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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Christmas Carol in September

Some of my favorite Christmas movies revolve around the Dickens' Christmas Carol plot, the restless or discouraged supernaturally given a glimpse of what might have been (It's a Wonderful LIfe, Family Man, etc.).  Missionary "HMA" (= Home Ministry Assignment in missions-speak, previously known as furlough) is a bit like being transported by the ghost of Christmas Past as we show up after 20 years in friendships that have lain dormant.  And at times, the Ghost of Christmas Present bedazzles us with alternative lives which we might have lived.  Here in the parallel universe of the United States of America, people who were once very much like us now own expansive houses, write important research papers, take their kids on meaningful missions trips around the world, participate in triathlons, manage hospitals, see patients at experts in their field, provide a backbone to their church, raise fabulous teens, champion important causes.  It's good stuff, and even though everyone who loves us is very respectful of our peculiar life choices, we would not be human or honest if we did not admit that it takes a certain amount of fortitude to bump up against these lives without a bit of wistful wondering.  What if.

Wednesday was one of those days.  Thanks to the advocacy of a fantastic doctor who was a year behind me in residency and in many ways a real soul friend, I found myself invited to speak to the current group of pediatric interns at the same Chicago hospital where I worked from 1988 to 1992. 18 years ago I was one of two "Chief Residents", and I planned many such conferences myself.  And though I have been teaching weekly at Nyahuka, this is a very different world.  The 30-40  young doctors in the room had been selected from a couple of thousand applicants.  Applicants who had COMPLETED medical school, so not exactly average people.  These people are lectured by world-famous researchers and dedicated physicians all the time.  It was a bit intimidating.  In another life I might have been doing such lectures bimonthly, not bi-decadely.

However . . .  as far as I can tell through the fog of this peculiar season in our lives, our calling is to just be who we are, and tell our story, which is really not OUR story but a bigger one of redemption and change and hope and struggle.  So with Scott's help I put together a presentation that was part medical-informational, and part life-experience.  After all, if HALF of all childhood deaths in the WORLD occur in sub-saharan Africa, and if the top five diseases I treat are among the top five problems in the world but uncommon at this hospital, then it is my place to give a voice to the children who remain obscure, to bring a photo of those easily forgotten.  The residents listened politely and respectfully, some asked good questions, many nodded and seemed to connect.  Global health is in, it turns out.  Young doctors are eager to get cross-cultural experience.  I don't know how many want to actually make it their life, but we can all pray for that, that at least a few would consider really coming alongside Africa for the long-haul.  A huge treat for me was that five faculty members who were my teachers and still work at Children's came, and a sixth called in to talk on the phone.  I have not followed in their academic footsteps, but it is nice to be remembered by mentors.  I was really honored.

But the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come did not stir me there.  It was fun and nostalgic to be back, I felt the twang of wondering if I should have tried harder to be more research-oriented, more on top of the game, more connected to higher learning.  The hospital itself represents the stark contrast of that parallel world, more equipment in one room than in our whole district, more doctors in one building than in our country.  At least it seemed that way.  I love my old home, and fully believe in the passion for excellence that serves that city and gives many, many children longer and better lives.  But I did not feel at home the way I do walking into any random African hospital in Congo or Uganda or Kenya or Sudan.  Children's was amazing but not familiar anymore.  I'm not used to the sterile safety of a functional and funded atmosphere.  I miss the paint-peeling grunge, the tangled IV bottles suspended by nails, the flashlight exams, the appreciation of the value of every glove and every needle.  

I suppose in the stories that is the point, to embrace the exact life we've been given, every turn and terror of it, for bringing us uniquely to this exact point of grace.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I know that for one I would NEVER change the life I have been given...