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


  1. What's a burn tent?

    1. A burn tent is a way to protect the burned skin from dust, flies, mosquitoes or the cold while sleeping, without having anything (fabric, blankets, etc.) actually touching the skin. In this case, we built a little wooden frame and draped a piece of cloth over it and the baby sleeps inside. (see photo above of work-in-progress)

  2. Thanks for elaborating. So, is the baby sleeping bare back? On her stomach? On the dirt floor? BTW, when you google burn tent, your definition doesn't come up. But this blog post does. :) Good way to have new visitors on your blog. ~jro