Thursday, July 7, 2011


The day begins.

I awake to the familiar sound of crowing roosters and clucking guinea hens. At 5:30 am the light is just beginning to glow in the sky. I hear the dogs stir and know they will soon be whining for me to take them for their morning walk. A new day has officially begun.

When I step out into the morning cool I am once again reminded why I choose to ignore my desire to stay in bed. The village is quiet and there is a generalized hush despite the guineas and roosters. Once we get beyond the soccer field I glance back over my shoulder toward the hospital compound. The sun has risen over the towering mango trees and appears as a large rose-colored disk. Unwilling to take my eyes off it I walk backward for a good many steps. The rosy glow lights up the African plain in an enchanting way. This is a wild and beautiful land. It makes you want to breath, stretch your arms out and be at peace.

An hour later I am dressed for work and striding through the hospital gate. Without any plan or assignment I wander about to find the department most in need of help. I find it: Maternity. Once again they are overflowing with more patients than beds. This is becoming a habitual situation. They will need to expand soon. Many patients are in need of special attention. There are two ladies in labor, a woman with malaria whose Hg is 5.3, and a women with a high fever. One of the laboring women begins displaying signs of pre-eclampsia. Her BP has climbed for 140/100 to 166/110. She becomes restless. We check the fetal heart rate every 30 minutes with a horn-looking device you press on their belly while smashing your ear to the other end. Unfortunately I do not know the official name of this dandy device, but it makes me feel very old-fashioned. Within an hour the baby's heart rate begins dropping. The family is called in to obtain permission for a C-section. They refuse because they have no money. They are informed the government will pay—no cost to them. They still refuse. The doctors, nurses, chaplain, and random eaves-droppers try to reason with them. No use. They leave. I have little hope for the baby and only hope she survives. I have seen at least one other like her die. In the mean time I am kept busy caring for other patients and putting out fires. It is a bit on the stressful side. Beings this is my first day back working as a nurse since I began my painting projects, I wonder if I have just forgotten what nursing is like here, but then decide this is just a particularly busy day. All the patients seem to have no money. I spend much of my day running about filling out and processing the government form for free medicine. This option has not always been available. I am grateful for it, even if the process is complex and difficult.

At the end of the day I leave work late, feeling a tiredness of body and spirit. I stop by the house only to empty my pockets and leave my stethoscope. The sky is turning dark and distant thunder is rumbling. Straight away I head to my African family’s house for a visit. Arriving at their little compound, I clap and peer around the tin door. Two little children, Skirkah and Bezo spy me and announce my arrival while doing a little dance. I'm happy to see them, too. We sit on the mat together and enjoy a meal of bouille and a peanut sauce. All the while the wind is whipping with more gusto, thunder rumblings are closer and I expect rain to fall any moment. Finally the first few drops splatter the dry sand. There is a bustle of activity as everyone relocates important objects inside. We all pile into one of the huts just as the storm hits with all its fury. The kids squeal with excitement and are bouncing off the hut’s sparse furnishings. Their excitement is contagious. We sing and dance together. At one point the lightening becomes especially intense. Bezo retreats to my lap and Sido huddles close to my side. I decide this is a good time to burst into song, and a peppy version of "Favorite Things" ensues. This seems to restore the sense of fun and good-cheer. We have a song-singing fest that lasts the rest of the storm. I try to sing along with their songs, but am generally unsuccessful. The best one is a song about the family of God. The last part says, "if you are my brother shake my hand and if you are my sister give me a hug." We all try to shake hands and do lots of group hugs. At one point Bezo and Sido head-butt as they both try to hug me. They fall back laughing hysterically. I attempt to read them a story in French about an elephant and hippopotamus who played tug of war. All in all we have a lovely time. When I walk back to the hospital they accompany me, a child on each hand. I don't want to think of leaving them, so I don't for the moment.

As promised, I stop by the hospital to check on the night shift. They're short of help, so I go home and change back into scrubs. I am very tired, but I keenly remember what it’s like to be in their place. Not long after, a woman in labor arrives at Maternity. Assuming she is a normal case, I help her up on the delivery table. When I lift up her skirt I catch my breath and call for the other nurse to come quickly. Although the woman's membrane had not ruptured, she had delivered a portion the size of a cantaloupe. I’m not exactly sure what this means, but lose all hope for the baby. The other nurse immediately pops the membrane with a needle to begin draining it. I see something dark in it, and soon realize it's the dark blue arm of a baby—the only part of the baby showing. At first it seems a C-section might be necessary, but the nurse-on-duty skillfully delivers the limp baby in no time. It is a pitiful sight. Something deep inside me hurts and aches. The floor is literally swimming in pools of blood. I’m grateful I’m there to help. Cleaning up such a mess at night is unpleasant and difficult. For the next hour we rinse, mop and disinfect. I wince a little when soapy, bloody water slosh into my crocs, but breathe a satisfied sigh when it is all cleaned up. Before giving out meds, I rinse my feet and crocs with bleach water. By 10 pm I have done all I can to help the nurses. All that’s left to do is wait for midnight meds. Instructing them to call if they need me for anything, I go home to get some sleep.

Before crawling into bed, I eye a package that arrived unexpectedly that afternoon. There hadn’t been time to open it before heading to the hospital. I know I can’t sleep until I open it, so I settle myself on the couch with a pair of scissors. I oh and ah with delighted surprise as I unpack the food mixes and other goodies it contains. Inside I also find a personal letter from a lovely woman of God whom I have never met, yet who obviously cares for me. Praise God for a wonderful Student Missions Coordinator! I also open a letter from a friend, and a card from my mom. My heart is encouraged, my face full of smiles. I go to bed conscious of God's great love for me, and fall asleep with thoughts of how blessed I am.

The day ends.

1 comment:

Alice Elizabeth said...

Dearest Heather,
It sounds like you are having a wonderfully exciting (if sometimes stressful) time. I'm sure there is much more to it, and there must be times when you are discouraged, but you have the most beautiful attitude and seem to be able to make even the most difficult times sound like an incredible adventure.

The instrument you use to listen to FHT sounds to me like a Pinard Horn. I would love to be able to be there and have all those experiences, but I'm living my own adventure here.
Still waiting for the babies to come. Should be any day now!

Love and miss you lots, and I am praying for you,