"And I feel I should know this place as a road winds on in a wide open space
The wind plays a haunting tune as I make my way through a night all alone"
My heart sank as I walked into the delivery room at Bet Eman hospital. Despite crossing the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, despite trading grass huts for skyscrapers and grass huts again, despite having left Papua New Guinea and journeying to the heart of Africa - the sight in front of me felt crushingly familiar.
The week before, the young lady I now worried over had delivered a healthy but small baby by cesarean section. She had a low blood count but was able to leave the hospital for her village. Unfortunately something went terribly wrong - infection or some other malady brought her back to the hospital with a hemoglobin count of 3 and unconscious. Her brother, John-Mathias, discovered her ill at home and brought her to us.
As she lay unconscious with a pulse I could barely feel and no blood pressure picking up, the clinical officers and I quickly elevated her legs, gave her IV fluids and prayed that a family member would be able to give blood of her type. She wasn't bleeding and an ultrasound didn't show any free blood around her operation sight making me think she contracted a hemolyzing infection dropping her already tenuous blood count.
Amazingly, the lab tech, Innocent, found that her brother was a match. He began drawing the blood as I went back to the delivery room. That is when my heart dropped. She took her last few agonal breaths and I knew we wouldn't be able to get the blood in time. We tried resuscitating her but Rose died just as her brother's blood became available.
The clinical officer, Gloria, put her arms on John-Mathias' shoulders and comforted him. I breathed deeply and fought back tears as I walked under the brilliant African stars to my apartment.
My visit to South Sudan felt fast, furious and amazing.
Fast because of the jet lag and busy 7 days, furious because the intensity of the place proved every bit as real as I suspected. Amazing because despite the loss, need and challenges, I witnessed the undeniable faithfulness of God lived through the lives of people He called to live among the South Sudanese and bring them their best measure of His grace.
About 5 years ago, Jeff and Elizabeth Perry followed God's call to one of the most remote corners of the globe, along with 8 of their 9 children. Jeff and a colleague Dr Poole and now Dr Matthew Loftus work at Bet Eman hospital to show God's love and bring health to women and children. Every day, I saw Jeff fill the roles of physician, administrator, teacher, husband and father. I enjoyed their family and got welcomed into their home by Elizabeth and the kids. I just pray that the small measure of service I could bring helped them.
Me, Dr Joel Watson and Dr Jeff Perry
I thank God that the last couple of years at Kudjip gave me some clinical skills to bring to bear at the hospital and enjoyed exchanging ideas and "war stories" with Jeff. But as I sit in the Entebbe airport in Uganda I am more grateful that the struggles of South Sudanese or Papua New Guineans are not won or lost in my hands. As much as my heart breaks for those, like Rose, that I can't physically heal, I feel at peace knowing that my brief glimpse into their lives pales compared to the heart of God that beats and breaks with theirs. That His comfort will be shared with her family through those who continue to feel and give His love at Bet Eman. That because He is good, I can trust Him and see the Peace that South Sudan so desperately needs take an increasing hold in the lives of its people.
Laiki was brought to the delivery room by two nurses from the nearby St Bakhita delivery ward. She suffered a seizure during her labor and the sisters quickly got her to us. One of them, Sister Florence had a familiar look to her and when I asked, "Yu stap orait?" this Papua New Guinean nurse now working in South Sudan nearly fell over.
Laiki was still confused from her seizure and had a dangerously high blood pressure. Recognizing she couldn't cooperate with her first delivery, I called our OR team to prepare her for Csection to attempt to save her and her baby.
As she fought us in her post-ictal delirium, we managed to get her to sleep. Her blood pressure stabilized and out came a beautiful crying baby. Over the next few days she recovered and cared for her baby. She and I may arrive at our respective homes about the same time tomorrow night. And I know that those miraculous healings will continue at Bet Eman because of God's consistent heart to live among the needy and hurting of our world.
So despite the distance between PNG, the US and South Sudan; despite the new languages and faces, despite the hot dust in lieu of the dense jungles, I felt that familiar, compassionate presence of Christ.