I’m back! Finally! After being absent for far too long I am finishing up my series on Africa. I look forward to continuing to share more of the story with you. Happy reading!
We were silent for most of the taxi ride. For the first time I was oblivious of the cacophony that is Kampala. Usually, the city’s organ-grinder pace demands attention but not today.
“I’m sorry you had to be there,” said Steve.
As we traveled to Entebbe, the din giving way to serene green hills, I tried to process the last few hours. Gut-wrenching cries. Tears. Blood. A flurry of unintelligible Lugandan. A little boy & his father. Shame. Overcrowded wards. Dirty bandages. A bare plastic mattress.
Any one of the things I had seen today could threaten to do me in. All of them together pushed me miles past my limit.
Usually when our time in Uganda comes to a close we go to Banana Village for two days of decompression. The original plan had been to spend the day unwinding by the pristine pool of the Victoria Hotel as we processed our work. But after meeting Joseph that seemed frivolous, especially since his biopsy was that day. So instead, Steve and I made arrangements to leave the group and go to Mulago Hospital to be with Joseph and his father.
I’m not sure what I expected. After touring the hell-hole of a hospital in Mityana I assumed Mulago would be better, and in some ways it was. I wasn’t greeted by scattered needles or soiled makeshift mattresses and there was an overall effort at basic cleanliness. Taken at face value it looked like a vast improvement from the village hospital. But as we ventured further into the cavernous labyrinth the stark reality hit me – no hospital in North America could stay open in this state.
By the time Steve, Joshua (our translator), and I found the correct ward Joseph had already been taken into surgery. We waited with Ellya by Joseph’s bed in a room that easily held 30+ patients. Eventually they called for Ellya. Stunned, I watched as he was taken to the door of the operating theater and they passed his still sedated son to him. No nurse, no orderly… they simply handed the boy to his father wearing the same clothes he had been wearing for 3 days. As Ellya placed Joseph back on his bed the wailing began. Blood tinged saliva ran down his chin as he thrashed about. I prayed his discomfort would pass quickly.
For too many minutes it took the energy of all 4 of us to hold him down. I can never forget the helplessness I felt as I held him, having no idea what he was muttering. Honestly, I wanted to run away. In a panic I began yelling for the one nurse who held watch over all the patients crowded in that too small a space. My requests for help went unnoticed. As he continued to cry and writhe in pain I noticed that the hastily placed IV port was about to be dislodged. That was the last straw. The mother lion in me reared her head and I roared. I roared at the nurse, insisting that they give him something for the pain. I roared that he was bleeding because he had pulled out his IV port. I roared at the injustice of it all. But what I really wanted to do was cry. I wanted to sit down on the dirty floor to heave and sob as if somehow my tears could wash away the absurdity of the situation.
I wanted to cry because five year old boys shouldn’t have sub-lingual biopsies. I wanted to cry because cancer is ugly. I wanted to cry because it all seemed so completely and utterly unfair.
The lethargic nurse eventually came with her syringe full of relief. Embarrassment washed over me as it became clear that she was more concerned about the blood that had gotten on me and Steve in the struggle than she was with Joseph’s pain. I am still ashamed to speak that out loud knowing it was 100% true. I try hard not to judge. I don’t live in her world, but it took everything in me not to slap her square across the face.
“I’m sorry you had to be there,” Steve’s words cut through the silence in the taxi. There is a part of me that agreed – it wasn’t my first choice of ways to spend the day. But then I started thinking. Why not me? Why should I be spared? Yes, it’s hard and uncomfortable. But that is exactly where I see Jesus. He was always involved in the dirty, messy, humanity of life. I am in no way equating myself with Jesus and the last thing I want to do is pat myself on the back for being there.
My point is this: real love means being present. If we as believers truly are living out the greatest commandment then we will find ourselves in uncomfortable, messy, heart-breaking situations. If we are living out what we believe, it is unavoidable. How can we expect to love others but escape the difficulties life brings?
My choice to walk through that day with Joseph and his father was an easy one. But I can’t help but wonder if I would have done the same thing at home. How many times do I go out of my way for others? How many times do I place myself smack in the middle of the undesirable? And the embarrassment that I felt with the nurse’s concern over me while ignoring a child in pain resurfaces. It resurfaces because I know the answer is not very often.
I can’t explain why it takes a trip to the other side of the world to teach me this lesson. I do things for people on the other side of the world that I don’t do here. Ouch!
The value of being present is a lesson I pray I never forget. Whether it is in the comfy confines of my life at home or on the other side of the world, being present in the suffering of others shows Christ’s love in ways that mere words never will.