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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

My Life in the Biathlon

We are watching the Olympics, at least little snatches of them when we can.  The graceful ice dancers twirling in unison, the bird-like flights of the petite ski jumpers, the dangerously fast luge, the brutal bounce and spins of the free-style moguls.  But if I were an olympic athlete, I would enter the biathlon.  That's the cross-country ski endurance race punctuated by rifle shooting.  Scott and I actually did have cross country skis when we were newlyweds in Chicago.  Thanks to his Norwegian roots, we inherited them from his parents and used them on the Lake Chicago trails.  And as much as I deplore gun violence in America, I did grow up with guns.  From my first pellet gun to 22's to gauge shot guns, I was a decent shot.  Many cans jumped off the railroad track where we set them up, and clay pigeons burst into shards when we shot skeet.  So the idea of being strong enough to slog through the snow on skis, and sharp enough to hold a gun steady and shoot, appeals to me.
Mom and patient in ICU 
A panel of Kenya's leading paediatricians as we debate improving infant survival 

Our Caring Community learning Scottish Dancing for an evening activity
The orthopedic surgeon from Charlotte NC who operated on my mom two weeks prior, doing a teaching/surgical trip to Kenyatta the same day I was there for neonatal survival meetings.  How crazy is that?????

Because my life is a biathlon.  Most days are a cross-country endurance race through slippery and hazardous conditions.  Up in the dark, prayer and maybe exercise, breakfast and plans for the day, devotions with kids.  Day in and out at the hospital, covering rounds, checking labs, teaching.  Sorting out call schedules, meeting with my team, mentoring younger docs.  Covering RVA student health, appointments, immunization policies, working with students, projects.  Laundry.  Emails, planning WHM conferences, answering questions, accounting.  Prayer meeting times, communication.  Cooking dinner, creating atmosphere and wholeness.  Cheering at games, thinking, reading, learning.  Meetings. The marathon continues, day after day, striding through and over, pushing back against the path of least resistance.
Birthday for Jack's classmate

Sunday morning pre-Valentine treats 
First-place Basketball tournament 
Colleagues reporting on their trip to a Paeds conference in Germany 
Kenyan Raspberries, which are being off-loaded at Kijabe 
New surgical residents-note Erik second from left, who brought his daughter here for treatment from Congo and developed relationship and trust here and is now staying for his own residency 
My "Banquet Ask" at our Student Health Clinic

Then the beeper goes off, and it is time to shoot.  In the war against disease, in the covert effort to save the lives of children, one has to go on the offensive.  No matter how weary, to take a deep breath and line up the gun, to carefully but boldly pull the trigger.  This week it was baby B, another gastroschisis, plummeting down.  We were so close to our fourth save; he had been doing so well.  But when the pager went off at church, I went into shooting mode, intubating, changing therapies, xrays, antibiotics, move to ICU.  He stabilized temporarily, but then he needed blood.  Fresh blood.  And I was the only handy compatible donor, so another round of shooting, this time in the lab's blood donor room.  Perhaps these shots were off target.  Bahati died that night.  Or perhaps they were on target, the target of showing love to this family, giving these parents the assurance that they and we had done everything possible.

More cross-country endurance, normal life, then boom, time to lift the gun.  Our friend E.N., who took care of our family almost 16 years ago when Jack was born here, was having her baby.  She's a little older than the average first-time mom, after many years of working for others, finally she has her own husband, a hard-fought struggle for pregnancy with many complications.  But the day had arrived for delivery, and I went in to comfort, to wait, to celebrate, to be the one to receive her baby, from Scott who was doing her C-section, no easy matter.  Baby M.J. was vigorous, crying even before he was fully "out".  But my heart sank as I dried him off.  Down Syndrome.  Almost 14 years ago I was in the same situation, at my sister's delivery for moral support.  Only when her sweet Micah was delivered, I knew he was not quite alright.  Just like MJ, unexpected but certain subtle signs.  I found myself once again comforting the mourning loss of the expected baby, but enjoining her to be thankful and anticipate blessing in the unique and loving baby she did get.

 So that is the biathlon- straining on, sweating, muscles tired, rhythms, pull, the constant background of effort.  Then the beeper, the call, the all-out push to defeat, to pull off victory.  Ski, ski, ski, ski, shoot.  Ski some more.  Never quite balanced.

When the women finish this event, they fall over into the snow, and gasp and cry.  That's how I feel some weeks.  Stretched by the pace of a normal day, then energized by the adrenaline-rush-demands of a dehydrated burned baby coming to life as we push fluids into an emergency needle into his bone.  Or challenged to come up with a plan for a nearly-dying patient.  Then back to the steady pace of normal life, thinking about what we can pull together for a meal.

Maybe one day I'll have skis and a gun again.  Or maybe for now, it will be pots and pans, and a stethoscope and a needle.


Jill said...

Many congratulations and hugs to E.N. It may be hard now but she will surely rejoice soon in her precious precious gift. Both of my sisters had babies with Down Syndrome. They are now 21 and 25... I know the hard and I know the joy. I will pray.

Anonymous said...

In the biathlon of life you will take home the GOLD <3 Keep it up!