Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Patient Stories Series #2: Her story

 I love that the Bible says that God knows our names.
In healthcare people so easily become defined by their diagnosis, their room number or their situation.
But there’s something so personal, so intimate, so human about calling a person by their name.

I don’t know this woman's name, and I’m sure I never will.
But her life had an effect on mine that can't be erased or ignored.
Stories like these I often feel awkward or uncomfortable sharing, because it’s easy for stories like this to become all about the shock value, and that is not my desire.
It’s also not my desire for you to read this and think how strong, brave or great I am, because, trust me, in situations like the one I’m about to tell you, I’d go running if I was leaning on my own strength or bravery.
I share this story because I want you to understand the deep, intense effect it had on me. For me, stories that carry so much emotion are often expressed better through writing, allowing you to picture for yourself what the experience was like.

It was at the hospital in Rwanda, where God has done some of his best and most terrifying work on me. One of our last mornings at the hospital, I saw a woman being carried into the surgery area.  I left morning report and went to the wound care room (now functioning as an ER).  Lying on the table was a woman, face covered in dried blood, but otherwise seemingly uninjured.  There was a laceration on her head about 2 inches long, which was not actively bleeding. She was combative, fighting against us and we struggled to help her, so we held her down while one of the nurses shaved her head, and one of the nursing students, Bernard, started an IV. Bernard translated for me as her story was explained and we worked to clean the blood off her face.

He told me that this woman had been hit by her husband, because he caught another man trying to have sex with her.  The husband claimed he was trying to hit the man with a stick, and accidently struck his wife instead.  He had hit her at 11pm the night before, and they were just bringing her in at 7am.

The nurse began to clean the wound as we continued to hold her down, and we quickly realized this was not just a cut on her head.  Her skull had been fractured, some of the bone fragments were likely going into her brain, and as the bleeding began again she started to go into shock.  The surgeon had been called and we were just waiting for him to come and tell us what to do.

What I initially thought was just another patient to stitch up and send out, I quickly realized was so much more.  Bernard told me the doctors didn’t think she was going to make it, but that they wanted to transfer her to the hospital in Kigali, the capital, which is a 3 hour drive on windy, pot-hole plagued roads.  As the gravity of the situation seeped in, my focus quickly turned from her physical condition to the condition of her soul, and my prayers of “help this woman, show us what to do” became frantic pleas for her salvation. 

Still holding her hand, looking into her eyes as she came in and out of consciousness, I wished I was fluent in Kinyarwanda or that telepathy actually worked!  I prayed for a lull in the streams of doctors to be able to say something, anything to communicate to her God’s love and her need for salvation.  My prayers were answered and I was able to kneel down next to her and whisper a prayer in Kinyarwanda, literally the only words I knew how to say.  I don’t know if she even heard or was able to understand my horrible pronunciation. Most times when I pray for patients in Kinyarwada they try to hold in their giggles as they listen to me struggle though.

It was in that moment I realized the depth of my reliance on God, whether or not I am aware of it.  I was helpless to do anything to save that woman, both physically and spiritually.  I couldn’t even communicate the gospel to her.  All I could do was hold her hand, look into her eyes, and beg the Lord to reveal Himself to her.  I don’t know whether she even lived through the drive to Kigali.

I’ve heard it said that compassion is entering into another’s suffering, but that is much more difficult than it sounds.  Because entering into someone’s suffering isn’t about the result.  It’s not about what you can do for them, or how you can meet their needs.  It’s about being present, about coming along side them and feeling the depth of their brokenness and pain.  Jesus saw people’s pain and entered into it.  Through my brief interaction with this woman, God taught me to love, and to show compassion without focusing on the results. 

I was also reminded of how much more important spiritual healing is than physical healing. When it came down to life or death, my priority was much rather to have her come to know Jesus than gain a few more hours or days on this earth. 

Stories like hers are what keeps me in nursing.
Stories that break your heart, but force you to rely completely on God and give you the opportunity to try your hardest to pray someone into His arms. 

I rest in the fact that God knows her name.  
And regardless of what I was or was not able to communicate, regardless of if she survived the ride to Kigali, her present and future are in His hands. 

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine."
Isaiah 43:1

1 comment:

  1. oh bets. i have been there. whispering prayers into a dying woman's ear. sadly we spoke the same language, and i don't even know if what i shared was Gospel.

    but like you, i have to rely on what God does to work in a person's heart in those, minutes, hours, days. it reminds me that God truly CAN do anything.

    and he just asks me to be obedient.