Monday, October 9, 2017

Back in the Emergency Room

One month ago I was hanging some laundry up to dry when I (oh so graciously I’m sure) fell off a little step and bent my foot in a weird way.  It hurt.  A lot.  I couldn’t walk on it very well for a day or two but by day three I was managing to hobble around on it.  It still hurt, but if I bent my foot and walked on the inside, I could manage.  It always felt better on days that Peter was home and could help with the kids and I could stay off of it.  But those days aren’t often, and staying off your foot with three kids at home……not really feasible. 

After a couple of weeks it didn't seem to be getting any better so I went to see a doctor friend of mine to get a second opinion (mine being the first).  He basically said the same thing that I was thinking which was that I might have broken the 5th metatarsal, but if I did it probably wasn’t too bad. I could go get an X-ay, but the X-rays here are generally so poor that a small fracture probably wouldn’t even show up.  He gave me a little flat bottomed boot and suggested that I try and stay off it to allow it to heal.  The boot seemed to help a little as it kept the bones in my foot a little straighter.  Some friends loaned me some crutches and I attempted to hobble around.

My attempt at being an ortho doc!
I could always tell that my foot felt better when I used my crutches.  However, although I’ve given crutches to countless of patients in the ER, I’ve never used them myself.  How does anyone get anything done on those things???  Usually, by noon I was tired of shoving clean laundry down my shirt to bring it inside and carrying things in my teeth so I gave up and hobbled around on my boot.

I’m a month in now, doesn't seem to be getting much better.  My ankle, which wasn’t swollen at the beginning is now swollen, I think from all the bending of my foot to avoid walking on the outside.  So a few days ago, we decided to go ahead and get it X-rayed.  I’ve never broken anything before and in the ER we just patch them up (after getting a good X-ray so we know what's going on of course) and send them off to Ortho.  I know just enough for Google to be scary in a land of little medical care. 

We decided to go to a hospital in Freetown that only caters to emergencies.  I wasn’t sure if they would even see me since technically it wasn’t an emergency, but I knew they had an X-ray machine that might be pretty decent, so we decided to try.  They agreed to see me and actually even got me in pretty quickly.  Then we sat with the other patients and waited for the results.

While we were there an ambulance came in.  Having worked in the ER for awhile, I knew that generally, when an ambulance came in, the patients in the waiting room would wait.  I was right.  After another two hours or so, they called me in for my results.  The ER was basically one large room.  So while I was waiting to see the doctor, I was sitting right next to the patient that was brought in by ambulance.  I saw written on the whiteboard “Trauma transport from Waterloo- 7 year old boy, TBI (traumatic brain injury)". 

I tried not to stare but kept looking over.  I noticed that he was breathing on his own but had a device inserted in his throat that meant he wasn’t maintaining his airway very well.  He was receiving oxygen and had a large bandage wrapped around his head.  As I watched him, I noticed him doing some involuntary movements that are never a good sign in a brain injury. I overheard someone mention a motor vehicle accident.

As I sat there, waiting for my turn to talk with the doctor, I continued to observe.  There were two nursing assistants who were bathing him, preparing him to be transferred to the floor.  Other than that, not a whole lot of activity around him.  Such a stark contrast to a pediatric brain injury patient brought in to a hospital in the States.  And this isn’t to say that the staff was being negligent.  There just wasn’t a whole lot else to do.

I kept thinking about what the scene would look like if it was in one of the hospitals I typically work at.  He would probably be intubated since he was struggling with his airway, which meant a respiratory therapist at his bedside pretty much non-stop.  There was no intubation equipment in this ER.  If he had just come in, we would be rushing to get him to the CT machine so we would know what the damage was.  If it was a small hospital, we would be scrambling around on the phone and doing paperwork to get him the heck out of here, probably on a helicopter.  If he was at a bigger hospital he would be flanked by a pediatrician, a pediatric neurosurgeon, multiple nurses as well as other support personnel.  But here…..there was just nothing else to do. Despite the fact that I knew I would look weak to the staff there, I started to cry.  I couldn't help myself.  It could have been my child. Easily. 

