Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Holy Week

It's Holy Week.  We are back in the States.  It's tougher than you might think coming back--much harder than adjusting to being in TZ.  When we come back here, to our native culture, we expect to fit in.  But we find that we don't.  We have changed.  America has gotten perhaps a bit more crazy.  A short anecdote that exemplifies the cognitive dissonance we experience:

Carnival Cruise Lines recently had a ship full of reveling Americans lose power and have to be towed into port.  For a few days, cocktails were not properly cooled and food was not properly hot.  People may have gotten sick.  There were surely other inconveniences.  But I'm pretty sure no one died.  I'm not saying that these people did not have a bummer of a vacation.  They should get their money back and even a free upgraded cruise in the future.  But apparently many of them are suing Carnival for the hardship!  I'll quote a friend's comment on this: "What a first world problem.  'Oh no!  My giant party boat broke down.  What a disaster!'"  I see mini versions of this discordant reality every day, and I find it disconcerting.

To counter that pathetic story, I have a better one I wish I could tell you, but I think I had better not.  It was one of the most memorable moments of my life.  But it took place in South Sudan and I  shouldn't put the details of it on the internet.  Those of you who know me have possibly heard me tell the story.  I won't relate it here, but perhaps I can give you something even better:

The man who is at the nexus of that story--who made a statement that shattered my understanding of what is at stake in the world--will be on 60 minutes this Sunday (Easter) evening on CBS.  His name is Abraham Nhial.  He was one of the Lost Boys of Sudan.  He is now a Bishop of the Anglican Church in South Sudan.  His story is absolutely incredible.  Don't miss him.  You can find out a little bit here: Abraham Nhial on You Tube, and here is a website and book about his story: Lost Boy No More.  He tells his story much better than I can.

We live in two worlds, but they're the same world.  On one side a giant party stalls, and it's considered a disaster.  On the other side, unimaginable suffering and evil on a vast scale is commonplace--it can't even be put into words.  It's tough to digest.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Terrible Burn (Part 2)

Guest blog post written by Jessica, a 4th year med student. 

Finishing our morning devotions at the clinic, we looked up as a quiet form filled the doorway.  We all smiled to see that the mother and baby were back. Moving into the exam room, we begin the challenging task of taking off the old dressings and cleansing the delicate, burned tissue. This can be one of the hardest parts for both patient and physician as all the skin is raw and tender and has to be cleansed and touched. The baby began to whimper a bit, and all of us began to silently pray, hating the pain that we knew was present, but knowing that the treatment was necessary. As we were working, Megan began subconsciously humming the hymn tune from our devotions, and someone else heard and began to sing. The baby quieted at the sound of the singing, and we were reminded of God again answering prayer. We soon finished, gently applying burn cream and re-wrapping the wounded areas.
A few days later, the family appeared again. We were very glad to see them, as it had been longer than we had hoped between visits. Again, we carefully examined the burned tissue and sang, remarking at changes in the week since this had happened. The baby was healing well, but we were concerned about some high fevers. Malaria was suspected, and we tested the baby’s blood. It was positive for malaria, and we tried to explain to the family how they could build a burn tent to keep the mosquitoes off of the little girl, while allowing the open air to facilitate healing to the wound. (We had been doing a lot of reading on the best way to care for burns and prevent infection in this setting of dust, dirt, mosquitoes, and more.) As the mom and baby prepared to leave, Ty asked if Stephen and I wanted to accompany the mom home so we could check up on them. We eagerly said yes, and hurried to mission house to grab water and a friend who speaks Kouria.

As we followed the mother down the dirt path, I was humbled and amazed. The sun was hot as it beat upon us, and the mother shifted the umbrella over her head, trying to keep the baby on her back comfortable. Though the burn was covered by the mother’s fabric khanga, I wondered at how miserable the baby must feel with her dark skin and fever, and the heat hitting the burn through the fabric. Stephen jotted down landmarks on his tiny notebook, trying to make a map, while I noted the compass bearings. We passed cows and goats, winding paths that snaked off to unseen ends, corn fields and bean plantations as the distance wore on. I soon realized that this mother did not live close to clinic. We had already walked at least a half hour, and didn’t seem to be nearing our destination. My Kiswahili is lousy, and I was unable to say much beyond “What is your name? My name is Jessica. What is this called? Sorry, my Swahili is really little.” So, we largely walked in silence, and I prayed hard for this little baby who was suffering, for her mom who was brave enough to walk for an hour in the sun to carry her little girl to the doctor, for what we might find in the home, and for God to use us an encouragement to the family. I prayed that God would give the mom something to make her smile, as she always looked worried and preoccupied when we saw her. Ironically, she smiled at my weak attempts at Swahili, and I thanked God.

