Twenty-two years ago today, in a Baltimore hospital blanketed by snow, Luke Aylestock Myhre was born. After losing three babies by miscarriage, then spending six weeks on strict bedrest waking up every 3 hours to swallow medicine, making trips to the emergency room to get IV fluids and slow down preterm labor, simply having a live baby (even a month premature) seemed like a huge accomplishment. Within a minute of being born he was swept of to the NICU, where he perked up and his stay was mercifully short. Nothing was simple. I suppose the next 22 years were harder than those months of anxious bedrest and those hours of pain, but it really doesn't seem that way. Because the big difference in the last 22 years is that we had an actual person to love and relate to, not just a wish. A boy who exerted his will from the get-go, hated sleep, explored anywhere and read everything, saw through any pretense, caught any faulty logic and found any loophole, somehow managed to both tease/torture and loyally love his siblings, the animator and energizer of any group, with a solid heart for good and a strong leading path. (The photo is Luke holding Jack at Kijabe in 1998). He missed the memo on how first-borns are supposed to support the status quo and follow the rules. The world became a much more interesting place 22 years ago today. And as his journey unfolds, we are thankful to be watching.
But watching from a distance, sadly. I think the last time we spent a birthday together was when Caleb and I flew out to Kijabe for his 16th. It was his first year of boarding school, and I made cinnamon rolls for the whole dorm for breakfast, and we climbed Longonot.
That premature baby had to become a premature adult in many ways. The fracturing of the family fosters independence, which is great. And sad.
And, in tiny ways, redemptive. We look for slivers of redemption in our deepest pain, believing that the ache signals a place where we feel the cross, and therefore where the cross is creating the all-things-new of the Kingdom.
This year, because we are continents apart, Luke had one of his best nights in med school yet. His friends threw a surprise party for him and another classmate with a birthday. I am grateful for those who extended kindness to make my son loved and welcome. And because we are continents apart, when Jack told me two of his class mates had birthdays this weekend and their plan to visit one of their families fell through, we pulled a handful of Senior boys together for a gourmet grill-out and movie night. I am thankful to care for other people's children, in gratefulness for the way other people care for mine.
Because that is community, after all, watching out for each other. The boys above were born in four countries on three continents, but now they are fast friends. And though I am only a small and peripheral part of their lives and those of other senior boys, I am thankful to bake, and teach them Sunday School, and cheer at their games, and make them breakfast every Sunday morning, and open our home for dinners and games and movies. We all long for the connection that was lost in the Garden, and these moments give us tastes of the true belonging.
And that sense of pulling for other-people's-kids extends deeply into my work. I was on call Saturday here at Kijabe, watching over three critically-ill intubated ICU babies, 22 others in the NICU, and another couple dozen on the Paeds floor, two admissions in the emergency room, and a handful of consults in the outpatient department. I grabbed a few minutes to chat with L, the girl who was wasting away, and she smiled, which I took to be a pretty amazing sign. Still a long way to go on the path from death to life. Most of my day was spent agonizing over baby J, whose mother was nearly dying herself, who was born too early and whose lungs just were not working.
Her bewildered dad simply said, please, can you do everything you can? Yes, of course. Over the course of the day there were slight turnings in the right direction, but it will be a miracle if she survives. It is a weighty responsibility, the holding of other people's children, being the person to interpret every piece of data, the numbers and labs, the pallor of the skin, the squeaky resistance of the lungs, the limits that can be pushed and those that can't. This weekend I was thankful to be consulting back and forth with our newest paediatrician, Dr. Ariana Shirk, who traded off with me this morning.
This is Ariana with a visiting resident/physical therapist couple. One of the joys of Kijabe is that it is a point of intersection, where people with a heart for Africa come to serve and learn, and where Africans are equipped.
Best. Feeling. Ever. The Sunday morning return to my house, turning off the pager for the day (note that the dog was hoping I would take her running, but I had to make chocolate-chip-raspberry-pecan pancakes for Sunday School . . . ). This life as hostess, doc-on-call, solo responsible adult in the house, Serge rep for East Africa, and communication coordinator for a family of six in four time zones . . has been more tiring, more draining, than I anticipated.
And this month our caring for other people's kids extends across the continent. Scott is on call today in Liberia. Last night, a baby less than a week old died of tetanus. This is an indirect ebola casualty. When ebola spirals out of control, maternity services disintegrate, immunization programs are suspended. And then babies die of horrible, painful, spasmodic, tortuous diseases like tetanus which are 100% preventable. He has done one surgery to save a mother's life who had a ruptured uterus. And he's been straining to listen and understand, donning protective gear to admit patients with fevers that could still be ebola (they haven't been, yet), agonizing over whether to put the in the ETU (ebola treatment unit) which could unnecessarily expose them to ebola, or in an isolation room on the regular ward which could unnecessarily expose others. This graphic from The Economist explains why he is there:
Yes, there are more than a HUNDRED TIMES as many doctors per population in the US than Liberia.
Watching out for these sweet little ones who can't ask anyone to help them, and thankful for those who watch out for my kids. And those who watch out for me.