After they took him to the floor, I continued to wait, and watch. Even though this ER was WILDLY different from others that I’ve worked at in the States, there were some things that were the same.  The board showing what was coming in.  Nurses discussing what the cafeteria was serving for lunch. And the apparent universal battle of the ER wanting to send a patient to the floor but the floor not being ready yet.  A tale as old as time. Those small things made it feel familiar enough that I told Peter if the hospital were closer, I’d want to volunteer there.  Too many things to do here! 

The doctor came to discuss my X-ray.  There were no obvious fractures, although he basically said the same thing that the other doctor had said.  There could be a fracture that was just too small to be picked up by the X-ray. However, it wasn’t displaced.  I don’t even know if it was plausible or not, but I had this fear that it was slightly displaced and that every step I took was making it worse.  This was good news for me.  The bad news is that if it’s not broken, I still don’t know what’s wrong and it’s still pretty painful.  So I’ll keep “trying to stay off of it” and pray it gets better.
You get to take your X-ray home as a souvenir! 

Speaking of praying, yesterday I stayed after church to see the kids of the orphanage that were sick. I’d just been there on Friday but that was the day the new uniforms were passed out and kids tend to forget they’re sick when there’s something exciting going on. Sure enough, saw one kiddo on Friday….and 12 on Sunday. 

Precious little boys
They come and see me one room at a time and when I called the kids from the last room to come in my office, there were so many!  I said, Wow! What is going on in your room that everyone is so sick?!?!  One of the boys spoke up and said that they didn’t come because they were sick but because they wanted to pray for me and my foot.  “You take care of us when we’re sick and we want to pray for you because you’re sick.”  Cue the tears again.  So blessed in what I get to do with my life. 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

But God....

This has been a hard couple of weeks for a lot of people!  First the flooding here and now watching the flooding happening in Houston, in Asia.....Uncle!!!!  That being said, it’s been incredible to watch the way people have shown up in the midst of these tragedies.  

Several months ago I read something that challenged me to look for “But God….” moments.  When things are painful and difficult BUT GOD is doing this! BUT GOD has done this!  Last week I had one of those moments that brought me to tears.

Over the last year or so, I’ve built a relationship with a teenage girl in our community.  She’s 16 years old.  As is a sad tale that is far too common here, she was sexually abused by someone in a position of power.  Since coming here I’ve seen it happen with students and teachers, young girls and policemen, and of course family members. 

This girl, Jariatu (not her real name) now finds herself pregnant.  The abuse started when she was just 14 years old.  The man, of course, has run away and is nowhere to be found.  The people she was staying with said she could no longer stay there.  Some other missionaries and myself have been really burdened for what is the best solution for this girl.  How can we help????  Peter and I talked about it and were ready to bring her into our home.  But we both kept wondering if that was really the BEST thing for her.  I’m not a Sierra Leonean woman.  Being pregnant and giving birth is such a personal thing and there are so many cultural things that influence perception and beliefs surrounding it. I’ve delivered quite a few Sierra Leonean babies and until I stopped, was still finding out new cultural beliefs and practices surrounding birth.  So we were ready to take her in….unless a better solution could be found.  We kept praying. 

As we were praying, one of my friends kept thinking of two Sierra Leonean pastors that we know.  Peter went to go talk to one of them.  He said that before he even finished explaining the situation, the pastor said, “We will take her in! This is the role of the church.  We will take her as our own daughter.”  When Peter told me about the conversation, I just started crying.  It’s so true!! This is the role of the church!  To care for the poor and desperate! We can be their “people” when they don’t have anyone else!!  This is what Jesus would do!  We are confident that with this pastor and his wife, Jariatu will not only be cared for physically, but will be nurtured and loved and invested in.

