Thursday, November 6, 2014

Fears and New Days

"There's a rhythm in rush these days
Where the lights don't move and the colors don't fade.
Leaves you empty with nothing but dreams
In a world gone shallow,
In a world gone lean
 -Stay Alive, Jose Gonzalez

Ten months ago I left my home country and comforts to serve in a mission hospital in the islands of the south Pacific.  There are moments I absolutely love this call.  Throughout the Gospels, Christ went to the poor and hurting places of the world to reach out to the most miserable and suffering people He could find.  In the jungles of Papua New Guinea, nearly everyone I see struggles with providing for their families and surviving in their culture and suffers from severe hardships accumulated in their lives.

But a few days ago I realized how far I am from the selfless model of Christ's example.

Margreth came to Kudjip hospital on October 31st - Halloween - though it meant nothing to her.  She had a steady back ache.  Nine months pregnant, she felt it was time for her baby to come.  Her last baby took a couple days to deliver, but arrived safely.

But in the time since her last delivery, Margreth contracted HIV.  She knew she might give this fatal illness to her little one, so she came to the hospital at the first sign of labor.

For a day she had a steady back ache but no real labor.  On her third day, I saw her in the morning and felt it was best to help her baby come rather than wait - she already looked tired.  I used medications to bring more contractions.

However, by the next morning Margreth made little progress.  I looked at her chart with scorn - a nurse overnight had not performed a vaginal exam for fear of her HIV status.  This might have delayed intervening for her or her baby.  She could have been delivered by now.  Who would avoid their duty of helping someone because of fear?

I couldn't break her water or I could expose her unborn baby to a greater chance of contracting HIV.  The baby's heart rate was too fast - a sign of trouble.  I didn't want to give her further help because it could stress the baby.  She developed a fever.  Margreth was getting sick.  Her baby needed to be born now.

It hit me.  I would soon be performing a bloody surgery on Margreth - using sharp instruments to remove her baby from her womb.  My hands would be covered in blood infected with HIV.  And the fear of that overnight-nurse grabbed my heart.

About 0.7% of the population of Papua New Guinea are infected with HIV.  In our area, Jiwaka, the number is closer to 1-2%.  Our HIV department manages the care for thousands of HIV patients, some of them moving to Kudjip from other areas to receive the best ongoing medical care they can.

Many, if not most, of the women infected with HIV acquire the virus from their husbands or partners.  Once discovered, though, they are sometimes beaten and abandoned.  Stigmatized because of their illness, many places refuse to treat them and family members neglect them.

They are left empty in a shallow world, expecting a baby - and their dream is that it won't end up "like them."

Imagine having a deadly disease, needing medical checks and daily medications, as well as being pregnant without anyone to support you through it.  You are trying to be responsible for yourself and your unborn baby, but even at the hospitals or clinics, everyone puts on extra gloves before they even touch you.

This was Margreth's reality as she labored at Kudjip.  Yet I, a healthy and respected missionary physician, still hesitated in taking the necessary action to deliver her baby safely.  What does that say about my efforts here?  Did I travel thousands of miles, leaving friends and family, to fail in the most critical final moments of God's call for me?  She did everything in her power just to stay alive and deliver a healthy baby.  I didn't want to perform surgery on her - and that taught me how far I've still to go on the road to serving like Christ.

"One of the ways the mission of God ... chisels away at us in the work of sanctification is when we engage with the hurt, the pain, and the sorrow of the world around us.  When we do that, God shows us our inadequacies, our shortcomings, and our fears."
-Matt Chandler

I prayed with Margreth for her and her unborn baby before we started.  Then I made the initial incision into Margreth's abdomen.  Every time I picked up the scalpel or a needle my heart skipped a momentary beat and I watched its point carefully.  Her baby boy delivered after some difficulty removing him.  Blood washed over my hands as I cleaned out her uterus.  Her surgery went as smoothly as I could have hoped.  All of the paper drapes and gowns were thrown away (we normally save and re-sterilize cloth ones).  I wiped the thin line of sweat from my top lip and began to make out her post-op orders.

Missionary surgeons, doctors, nurses and others take these risks every day - and most take them more frequently than I do.  I wonder if they struggle each time.  Do they still ask themselves if they are willing to take the risk?  Are they just reckless?  Do they think they'll be supernaturally protected from harm?

I think not.

I believe they are motivated knowing Christ embraced risky situations if it meant He could touch someone in great need.  Especially the marginalized and forgotten.  The truth is that engaging the neglected or isolated people of the world represents no more or less than God's call on any of us.  In various places and with varying degrees of risk and sacrifice, God's people are told to care for the hurting world.

With that knowledge, I look past my fears and see the beautiful child and mother, safely united, looking forward with hope.  I see new days beyond those difficult nights.

"But there is a truth and it's on our side -
Dawn is coming, open your eyes.
Look into the sun as the new days rise

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