On arriving in Cameroon, I was re-awakened to life in a third-world country, after our time in PNG ten years ago. Life here is raw, there is very little “covering” or “cushioning” for the pain and suffering Coda Family
Certainly there are many if not most of the patients who are able to walk out of the hospital cured of their malaria, typhoid, TB, pneumonias, and other assorted illnesses. However, it is the HIV infant who weighs half of his expected weight at a year’s age and his mother’s tears after hearing the child’s diagnosis that is hard to get over. Or watching a father who faithfully stays at his teenage son’s bedside seeing him covered with sweat
from fever, moaning in pain from an illness that fills his bone marrow and is slowly dissolving his bones. Somehow knowing that the sickness is most likely a non-treatable lymphoma rather than the hoped-for TB for which he is being treated, that brings pain to any father who is willing to share in these two’s lot.
But why subject myself to such an ugly part of life? Where is the pursuit of happiness in all of this? Why trust that below this boiling cauldron is a purify fire? Because the only choice is to lay “asleep”, anesthetized and slowly withering or to wake up and embrace a life that will not let me stay the same. I have heard the words a thousand times but not understood them that it is by dying that we are born to eternal life. Stop thinking of where I want my life to go, what I want to be, but rather that it is enough to try and listen to the soft whispers of God calling us to trust and follow Him.
Now looking back on five months, where have I been led? I think of a young mother with her unnamed premature infant. The child was brought to the hospital from an outlying health center because of persistent vomiting. He was almost half his birth weight of 1800 grams, too weak to cry, his small wrinkled face adding an aged look to a life that had barely begun. The nursing staff seemed reluctant to do much to help this infant, perhaps because they thought the situation was hopeless or perhaps because they did not think the mother had the resources to pay for the required care. Since I was asked to try and help, I began by convincing the staff that the infant needed intravenous fluid if we wanted to try to keep him alive. What was initially thought to be a form of colitis was, after a week of trying to get barium contrast x-rays done, found to be a congenital cyst obstructing the end of the small bowel. Then another week followed trying to arrange for the surgeon and anesthesia staff to repair the problem and trying to come up with enough money for the surgery. Eventually with the help of a kind and generous Italian medical student and some of my friends back in the states we came up with the 80,000 cfas needed to proceed with the surgery. A week passed before the child had its first bowel movement then four hours later, worn out, he died. I called the mother in to hold her child, she knew he was dying, she only said thank you.
With an overwhelming sense of failure I left the nursery. One of the nurses who I had thought I had been upsetting by doing so much for the baby said as I was leaving “we could have written a story about this baby if he had lived.” I left wondering if I was so disappointed because the baby died or was it because I was not the one who saved him. That afternoon I went for a long walk in a heavy rain. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I saw the baby’s mother again lying in bed being treated for typhoid. She only smiled at me and said thank you. I saw her again three weeks later, working in one of the sisters’ gardens as a way of helping to pay back some of the hospital bill. Before she left for her home she came to our house with one of the kind sisters to formally greet and thank me for the help I had provided. She said little, spoke with a softness filled with gratitude and love telling me that she was “like daughter” to me and could only offer her thanks. I knew it was not I but the love of God that I had allowed to work through me that she had sensed so keenly. The last I saw of this woman was a few mornings later as I was walking to the hospital talking with someone. Off to the side I saw her looking at me as I walked. A minute later I turned to her and still her eyes followed me with that look of gratitude and love, no further words were spoken between us and I shall not forget what she had given to me.
My time in Cameroon has brought slow but deep changes within me, changes that are only possible in a world where life cannot afford diversions and the hand of God works in everyday life