How do you stop yourself from crying when the person in front of you is crying?
How do you continue to do what you're doing when the very act is what is causing the person to shed copious tears?
How do you convince yourself that the good you're doing outweighs the bad?
How do you continue when she's begging you to stop?
I asked myself those questions and many more this weekend.
It was a long weekend (not a holiday, just long emotionally/work wise)
I need to tell you about a patient. Her name is Mafula, and she's one of the strongest women I've ever met. I'm not going to post any pictures of her, because I don't want you to focus on her scars, which are plenty. I want you to see the inner beauty that shines through. Today, I want you to see the beauty that resides beneath, hidden behind a body that she no longer recognizes.
Mafula tells me that she doesn't remember what happened. Apparently she was burnt in her bathroom last November. I've asked around some, and my friend Lycia recently found out that Mafula's bathroom was cinder block, and nothing else was burnt. The rest of the house is fine. No gas lines, no open fires, no wood or electricity, no reason for the fire. People question whether it was a curse from a witch. In case you think that's an odd/superstitious thought, you need to remember this is NOT north america. Here, there are many witch doctors who will take money to curse someone for you. (for more on this, check out what she wrote - click here)
I am told that before all this happened, Mafula was a good business woman. That doesn't surprise me. She's smart, I can see her figuring out our routines, learning what we're saying (even though she doesn't speak english, she's learning it!), and just generally catching on quickly to what we try to teach her. She has burn scars to portions of her face/back/arms/chest, that left her unable to move her neck and left arm. So Dr Tertius used skin grafts to give her the movement back. Unfortunately, there are a few areas that became infected, and now we need to deal with those.
Due to the overuse of antibiotics in this country (they sell them to anyone on the street... even for a headache!), the risk of superbugs that won't respond to antibiotics is a problem. So the doctors on the ship prefer to use things we can put on the wounds. Betadine is a favorite... but when we're in the process of getting rid of germs, we go to stronger stuff. With the infections last month in general surgery, we were packing wounds with a bleach mixture. With the plastics patients right now, we're using a dilute vinegar mixture that we soak the wound in.
At times, it feels barbaric. As though we are in a torture chamber. Crying. Screaming. Shaking. Pulling away. Silent tears. You see many different pain reactions when applying soaks like these. Mafula has three wounds that we have been treating. As soon as we begin removing her dressings, she grabs our hands, pleads with us to "pray for me, pray first", and we do. Every day, twice a day we spend 2-3 hours carefully soaking and cleaning her wounds, then rewrapping them. Each one done seperately. We pray aloud as we work, 2-3 nurses needed to do things properly. And as we apply the painful vinegar soak, a broken, wraspy voice wavers through a tune. Her voice lifted in praise. Tears streaming down her face. Sobs breaking through the words.
"Tell 'im tenki, tell 'im,
Tell papa God tenki,
Tell 'im tenki, tell 'im
Tell papa God tenki!
What 'e do
I do tell 'im tenki
What 'e do
I do tell papa God tenki!"
(Tell him thank you, tell him, tell father God thank you. What he does for me, I tell him thank you, what he does for me, I tell father God thank you)
And we join in, take over when she can't sing. Repeat it over and over. I'll never again hear that song without seeing those moments in my head. And the first time she sang that with me, she started to explain herself. It was in Krio, but I knew what she was trying to say. About how this God that had made her didn't make mistakes. That he made her and that he made the circumstances. He knows all and is always there and she trusts him. So she will thank him because he knows better than her. And has a purpose.
Her faith, her strength, it humbles me. Every dressing change she sings, every time she thanks God. Slowly, ever so slowly things are getting better. I'm writing this now, because she's right, she needs prayers. Please pray for her. Lift her up to God. Her surgeon leaves the ship tomorrow. We will continue to treat her, but only God can heal her.