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hope and light

Posted Nov 20 2009 3:48pm
My heart is so full right now that I don't know how I'm keeping it in my chest. It's threatening to burst, spinning colours and light into every corner of this ship.

It started last night when, in a truly symmetrical end to my day, I got wind of yet another baby on the dock. I headed out into the damp night air to find Wasti, a little one who had come to the ship from way up north earlier this week to have his cleft lip repaired. He was too sick, though, and so he was sent away to a local hospital. We knew it was too late, that there was no way he'd be well in time. And yet there he was, his eyes bright, his skin hot, but not burning like it had been. We brought him on the ship.

All through the evening we pondered, weighing life and death, trying to decide what to do. You see, Wasti is not a normal little boy. As far as we can figure, he was born with a condition known as holoprosencephaly. Normally this is fatal, but the fact that he just had a little cleft lip pointed to a less severe case. Either way, this little boy has a brain that is not normal, and a life expectancy even lower than usual here in West Africa.

As Wasti's story unfolded through no less than four translators, our path became clear. His mama is strikingly beautiful, her face covered in tribal tattoos. She has two children; Wasti has a big sister who was born with some kind of eye trouble. Much of the family's money was spent on her treatment, and when Wasti was born broken, too, his mama was cast out. Abandoned by her husband and shunned by her village, she had nowhere to go. Sending her home with a baby still broken on the outside, whatever might be happening inside, just wasn't an option, because unless he was repaired, there was no home to go to.

And so we prayed. We prepared little Wasti for surgery and we prayed strong prayers to Jehovah Rophi, the God Who Heals. There are currently three pediatric ICU nurses on board the ship, so the three of us got together and worked out who would be on call for all the shifts over the next few days, should anything go wrong. I drew tonight, and so I donned scrubs and booties and headed into the OR to see how the surgery was going and whether or not I was likely to be needed.

As I stood in the corner, quietly observing, the anesthetist, Michelle, called over to me. You can see much better from my seat if you come ventilate. I laughed, assuming she was joking, since the little boy, no bigger than a newborn at six months of age, was already totally covered with sterile drapes, a breathing tube in place. When she held out the bag attached to the tubing, I knew she was serious, and so I moved around to the other side of the table and took her place on her stool. She coached me for a while until she trusted me, and then she stepped away, leaving the bag in my sweaty little hand.

Throughout the entire operation, I sat no more than three feet from little Wasti, pushing air into his tiny lungs, my eyes torn between watching the monitors and staring at Dr. Tony's hands as he meticulously stitched Wasti's lip back together. I couldn't keep the grin off my face, incredulous at the thought that I was a member of the team performing the last surgery of the outreach, the surgery that seems so symbolic of everything we do here. Neat rows of sutures. A ticket home.

When the surgery was over and the breathing tube removed and Wasti was making a mockery of all our worries, I left to eat dinner. I shared the news of success with so many people I passed, people who had been upholding us in prayer. And when I had finished eating, I went back down to the recovery room to check on him.

Now, I know that God provides. It's just that I don't always see it as clearly as I did today. When the recovery nurse called the ward to ask if she could bring Wasti back, the ward told her no. That there was another sick baby. That the nurse didn't have time. I headed over to help, and ended up admitting Wasti back into his bed while his nurse worked with a team of anesthetists and other nurses to stabilize her other patient. Just the right people, at just the right time.

I settled Wasti's mama on the bed, propped up on a throne of pillows, her baby in her arms. I cooed and kissed, changing his diaper and mixing formula so she could start feeding him. And for the first time, I saw her smile. The austere beauty of her face was transformed, softened, as she gently touched her son's downy cheek with a finger roughened from hard work. She looked up at me with wonder in her eyes, and she laughed. She laughed and stuck her thumb in the air, repeating a word over and over in her language. Through those four translators, I learned what she was saying.

It's good. It's good. It's good.

And so surgery is finished for the year, and I can't think of a better way for it all to have ended. My hand is stiff from pressing the ventilation bag for an hour. My arms smells like sour milk from where Wasti drooled on me while I held him and his mama ate her dinner. My back is sore from bending over the bed, trying to get him settled.

But my heart is full. Full of hope and light.

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