My heart marveled at the strength of this mama. We knew very little about her. I was unsure of whether she was married or not, how many other children she had at home to care for, how old she was, and what she thought of these two wazungu who were walking home with her. I longed to know her story. Did she grow up here? Of course she did. Did she have a husband? Was he a kind man? Did she feel guilty for what had happened to her little girl? Who held the baby when she had to go to the bathroom?
What I did know was that the baby had a mother who loved her, and that her mama was strong. I also knew that her Heavenly Father loved her as well, and that He is strong.

We continued to wind down the path on our curious house call, and I noted the murky bog, mentally dubbed it the “Mosquito Swamp” and silently blamed it for the little girl’s malaria. As the path curved, we turned off to the right, and I realized that the circle of huts we were approaching was our destination. We stooped to walk through the low gate in the fence, and eyed the cow pen and maize drying inside the compound. Four huts stood in a circle with a fence made of branches between them. We were ushered into the first hut, and I was given the lone chair. Two stools were brought for Stephen and  our friend and interpreter, V., and as my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I took note of my surroundings. Old newspapers hung from ropes stretched across the ceiling, and the sparse room held only a small end table and our chairs. In the midst of such a spartan home, I was surprised by the terracotta colored paintings that covered the cream colored walls. Unsure of how to proceed, we began to ask the mom some of our questions through the interpreter, and she started to relax within the walls of her own home. She was surprised to learn that Stephen and I were married, and we learned that her husband was working in the field. A neighbor stopped in and greeted us warmly in English and told us that it was an honor to have us in their community. We thanked him, and said that we were honored to be there.

Before long, we set out to gather sticks to build a burn tent for the baby to sleep under. Having gathered enough, we asked if there was twine or rope to lash it together. The mom stood on the stool, and carefully reached up to a board that formed a makeshift ceiling, taking down a very neatly rolled bundle of twine. Thanking her, we set to work. Her husband came home in the process and began to help, an action that spoke volumes to us about his care for his wife and daughter. He was very appreciative. I tried to hold the baby, but she looked at me suspiciously and cried, so I handed her back to her mom. Having accomplished our task, we asked if we could pray with them, and did so.  We told the parents that we were very pleased with how the baby was healing, and that we would continue to pray for God to heal her more. We prayed with confidence, because after all, we had already seen Him answer a great many prayers for this precious little girl. Knowing that the sun would soon be on its journey home, we headed that direction as well, rejoicing that we serve a God who cares about a family with a little girl with a severe burn living in middle of a corn field in Tanzania. 

Tending the wounds 
House Calls!
The Mosquito Swamp
Making Burn Tent
Burn Tent - This will have a khanga
(piece of fabric wrapped on top of it).
Making House Calls

Monday, March 4, 2013

An All Too Common Story - Part 1

Written by Jessica Morse, 4th year medical student at VCOM

It was our third day here when we first met her. The mama had come to the hospital and was sitting in her brightly colored kanga in our intake area with the baby on her lap. I didn’t think much of it initially, as I was gathering supplies to suture someone in the next room. However, as I walked passed, the mama dropped the kanga from around the baby, revealing a severe burn. I winced. Burns are exceedingly painful, and this one was really bad. 

Most of the baby’s back and a significant portion of her trunk had been scalded. Hot cornmeal porridge (uji) is a staple here, and this little girl had somehow managed to pull a whole pot of it down on herself. 

Concerned, our team assessed and tended the wound in conjunction with the Tanzanian attending doctor. I came back in the room just as they finished dressing the wound, and we gave the mother instructions to return the following morning. Later, when we discussed the case with Ty, we came to realize how life-threatening burns like this can be in this setting. The mama and baby had already left the clinic to go back home, and we tried to figure out the best way to contact them to “admit” them to the hospital overnight for observation. Landline phones are non-existent, as are addresses. Someone had seen the family make a left turn out of the clinic. We decided to send our night guard after the family to ask them to return sooner. He set off down a narrow dirt path between two cornfields as dusk settled in. Unable to do anything more, we began to pray- to pray that he would find them, to pray that they would know how important it was to come back, to pray that God would somehow intervene in this little girl’s life, to pray that He would heal her, to pray that she would make it through the night.
Several hours later, as we joined the children at City of Hope for their evening music and dancing, we saw Dr. Ben come and get Ty. Though I was tired, I waited up, hoping to hear news of the little girl. 

I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard that they had found her, that the family was willing to spend the night at the hospital, that the burn looked better than Ty had initially anticipated. God had answered the first of our prayers.