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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Grief and Fear

Those two emotions wave over us hourly.  The church had previously called for a multi-denominational day of prayer and fasting so we started the morning with people there.  I’m going back in a few minutes, to be with people who are also grieving and praying.  I don’t know of any other death that could so severely affect this district.  Everyone is crying.

Jonah first went to investigate this epidemic weeks ago, it was probably still October then.  Rumors had reached him of a mystery illness.  I remember well the day he came into the Paediatric Ward and told us about it.  I gave him gloves and my bottle of alcohol hand gel, pitifully inadequate measures now.  We had not heard of any bleeding, just vomiting and diarrhea and unusual deaths.  We wondered if it was a cholera outbreak.  I remember him slinging his backpack on, and getting on his motorcycle, saying “If I die, I die.”  When he came back he guessed typhoid fever, due to the prominent abdominal pain and even what seemed to be two cases with intestinal perforation.  He noted the family grouping of the cases and held some community meetings to sensitize on hygiene, the basics of handwashing and latrines.  He dispelled rumors of witchcraft and poisons.  He wrote up a report.  Then over the next week or two there was a task force set up, some Ministry of Health epidemiologists came and took blood samples.  We got the good news that it was not Marburg or any Viral Hemorrhagic Fever based on samples sent . . . Not sure where.  Then there was the message that more samples had been sent to South Africa.  Days went on.  Uganda’s attention was on CHOGM.  Jonah continued to attend to patients as they came into Bundibugyo Hospital, as did Scott.  Jonah was the primary doctor for Muhindo Jeremiah, an older gentleman who had been active in visiting the sick in Kikyo then fell ill in Bundibugyo.  A week and a half ago Muhindo died.  A few days later Jonah went to Kampala on personal business; he has a house there still from medical school days with rooms he rents out, and three of his daughters are in school in Kampala, and his mother and brother stay with them there.  We went to Kikyo the day Jonah went to Kampala, all of us still wondering what this disease could be, still being told the samples had been sent from South Africa now on to the CDC in Atlanta.  Then last Thursday the bombshell announcement came, that it was Ebola, a new strain.  That day we talked to Jonah on the phone, he had a headache he said, maybe early malaria, he’d watch.  By Friday morning he found it prudent to admit himself to Mulago hospital.  That was his last act of bravery and wisdom.  We talked on the phone that day, he sounded so normal, so himself.  I went to find his wife Melen who was still here.  We prayed and wept and embraced and called him again.  Saturday morning I drove her early to town to get on transport to go to Kampala, even though she knew she would not be allowed to see him. She’s six months pregnant with their sixth child.  From Friday until 4 pm yesterday every report we got from the doctors was hopeful.  He was walking and talking, drinking.  His doctor even said he was wanting to call and talk to us but they were looking for a way to charge his phone which he had with him in the isolation.  He did have a couple of days of reduced urine output indicating an effect on his kidneys, and he did continue to have fever.  With each new symptom and passing day the hope that it was all just malaria became less and less.  Still Jonah is a strong man, healthy, smart.  He was in the country’s main hospital, not out here in Bundibugyo.  He was getting lab tests.  He had a team of doctors, including MSF Spain.  We had hope.  Then suddenly last night they called back.  He had died.  Maybe there was bleeding, involving his kidneys and lungs, I don’t have the real story yet.

Jonah was a man of integrity.  He refused to charge patients extra fees for his services, even though that is widely practiced in government hospitals.  He was completely trustworthy with his responsibilities and resources.  He was a leader who knew how to motivate, listen, draw consensus.  He was not afraid.  He worked hard, entering medical school in his mid-30’s after an initial career as a medical assistant.  We sponsored him all the way because we saw in him both the clinical prowess to save lives and the character to change the system.  He was the first person from Bundibugyo to graduate from Makerere University School of Medicine in 29 years.  He knew that God was the one who provided his opportunities, and he had a strong sense of his duty to serve.  His father was killed by ADF rebels in about 1997.  When the initial attacks came Jonah and Melen fled to our house.  We supported each other through war, school, families, children.  I was present for the birth of one of their girls (Biira) in their home.  Biira and Caleb were baptized together.  We’ve spent holidays together, traveled together, been present for each other’s significant events.  Since graduating from medical school Jonah has not found it easy to be back in Bundibugyo.  A person who stands against corruption meets obstacles here.  He has struggled.  But we always thought he would eventually prevail.  

I think I know now how Jesus’ disciples felt Friday night after the crucifixion.  What is God doing?  Will evil win?  Our hearts cry out.  Before all of this happened we sent out a December prayer letter, and now I can see that the Spirit was preparing our hearts.  I’ll try to post it some time.  But the message was:  the Kingdom coming is a dangerous business, real people get hurt and die.  I never dreamed it would be Jonah.  

