Wednesday, May 31, 2017

One forsaken grave

“So give me hope in the darkness
that I will see the light
'Cause oh, you gave me such a fright.
But I will hold as long as you like,
just promise me we'll be alright.”
Most people who read this blog know that I am a twin. My brother, Luke, and I were numbers four and five, separated from our older siblings by at least eight years. We are very close to this day, and even as kids I can remember only one or two instances where punches might have been thrown. I love the connection we have and I believe it is unique.

In 2010, Esther and I suffered our first miscarriage. I remember the heartache of not getting to meet our child. Then in 2011, while Esther was pregnant with Levi we had another scare. Our doctor called with some test results and thought a medicine might help. I raced to the pharmacy while praying furiously. Few people know that Levi had a twin sibling in the womb, and as it turned out we lost one child but one survived. I sometimes wonder about that – if he somehow knows there is a twin brother or sister waiting to meet him one day.

It was nearly midnight when my phone rang and woke me up from the couch where I sleep when I'm on call – to try and spare Esther and baby Gabriel more disturbances in the night. A visiting family medicine resident named Christie from the US needed me to see a patient in the hospital. When I arrived, I saw Delma gasping for breath, barely conscious.

I recently cared for Delma and her twin sister Elma on the ward for severe breathing trouble. I remember the confusion each morning as these 8-month old twins often got switched around in the bed and it took a few moments for their mother to sort out who was who. But they improved and went home. The respite wouldn't last, though, and both fell ill with breathing complications again.

As soon as I arrived I knew Delma was in trouble. The nurses couldn't get intravenous access to give fluids or drugs and a nebulizer aggressively pumped “gas-maracin” into her face, trying to open her constricted airways. Delma was slowly suffocating. It brought back harrowing memories of Levi's illness a couple years ago.

I got adrenaline from our drug cabinet and injected it into Delma's skin, then placed a special needle directly into the bone of her leg and gave a powerful respiratory medication through the intra-osseous line. She seemed to relax some, but I knew she needed to climb a big hill to recover. Christie and I grabbed the hands of her mother and prayed for her. All the while, her sister Elma watched on, mostly oblivious to Delma's obvious distress.

The next day our staff gave every possible treatment to Delma. Sadly, her breathing wore out and she succumbed to the constriction in her lungs. Elma watched passively as their mother cried over her lost twin sister.

Recently in our nursery, we lost two babies to prematurity. Each had a twin that survives them and are doing well. Those babies are a blessing to their grieving mothers. I love the strength of these women who can love on their living children, but know that a tinge of sadness lingers as they consider the departed siblings – ghosts that we all knew.

I worry that I don't have the right words for the families here when they lose children under our care.  

As a medical missionary, I feel those moments are precisely why I wanted to come to a place like Kudjip.  I believe doctors have a special connection to their patients - encountering their moments of greatest vulnerability and triumph.  As a follower of Christ, I see the opportunity to present the love of God in those circumstances.  So why am I so paralyzed?

Perhaps I struggle to find something to say because, in those moments, I am simply trusting in the persevering hope we share in Christ.  Hope in the darkness.

For every child we lose to malnutrition, pneumonia, diarrhea, pre-maturity or one of the other myriad illnesses we might see here, we probably send five home to their families - to life.  As they gather their belongings from the bed preparing to leave for the village, I take a moment and appreciate that they have been restored.  That a grave meant for them remains empty.  I want that same paralysis to grip me - grateful that their recovery, like those we lose, represents something truly beyond me.

"Our wayside planet, carrying land and wave,
Love and life multiplied, and pain and bliss,
Bears, as chief treasure, one forsaken grave."
-Alice Meynell


  1. Thanks for sharing Mark. Well written. Someday we'll get to meet those who were but didn't stay. That will be some day indeed!
    Chris J