By 8:15 I am dressed in my new African outfit, have my hair braided, and my backpack packed. Jonathan and Fredrick pull up on a motorcycle. After brief Sabbath greetings, all three of us pile on and zip away through the village. During these Sabbath morning rides my heart is very happy. I sing as we bounce along, wave to children, and just take in the beauty of huts guarded by towering palm trees. At Bendalay* we all pile into the LandRover and head for Dobgay. Seeing a boy who has fallen from a mango tree, we stop to help. Melody and I assess him and decide it’s just a sprained or dislocated knee--nothing life threatening.
Once at Dobgay we gather under the mango tree. There are about 6 benches set up with a small, knee-high table in front that serves as a pulpit. There are songs, children stories and a sermon. Afterwards, the Bendalay missionaries and I gather for a Bible Study about prayer. We enjoy a wonderful lunch. They kindly provide me transportation back to the hospital compound, saving me a 45-minute walk.
It's been two weeks since our premier Sunshine Band and I am determined to keep it going, even though no one chooses to join me. Jaime Parker kindly loans me a guitar and I take off for the hospital. Starting in Pediatrics, I sing a lot of the same songs as last time. They smile and laugh. After "If You're Happy and You Know It," a lady asks excitedly, "What does it mean? What does it mean?" I give her the best translation I can and she smiles with satisfaction. After that I try to give a three or four word explanation in French for each song I sing. Even if they can't understand, I’m just happy to bring them some music. In each ward I always sing "God Is So Good" in English, French, and Nangere, hoping they will understand at least this one song.
I had just finished my singing rounds and was headed back to the Parker house when I noticed activity in Urgence[the ER]. Apparently there had been a car accident with 5 people injured. Olen** was already there assessing the patients. With the guitar still slung over my shoulder and still dressed in my Sabbath best, I stood back to observe. Turning to me he asked abruptly, "Want to do some suturing?" Would I!?! Always on the lookout for learning opportunities, this seemed too good to pass up. "Sure!" I answered, and headed for the Block [the surgery suite]with Olen. I laid the guitar on a hospital gurney and put on a surgical gown to protect my clothes. The patient’s shoulder was badly dislocated, his ear was almost torn off, and he had gapping wounds on his arm.
"You ready?" Olen handed me the needle driver and gestured toward the floppy ear. With a fair share of jitters, I commenced the tricky process of trying to suture in the small space behind the ear. After 4 pain-staking stitches I gratefully hand it over to Olen to finish. I restrain the now-combative patient while Olen sutures the anterior arm wound. At this point he takes a look at the posterior wound and groans. It’s messy, with missing skin, ragged edges and muscle poking out. "Is it possible to suture that?” I ask. "Oh sure," is his confident reply, but he continues to stand there looking at it and making faces.
About this time a nurse comes to tell him there is a patient with a busted eyebrow in Urgence.
"Yeah, I think I'll go take care of that . . . and Heather will suture this one."
My eye brows shot up and I managed an incredulous "Are You Serious?!" But he was already halfway out the door. He called back "You know how," a reassurance which sounded hollow to me. I starred at the gaping wound for a moment, picked up the needle driver and breathed an audible prayer.
"Dear God guide my hands."
Trying to remember all the pointers Olen had given me and the techniques I learned a year ago on an electrician-taped-lemon, I started in on the intimidating task. The wound was wide and I had to loop it three times to even make it stick. It was slow, hard, pain-staking work for my inexperienced hands. I was pouring sweat. In the end the arm was stitched and I was very, very happy.
That evening I walk home in the dark. Just as I get to my compound a kid jumps out of the foliage and gives me quite a start. Suddenly children appear from everywhere, shrieking in laughter at my fright. I smile and playfully scold them. This is the second time this has happened. I pretend my heart is beating wildly and say jokingly that next time they might scare me to death. They all crowd around to shake my hand and I wish them a good night. After giving my African mother a dramatic and laughter-filled report of my day, I retire to my mosquito tent.
Thank you, Lord, for another Sabbath.
*Heather is working as a nurse at Bere Adventist Hospital. Bendalay, about two miles away, is the African headquarters of Adventist Medical Aviation, directed by Gary and Wendy Roberts.
**Olen & Danae, a husband/wife doctor team, are the new co-medical directors of Bere Adventist Hospital. Olen’s specialty is ER; Danae’s specialty is OB/GYN.