The last couple of weeks have been tough.  BUT. GOD. God is still working and is using His Church!! Someone from the States pledged to send some money every month to take care of her expenses so that it will not be a huge financial burden to this pastor and his family.  This is the church working together to care for His people……and it’s just beautiful. 

It’s still a hard situation.  She’s still a young girl who has suffered abuse and is now pregnant. She doesn’t have an easy road ahead of her. BUT GOD will not forget her. Of this I am sure.  

Thursday, August 24, 2017


One week and a half ago, Peter and I were woken up at 5am by a phone call from a friend of ours in Freetown.  His house was being flooded.  A few hours later we would find out the depths of the tragedy that was unfolding.  August is the height of rainy season here and at 6am the rains caused a mud-slide that was wiped away the homes of thousands of people.  It also killed hundreds. As of yesterday, 493 bodies have been buried, with hundreds of people still reported missing.  There are three holding centers for the displaced with 250 unaccompanied children (can't find their parents).  It is reported to be the worst flood in Africa in the last two decades.  

Reading the stories has been horrible.  But on Monday afternoon we got a call that made it hit even closer to home.  We have a man who has been cooking for Peter and helping us with  various household things for the last two years.  Peter’s known him for many more years.  He called us on Monday to tell us that his son’s friends had called him because they thought he might have been one of the flood victims.  He wasn’t going to be able to come to work because he had to go down to the morgue and try to see if he was there.  He called that night to say that by the time he was able to get down there, it had been too dark to identify anyone, so he was going to have to go back the next day. 

Tuesday afternoon he called Peter, crying that his only son had been lost.  What do you say? How do you comfort someone who has just lost everything?  In Sierra Leone, most people don’t set up retirement accounts.  They invest in their children.  They spend their money on school fees and other things to help their children succeed, not only because they love their children and want them to do well (they do) but also because the better job their child is able to obtain, the better they will be able to care for them when they are old.  Because in most households men control the purse-strings, sons are usually in a better position to help than daughters.  Not always, but usually.  So not only did our friend lose his child, his only son, it’s like he lost his life savings as well. 

One of the saddest things that I keep hearing from the people here in response to this tragedy is “Please God, I know we’re wicked but please have mercy on us and stop doing this to us.  We have to start doing better so God will stop this.”  To be honest, one of the biggest things that I have struggled with living here is reconciling the Jesus and I know and love with the pain and destruction that I see every time I walk outside my house.  I don't know where the line is drawn between God’s intervention, sin, and natural consequences.  I know that this kind of thing had to pass through God’s hands in order to happen, but I also know that He is WEEPING with his people and His heart breaks along with my friend.  Statements like the one above just bring to mind thoughts of the gods of ancient Rome and Greece, needing to be appeased in order do do this or not do this.  That’s not the loving Creator that I know.  So I will wrestle with the tension, once again with how He could be loving, powerful, and still allow my friend to lose his son. I will once again imagine myself as Joseph, sitting in a prison cell, feeling the fullness of the injustice around me but recognizing that I have no idea what God is doing outside the walls.  The massive victory and salvation to come when the time is reached.  I will be frustrated with poverty leading to deforestation that allows hillsides to be weakened.  I will be discouraged by corruption that facilitates the ongoing cycle of poverty, and I will do what I can. 

Another missionary and I gathered up clothes, blankets and some money that we had here.  Marie brought me all of the money that she’d been saving.  We bought some foodstuffs that an organization involved in the rescue and displacement effort asked for and took it to them in Freetown.  There are a lot of things that I don’t know and don’t understand.  But right now, I will focus on what I do know, which is Jesus.  I will cling to the image of Him dying on a cross because that sealed for me, the proof of His love forever.  I know this life isn’t the end but we have the hope for eternity.  And I know that my job is to love Jesus and love the people He places before me.  So I’ll set my heart and my mind to that.