While we waited at a bed in a corner of this facility to have her blood drawn, a middle aged Indian couple walked in (Uganda has a fairly large Indian population). The husband was visibly very unwell. His lovely wife, wearing western clothes, half supported, half carried him to the bed directly next to us. Her eyes said it all as they locked with mine. She was afraid and sad. She looked down at little Thea and then back at me and gave me a weak smile.
An old, yet clean curtain separated our beds... Just feet apart. Through the muggy air that hung between us I heard her lovingly helping him into bed and getting her skeletal husband as comfortable as possible.
I'm a people watcher and while in Uganda my curiosity and wonder was indulged, except for today. People watching was painful and scary this day because it was raw and real stuff.
While following a nurse from one area to another for a stool sample deposite I looked in a "hospital room" and saw a woman who was all skin and bones balanced on a too high bed. The nurse anticipated my curiosity and offered an explanation, "She is the mother of triplets, her children had to go to Watoto (a community based orphanage that seeks to keep children in Uganda) but she has AIDS and didn't take her antivirals because some pastor convinced her she was healed. Now she's come back to us for help because she is dying. It's too bad, her children will be orphans despite our help and the hope we gave them."
Back at our bed, still waiting I begin to pray that God would help us out of this purgatory of waiting. I begin to feel germiphobic and like showering. Just then I see a doctor stride up and my hopes rise, but then I see he isn't slowing down and is looking beyond us. I feel deflated and Thea is getting fussy in my arms, unwilling to soften or relax or trust as I worry and dwell on "our struggles."
The doctor enters the curtain next to us, the Indian couple greet him and explain what is happening. Time has dimmed a lot of my memory of what took place, it's fuzzy, undoubtably because I didn't want to remember... What took place just feet from me was haunting.
The man had cancer and something was not well on his body and required fixing... I suppose a drain or port of some sort. I think perhaps some infection. The doctor set about fixing it, right there. Right next to us with only that curtain between. A nurse was called. To hold him down.
It was excusiating to hear. I can't imagine how it felt!
He begged for help.
It made me tear up. It made me want to ask them to stop and give him something for the pain. But I reasoned that surely if they had something to give him they would have... I hoped.
I felt dizzy listened to his screams and I just tried to keep Thea for being scared or start to cry... by his sounds of pain.
After it was over his wife apologized to me from around the curtain. She wasn't embarrassed, maybe just concerned it was horrifying to others.
I said, "No, ma'am... There is nothing to be sorry for. I'm sorry that things are so hard and he's hurting." And I added, "I've praying for you..." I had at one point realized that me getting out of this day long appointment was trivial in comparison... And changed my prayers to mercy for the hurting around me. I stink at compassion.
Immediately her eyes welled up and she said, "Thank you. I know Jesus too (she whispered this) ... and I know he helps us in our needs." She smiled sadly again and my less than quick wit failed me (as it so often does) as I pondered that she was a sister in faith and wondering if her husband was too... Or should I help her or what should I say?
It was then, all too quickly, our turn to be helped and my baby cried and squirmed. I never saw her again, and yet I wonder how she is. Is she a widow? Did she stay in Uganda? How did she manage?
I remembered this all today, only, because I saw on BBC Africa that the ONLY cancer radiation machine in Uganda broke beyond repair. This one machine serves 44,000 people from Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan every year. One machine... For FOUR nations worth of cancer patients! It will cost $1.8 million dollars to buy a new one. It just triggered this memory.
I've been thinking that it's easy to ignore others misery when they aren't standing right next to you, a foot away, screaming in suffering. Even then, it's paralyzing to know how to help...
No pitch, just pondering and processing.