Middle aged woman shuffles onto the ward
Silently she stares around
This place is foreign to her
A little piece of the west brought to her doorstep
I wonder what she’s thinking
Standing there so still,
Gestures bring her to her bed.
We do not speak her language
Every word must travel through two translators
... when we find people that speak her language.
So she sits, staring,
Trying to take it all in.
She is ushered to the bathroom with all the other new patients
Toilets, sink, shower, all explained.
Do not stand on the toilet seat.
Use a bucket to shower
Wash your hands when you finish.
Time to sit again.
For what, she doesn’t know.
So she stares at me, watches me as I work.
Doctor arrives and uses a translator to speak to her.
Asks a hundred questions about her life, her body.
I wonder if she understands why we ask,
Why we desperately need truthful answers
And not just what she thinks we want to hear.
This lump, when did it start?
10 years ago.
Did it grow faster in the last few years?
I think so.
Do you have children.
Have you ever had surgery?
Do you have health problems?
Are you on medication?
And on and on and on go the questions.
Whispered responses that say so little
Yet so much
I can only imagine...
Ridicule from friends and family
Did her husband leave?
Did he stay?
Does she have to hide all day?
Is she called a witch, blamed for problems around her?
All because of a lump, a growth.
Translators needed again,
Tell her I must poke a needle into her
It will hurt, but only briefly.
Tell her what will happen tomorrow,
She will not eat or drink
(is this something she lives with every day, lack of food?)
She will have a tube with water that goes into her vein.
She must shower and scrub in the morning.
After surgery there will be pain
We can give you medicine,
you must tell us how much pain you have.
There will be a tube, a drain
Don’t worry, it’s normal, it will help.
Wide eyed she listens. No expression.
She does not smile all day.
Nothing I say or do changes her expression.
She eats or drinks whatever we give her.
Medications taken without question.
I ask her to go shower
And she takes off her shirt,
gathers her towel and soap
does what we’ve asked.
Gown on backwards, I help her turn it around.
Next morning she wakes, staring at me still.
Lies in the bed
IV slowly dripping
No food, no water.
Finally, they call for her.
Translator to explain,
First to the bathroom,
then we walk to surgery.
We walk down the hall to the OR
Big brown eyes stare up at me,
expressing a world of fear.
A trembling hand reaches out
and rests on my back.
Grasps my shirt
Pulls me closer to her side.
I put my free hand on her back
She leans into me as we walk
Slow steps down a long hallway
I get her to sit on the bench
Wait for the OR nurse
Hang her IV bag on a hook.
And she stares up at me
Her eyes scream “don’t leave me!”
I have no words to reassure her
So I step closer to her side,
place an arm around her shoulders
And she leans in
like a child.
OR nurse arrives
more questions through translators.
I don’t leave her side.
Can we pray for you?
So we do.
Then it’s time for me to leave.
I collect her shoes.
She stares at me,
Looks up at the OR nurse,
When I see her tomorrow,
Perhaps then she’ll be ready to smile.