Of course our grief is mixed with fear, with wondering what that means for our own exposures, though less than Jonah’s.  Scott and the WHM leadership made a decision last night that I will no longer be allowed to see patients, even non-Ebola ones, so I can wait out my incubation period and hopefully be cleared to reunite with our kids.  Scott Will is taking over my NHC duties.  I just got a message from him that there are only 12 patients admitted and no staff yet visible, but he said “God is still here”.  Scott Myhre is taking responsibility for Bundibugyo Hospital.  He said he’d like to mourn today, but it is like a battle, when your comrade falls that is not the time to quit.  We have moments of clarity and peace, and lots more moments of shivering dread.  The outpouring of prayer and posts has strengthened us.  I think we are too weak and numb to pray well, but in the body that’s OK, all over the world people are doing that work for us.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for being brave. Thank you for standing with other valiant Ugandans like Dr. Kule in the Ebola fight.

tumwijuke
http://ugandaninsomniac.wordpress.com

Anonymous said...

We are following your plight and no words can start to help with the grief you feel. However they say God had a plan for us all and a reason for everything and we can only hope that there is a very good reason for this tragedy. We are praying for you. Please keep up the posts, as it helps are know that you guys are doing okay.. as okay as can be under the circumstances.

Mary said...

Thank you for being there and sharing with us all. I am volunteering in Fort Portal with CRS - you might not recall, but we met very briefly in October. We have been following your blog updates very closely and are praying for you, for a quick end to this outbreak, and for strength for all those affected.

Rebecca Giles said...

Thank you for keeping us informed about the Ebola outbreak including how you are feeling and processing this which I am sure takes much energy. We will continue to pray for you and to grieve with you during this difficult time. Praying for endurance for all of you and for His kingdom to come!!!

Rebecca Giles, Ireland MAP

Anonymous said...

I cannot begin to imagine the waves of emotions you must be experiencing - grief, fear, exhaustion, despair. Your posts are gut-wrenching and poignant to read, and still a testimony to God's presence here on earth- they seem to me to be prayers in and of themselves, and I know God is weeping with you as He sees them. My daughter will be joining WHM in February as an apprentice and had at one time hoped to be in Uganda; she was prevented from going due to a medical condition but still has such a heart for the people of Uganda,so issues affecting your team weigh particularly heavily on my heart. Know that I have wept and prayed with you and have begged God to give you supernatural strength and comfort. The words of Psalm 103 came to me this morning:"As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; He knows how we are formed; He remembers that we are but dust." God totally understands the human reactions we have to these seemingly inexplainable things, and every emotion we feel is perfectly acceptable to Him. He also knows your "dust" needs for sleep, a break from the intensity, emotional support, and so on, and I am asking Him to meet those needs in a supernatural way. I am a wife and mother myself, and I am praying with as much empathy as God can give me for you to have peace concerning your children and husband, as I can imagine the heavy emotional toll of thoughts of their safety. Thank you for the incredible sacrifices you and your family have made to bring such joy and hope to Uganda.

Mama Russell said...

God bless you both as you serve Him where He has led you. May He comfort you with only the love He can give in this immense time of grief. I will continue to pray, dear Brother and Sister in Christ. Please let us know if there is anything we can do for Dr. Jonah's wife and family.
In His grace,
Kelly

Anonymous said...

Let our prayers sustain you. I weep as I process what you must be going through. I feel as if I have lost Jonah. Thank you for sharing about this man of integrity.

Anonymous said...

I am praying and crying. So many have been touched by your family of believers there in Bundibugyo. It is a great loss to lose a man who was a beloved friend, brother, son, and colleague to you and Scott. But, in all this, I am grateful that Jonah is finally fully himself and face to face with his maker.

Anonymous said...

The story of Dr. Jonah and all of the faitful people he has left behind is so incredibly sad. The loss to family and friends is tremendous, and that doesn't begin to describe the loss to the hospital and community. We are earnestly praying for you. Prayers that God will heal your grief, prayers that God will raise up a new leader, prayers that this rampant disease will be extinguished. Love to you from across the world, Christine and Adam Laucher, Asheville, NC

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your hard work in the face of such a horrible situation. I met Scott last year in Arusha at a meeting and have been so impressed by and thankful for your ministry. Please know that many people from many walks of life and denominations are praying for you. God bless you and your family and all the brave folks working with you.

eurorebs said...

Weeping with you and praying for you. And praying for His Kingdom to come! Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us so we know how to pray. We love you. Your sister, Rebecca