In mercy gathered, mended and whole.
Empty-handed but not forsaken,
I’ve been set free”
I regretfully collected some papers from the Surgery office. They contained the records of a boy we will call Will that I had cared for last week … a boy whose family was now grieving over his under-sized grave in the north of our valley.
Will presented to the emergency room with a distended abdomen and vomiting. The family said he had been like that for over a week. With the health system (including Kudjip) getting derailed by a wave of COVID in recent weeks, this was the first chance they had to seek care for him. Though he was awake, it was obvious that he struggled to remain so. On our pediatrics ward, our nurses were placing a tube into his stomach to drain the contents there and giving intravenous fluids to support his circulation. Blood tests and an X-ray revealed an intestinal blockage and, surprisingly, a pneumothorax - probably from an infection eroding into his chest wall.
Dr. Ben came to the hospital promptly when he detected the concern in my voice. We both have children about Will's age. A drainage tube placed in the chest removed foul-smelling fluid and a significant amount of air. We placed tubes about everywhere we could - to relieve his struggling body and to monitor the effects of our treatments. He never really improved and less than a day later he died in spite of our efforts.
I went into the nursery and discovered that a premature baby I had been caring for had also passed away overnight, not unexpectedly. Susan's first twin had died last week, suffering from ailments all-to-common for tiny babies in this setting and her second baby had deteriorated over time. I looked over the other dozen babies under my care - all improving, all feeding, all growing, some going home to grateful and relieved families.
After finishing rounds in the nursery and pediatric wards I met our resident, Dr. Sheila, in the operating room for a cesarean section. Maggie's baby was “sotwin” and couldn’t tolerate her labor. Although she was only 8 months pregnant, we felt her little one had a good chance to do well if delivered. Dr. Sheila performed the majority of the procedure as I assisted, and a vigorous little boy went to his “bubu” (grandmother) while we closed Margret’s incision and her anesthetic wore off.
Not long after, we were asked to see Anna - a fifth-time mother who had presented the day before with some mild contractions and edema. A scan revealed twin babies nearly term but with the second one “slip-across” or in transverse lie. Her blood pressures were severely elevated, a dangerous condition called pre-eclampsia. Blood tests showed that her kidney function suffered as well which could jeopardize her ability to receive the resuscitation and medications she needed or to tolerate surgery. We debated the best way to manage her and decided that we could attempt a vaginal delivery. When the moment came, she did well. Our midwife delivered the first baby, I guided the second baby into a good position and Dr. Sheila broke water and delivered a second small but vigorous baby girl.
Before leaving the hospital for dinner, I went to our COVID ward to follow-up on Wendy. Wendy has worked at our hospital for about thirty years. Her presence on station is a mainstay of our community. In recent years she has struggled with some health problems. She was one of the first to receive our COVID immunizations when they became available earlier this year. Six days ago when I saw her in the emergency room with shortness of breath I was worried. Testing confirmed that she had contracted COVID in the midst of our current spike in cases, likely from the delta variant. While she looked good for a couple days, she later de-compensated at home and was promptly brought to our emergency department. I had heard a reassuring update from Dr. Erin - but wanted to see how Wendy was doing today. When I arrived my concern rose immediately. Wendy was struggling - to breathe, to speak, to sit and to recognize those around her. We changed out concentrators (recently mended by our amazing maintenance team), adjusted flow rates, added a couple of medicines. Esther, the kids and some of our extended missionary family gathered on the porch outside our COVID ward and prayed together. Wendy’s daughter, another of our nurses and also suffering from COVID, joined us in lifting up this faithful servant into the hands of God. I know that whatever comes next is beyond me.
“You take our failure, You take our weakness,
You set your treasure in jars of clay.
So take this heart, Lord - I’ll be your vessel -
The world to see Your life in me”
During our recent furlough one of the most common questions I got went something like, “How can you do that? It must be so difficult to see that kind of suffering.” Some will ask “How can we help you in that?”
There is a renewed interest in caring for the spiritual and emotional health of missionaries in difficult situations and I think it is important. The thoughts, prayers, words and deeds of our supporters give a palpable strength to our ongoing efforts here. In attempting to be whole and healthy to best serve others I have heard something like, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
That is certainly true and I have had to be deliberate in setting aside times of rest, rejuvenation and fun to maintain myself and my family in this environment.
But I have also grown to appreciate the workings of the Holy Spirit in spite of my own weakness.
There are times when I am just empty-handed. A jar of clay with pieces cracking off and scattering.
But there is a treasure in there: God’s heart for a broken world, which awaits its redemption through the groaning of the lost and dying.
Perhaps, sometimes, my job is not to gather the pieces but to let the glow of that treasure spill out the cracks. Maybe my tears can be redeemed when joined with the heartaches of the vulnerable and desperate around me. As I read the Gospels, it seems that those places are precisely where Jesus brought his mercy - mending and making His children whole.
“I can see You now -
I can see the love in Your eyes,
Laying Yourself down
Raising up the broken to life”