care of each patient the best we know how, without passing judgment.

Published in Nursing 2012, November 2012 edition-


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About Jo Cerrudo 39 Articles
Clinical Nurse Specialist in NYC. On a new journey of discovery. Author, "Nursing Vignettes", published Aug. 2012 (available on Amazon). E-mail: [email protected] Blogs:
  • Athan

    it breaks me into tears when i read this article. Most especially, an elderly was forced to do this because what we call in tagalog “kapit sa patalim” na sila. I cant believe this monsters is abusing the situation to let her do that for an easy money. Di ko mapagilan na maiyak at maawa sa nangyari. Kadalasan nilang naloloko eh yung mga INA na may malaking financial na problema. Please Lord, tulungan mo kaming lahat na mapuksa ang mga ganitong pang aabuso.

    • Right Said

      upon reading this …i am so furious about the story that until now while typing this message all i can think of is…i hope someone will get back with those sons of bitches.may they burn in hell!

      • :/

        hell yes.. wanna rip that S.O.B. !

  • Connie

    I’m speechless. I just don’t know what to say. I’m sad for what she endured so her daughter can be treated. She ended up dying for her daughter’s life.

  • marki

    The story is really heartbreaking. I just wished that someday, no one would have to sacrifice due to poverty.

  • jessie santos

    heartbreaking to say the least. a loving mom succumbed to the pressure in her dire need to help the family. how disgusting, how vile to take advantage of her plight… :,(

  • Undercover

    Gotta give it for grandma for trying….:)

  • telihm

    the people who used these drug mules should be beheaded!!!

  • Jennifer D. Lauraya

    this one broke my heart… what a horrible horrible thing to do to someone who is in dire need, really some people are just downright evil to take advantage of someone’s problem… whoever did that to her, may they rot in hell!!!

  • OnePiece

    sad 🙁

  • graxia

    so so so sad story… it brought me to tears… i really have high respect for the mothers… next to God they are the ones who will unconditionaly love us truly to the end…

    • maeivic villaflor

      After reading this sad story of an old woman,i could not stop myself from shedding tears because she knows how dangerous it would be to swallow those condom of cocoaine. But because she loved her daughter so much and she would like to give her a new lease in life she allowed herself to be used by those “monsters”. I hope that God will punish the persons who gave her the contraband and may their life here on earth be so short so as not to spread the evil things that they are into.
      deeds that

  • buga

    “LIFE has full of many Choices” Grandma chose the otherway for that I don’t symphatized her tragedy but I will pray for her.

    • rachelle

      do u think if she had any other choice she would choose to swallow condoms or packets of cocaine? yes we have a lot of choices but for this situation that was the only choice she had.

    • dsffdsf

      I don’t want to argue, but I agree with buga. Life is a matter choice, as always 🙂

  • Dana

    Every critical situation is a chance that God is giving us to choose the right thing from wrong. It’s sad to know that grandma decided to solve the problem in “an easy money”. Feels bad also because there are people who grab such opportunity to use people in most need for the actualization of their bad doings.
    Let’s all pray that no other incident same as this will happen again.

    • Victor

      Very well said, Dana. There are things in this world that we can’t control. We can not judge people. They all do things for a reason. All we can do is lift it to a higher being.

  • How sad and heartbreaking….She really sacrifice herself for the life of her daughter and how bad, no conscience those people behind this *drug mule*. T

  • Evelyn lauro

    This a sad story, there are other means but she choose this one. Poverty need not to be this harsh if she is living overseas, I’ve heard and saw many kababayans with same financial difficulties but if you invest on friendship and good relationship with people I’m sure at least one of them will give you that support to keep you afloat and in touch with moral values. We are in charge of our life and its up to every individuals to take in control of their future. I can only comment on what I read on this article but if we look around this story is not un usual. It is sad that those evil and wicked drug dealers are preying on these naive and vulnerable people.

