Saturday, February 16, 2013

"Wow, I really live here now."

February 16, 2013

Greetings from Nyankunde, DRC!  As I passed through the hospital tonight shaking the hands of elderly men and saying goodbye to one of my new teenage moms, I had a moment of realization that “wow, I really live here now.”  This feeling continued as I passed into the pediatric ward where one of our nurses was lighting his nighttime lantern and preparing evening medications.  I went to visit a little girl named Furaha (which means “joy” in Swahili) who I recently diagnosed with acute rheumatic fever.  This little girl had swelling from her head to her toes, a roaring heart murmur, severe arthritic pain, and a strong history of fevers.  She was sitting over her metal bowl of fish and plantains, as happy as could be.  She was much happier to be examined by me while eating her plantain and frankly ignored me.  I asked her mother how the day went.  She reported that she had been playing outside and had not been severely short of breath.  Her neighbor was surprisingly happy to see me, a little boy with congestive heart failure-also appearing to be due to acute rheumatic fever.  He happily reported that he had not been eating ANYTHING with salt in it (as advised)!  For the first time in many days, he appeared to be feeling better and have more energy…not needing his wheelchair anymore.  That was very rewarding from a kid who could barely walk across the room only 5 days ago!  There is a surprising amount of cardiac disease out here.  Cardiac problems are exaggerated by anemia caused by malaria.

My kids with various stages of rheumatic heart disease

My teenage mom with her baby Furaha

It is a bit like my eyes are being opened just a little bit more every day that I am here.  I see lots of malnutrition and am starting to understand the complicated cultural dynamics/food security issues behind this.  It seems that children are much less likely to be malnourished in homes where the father provides for the family.  A woman may be in better health if her husband is home and she is not the sole provider for the children.  It is really important to understand the social support network of families…what food is available, who cooks at home, etc.  Eggs seem like the perfect source of protein to me, but unfortunately men are ones who eat all the eggs around here.  I am hoping this is up for discussion.  On the whole, families seem to really want their children to thrive and welcome suggestions.  Food is a very common topic of conversation around here.
My patient with Pellagra (Vitamin B3 deficiency)
Another picture of her

This past month I was very thankful that one of my teenage moms finally accepted her premature baby and was able to see them home from the hospital.  I found myself very frustrated as the mother pulled out nasogastric tubes and didn’t follow our advice.  It is really hard to watch a baby lose weight, knowing exactly what needs to happen when it isn’t happening.  God began to show me that this was a young mom who really needed to be supported and didn’t have it.  The father of the baby was a soldier and had left the mother.  The mother was also probably shunned by her family.  We worked on building rapport and encouraging the things she was doing well, instead of focusing on immature behavior.  The core issue was that she had not really accepted this child as her own.  The hospital director’s wife sat down with her and reinforced that every child is a gift from God and needs to be embraced.  She also said that there is no guarantee that God will grant her the ability to have another child, and that she needs to be responsible with what she has been given.  This was very powerful coming from another Congolese woman.  This resonated with the mother and with me.  The BONUS is that she has come to see me for weight checks and encouragement for the past two weeks.

We have been blessed to have the Barton family (and friends) with us these past two weeks.  This is Dr. Barton and his daughter Anna’s second trip to DRC.  Anna has been taking French lessons with her friend Kristina who came along.  Ian is our representative Canadian who has become quite well known in town for his beard.  We have been trying lots of new recipes from the “More With Less” cookbook by our wonderful cook Sarah.  Yesterday we tried Moussaka and coconut rice, which has quickly become a favorite!  Today I drove to the market with them to do some shopping for material to take home..we blend in quite well as you can imagine.  Dr. Andrew Barton has been training the OR staff in regional and general anesthesia.  I have learned a lot and only hope I can get the ventilators functioning when they arrive!  We are thankful they could join us.  

Ian selling beans in the market
Nyankunde market

This week I saw the Biblical account (Matthew 8: 1-4) of healing of the man with leprosy with new eyes.  There are many places in Scripture where Jesus asks those who have witnessed miracles, not to tell anyone, and the man with leprosy is no exception.  Jesus tells him specifically to present himself to the priest and offer the gift commanded by Moses as a testimony to them.  I love how Jesus means this to be a witness to God the Father to the Jewish people.  Jesus was also wanted this man to re-integrate back into society and tell others what Jesus had done for him.  I am amazed at the wisdom in this.  I am sure Jesus did not want to be known for the miracles themselves, but for changed lives.  As I think about applying this to my own life, I ask myself what do I say when I witness healing.  Do I think, “What a great decision I made to treat this or that…or “He was healed because of this or that antibiotic.”  My first response is to ascribe healing to science.  But I need to take these opportunities to give thanks and glory to God.  I know there is much commentary when I step away from a bedside…this might be related to what I am wearing, my mispronunciations of Swahili, dietary instructions given, or what a child’s weight was.  It is my hope that when I leave a bedside that people will say, “Look what God has done!”  Personally, I am learning how to give God the glory for healings and ask more about people’s needs.

Warren and I are doing well and taking one day at a time, to rely on God for our daily needs.  There are numerous challenges, but so many blessings.  We are becoming rich in relationships.

 Thanks for  your friendship and involvement in our lives!
Lindsey (for us)

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