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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Wrong about People

It’s 9:30 pm on a Sunday night, and Scott was just called by the health center staff for help because the elderly father-in-law of the most senior clinical officer was brought in with extreme hypertension and probably a stroke.  Not that it’s been so restful (see today’s other entry) of a Sabbath, but late night calls are not usual and neither of us welcomes the burden, especially in the one hour of the day when the kids are in bed and we can relax.  Scott will probably end up driving the comatose man and his family to Bundibugyo, more than an hour by the time he makes the round trip, on a road that’s bad enough to drive in full daylight.  Sigh.  The longer we’re here, the more relationships we have that mean we can’t really say no to something like this.

Before the day’s traumas I had intended to write about being wrong.  This week we studied 1 John 5, and in our study a question about praying for people who are difficult or annoying in our lives really struck me.  Not avoiding them, but praying for them.  How often do I do that?  I reflected on several cases in which people who initially seemed like problems had blossomed (?my change or theirs) to become assets, even friends.  One of the students we sponsor used to be a really obnoxious little boy whom I even ended up banning from my yard for a time because of his behaviour.  Now he’s in his final year of O level and was just honored in Chapel last week for having one of the three highest scores on the practice exams.  I have hopes for him to be a doctor.  His transformation started when his little sister was hit by a careening bike, had a head injury, and he got involved in her care with me as she emerged from a coma and miraculously regained nearly normal function.  That was probably 6 years ago, I can’t quite remember.  Another recent example was a medical worker whose skills and manners did not very much impress me . . . But who has been voluntarily helping me with a really difficult patient.  I asked the team to pray for me to approach “problem people” with prayer for their transformation rather than with a wish to see them transferred.

The very next morning I went to the hospital, and after our weekly staff meeting (we alternate medical education and Bible study) I walked onto the ward to see patients.  I picked up the first chart but was distracted by the very labored breathing I heard half way down the line of beds, so went to investigate.  There I found a child with sickle cell anemia who had been limping along with treatment and transfusions all week, but suddenly looked extremely pale, gasping, minimally responsive.  I knew he was within an hour or less of death without blood, and whisked him off to the lab with his dad to get cross-matched for a transfusion right away.  The problem was that no nursing staff seemed to be available, so I busted into the outpatient department to see who could help me.  The only person there was an older man who recently finished a training course in psychiatric nursing, and since completion had (to my view) merely occupied staff housing doing no work at all.  I would see him every day for months sitting on his porch chatting with people, never bothering to work.  This particular nurse I judged to be a problem person, whom I thought (hoped) would be transferred to another health unit, but in the last week he seems to have decided to start working again at Nyahuka sitting at a desk registering patients.  So when I came into the room and he jumped up to help me, I was skeptical, and surprised.  And help me he did.  He’s not very nice to patients but the man is effective when it comes to nursing care, and knows how to make things happen.  

The child died anyway, just as they were about to start the blood transfusion.  His hemoglobin turned out to be immeasurably low, below 3 g/dl we can’t specify.  I took it a bit hard, I still do, when a kid dies right in my hands and I’m the one to confirm to the anxious parents that it’s over.  His mother broke into the traditional wail and staggered out of the ward weeping on the shoulders of relatives.  The nurse and I wrapped the limp pale little body of the boy (named “Chance”) in a blanket for the father to carry home.  It was the father who got to me, he was choking on genuine sobs.  Not many men cry, even when their child dies, but this man had been caring for the boy all week.  Once the patient dies the family is in a big rush to get out of the hospital, it is considered spiritually dangerous for that spirit to leave the body away from home.  So they gathered their pitiful bundle of bowls and pots and kitengi cloths and a mattress and marched out for the sad trek home.

But the point of my story was the nurse.  The last person I wanted to find to help me, completely surprised me by his willingness to take on the extra work.  I was wrong about him, as so often happens.  When can I become a person who looks for transformation, who sees potential, rather than judging others and hoping for the removal of “problem” people?

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