  • Laarnie

    Sad 🙁 I don’t want to judge grandma and I can’t question her love for her sick daughter if that’s her reason. Life offer so many ways of surviving it’s up to us whether to choose the right or the other way around. I try to understand grandma but I find it selfish trying to save her daughter’s life while not even care for the lives of those who are going to take those cocaine she carry. I have a friend who’s been suffering from kidney failure, her husband left her for other woman abandon her and their son. Her mom did everything to extend her life went to different gov’t agencies for help, sold everything they had, find every person she knew to seek prayers and help, she never give up even though the doctors told them that it’s impossible for her to recover. She said she will do everything to add even just a year to her daughter’s life but if it will cost her doing what is not right, she will freely give her to the Lord. My friend is still sick but still alive and happy, and guess what? her mom’s perseverance not only gave her a year or two but 10 wonderful years and still counting. Of course it happens because God sees everything.

  • naiyhchoie

    mother’s love to their children is unconditional. imagine in this article, the old lady risk her life for her child to be treated. i fell pity and sad for the woman.. so we must all love, respect and never-ever find ways to hurt our mother’s feelings because they are the only one we got.

  • Mrs.Catherine Luna MasuLa

    Nakakaiyak nman ito,grave tlga ang sakripisyo ng mga ina sa kanilang mga Anak,lahat ay kanila tlgang gagawin,pero mali p rin ang ginawa nyang pamamaraan.kse madami naman sya pwedeng hingan ng tulong.i know n mahirap sa umpisa pero s tulong ng ating Maykapal at tyaga lng ay tyak n may mga tutulong din s kanya….sana nanawagan sya,tutal tyak n tulad din natin sya n ofw.sana ndi na lang s madali ngunit delikado n paraan sya gumawa ng paraan….sana buhay p sya at bka pagaling n dapat ang anak nya….naaawa ako syo,hayaan mo ipagdadasal kita pati n rin ang anak mo….GOD BLESS YOU…..

  • Thank you for liking my post. Sadly, it is still happening.

  • Maricel

    dat s unfair dat an old lady has to die while those culprits r free out there. its a sad fate, tadhana nga nmn peru hnd n bagu s akin yn istorya kc s dmi ng courier nahuli s airport, border security,they must know its dangerous and there s nothing u can do to help if they r lured into doing something dat s illegal.

  • awwwwwwwwww. so sad naman

  • Ben

    Sometimes life offers us oranges and lemons “grandma took the lemons in order for her daughter to have “orange” side of life can we call it sacrifice maybe,stupidity maybe but a person will sacrifice there lives for a love one often resulting in a bad situation will pray for her soul

  • Jason

    What a tragedy.

  • Cyl’Nuta

    So very sad, but I understand what she did. I’d do ANYTHING for my daughter.

  • Joyce Mendez

    i know this happens, to some, unknowingly. there’s this case of a filipina crossing the laotian border to thailand, and at the last minute, the african boyfriend asked her to bring a package the contents of which she did not know. because they were in a relationship, she agreed. luckily, the driver vouched for her, that she was just handed an already wrapped package.

    others are not as lucky.

    in nepal, a travelling filipino said he was asked the favor to bring, same thing, a package, from someone he just met at chat on the internet. turns out to be a cache of fake indian money, and he got caught.

    in a special issue of time on drug mules, i read that these drug lords try to choose sometimes right at the airport, someone travelling alone who won’t be suspected, an elderly lady like ‘grandma’ fits the bill. as i read this on my way back to the US from vancouver, i just remembered a man in his 50s looking italian who kept following me, trying to get my name. but when i went to the pre-departure area where you check in with your ticket and passport, he could no longer join, so i knew he was not travelling. that was 10 years ago, and reading the article on drug mules, it made me shudder had i entertained his advances. so travellers, especially women travelling alone should be wary of these things. in the case of grandma, i’m sure she knew it was wrong, but she may not have known the dangers: that those packets can burst and go directly to her bloodstreams and kill her. it is good to be informed.

  • Kath

    So sad…but God has purpose for everything.. I hope she’s in heaven now, happily living with our Lord and free of pressures in life.

    For the mastermind, prepare now! U may not be punish here on earth but God’s wrath will someday be upon you. It’s a learning to all of us guys…

  • Kieran J

    This is a big tragedy. My heart goes out to her and her family.

  • Marsha

    How desperate she must have been to risk her life. But who knows how many more are sacrifiving their lives for their loved ones?

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