Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Empty Arms

The same tiny little baby I wrote about just a few days ago was admitted again, but much sicker than previously. Hard decisions have to happen here every day, most of which I am never even aware of because they are not happening in the ward that I work in. The decision to try and help this little one get over her pneumonia was a tricky one for several reasons, but I have discovered over the years here, that very occasionally patients are admitted into the ward to be loved on, prayed for and rejoiced over before God takes them home.

During this baby’s admission we began to fight desperately for her life. She was hooked up to the ventilator and various IVs were giving her fluids and drugs of all kinds. We waited for the father to come into the hospital to see his daughter and support his wife.
There is a culture in Western Africa that we have discovered on the ship that is still not understood by me and many others. When it comes to the subject of death and dying, the father is told the prognosis and then he can choose when and how to tell the mother about her child. In this case the father was invited into the ICU where the team had a meeting about the care of the baby. She was so sick that she had tubes and IVs everywhere. This tiny little bundle that you could almost hold in just one hand was being kept alive by machines but still she was fading away. I don’t know everything that went on in the ICU and the conversations that happened, but I was out in the ward, seeing that mama, tormented by not knowing what was going on.

As a nurse it is one of the hardest things, to know something about your patient before the patient themselves know or the mama or papa are told. I found when I was at home in Australia, I didn’t want to know my patient’s pathology results before they knew, because they might see it written on my face. In this case, the mama was barely making eye contact. The sorrow was evident in her slumped shoulders, her empty arms, her downcast eyes. I don’t know what thoughts were going around and around her mind as she sat next to the bed in the ward that her baby and her had shared for the past few days. But as all life saving measures were withdrawn from her baby girl in the ICU, she was sitting there in the ward, unaware, unseeing, unable to cuddle her baby, because the culture kept her from being there. I certainly don’t pretend to know everything (or even close to much) about some African cultures, but my heart aches for the mama who sat with empty arms. This sweet baby girl, who’d she’d just spent the last two months of her life completely wrapped up in, could no longer be held for the months and years to come.

How is it that there are no words to describe how deep things are felt? That somehow a pit can open inside of you, empty and huge. And sorrow, an emotion, can be physically painful. What do we do with this pain? The only thing I know to do: “If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath.” Ps 34:18 MSG. I have not lost a child and I can barely begin to imagine the sorrow of such a loss, but I have felt gut-wrenching sorrow, bringing me to my knees. And from my knees as I have looked up, there is Jesus standing right before me, with his hand out-stretched, willing and wanting to give me the strength I need to get through that hour, that day. So I pray for this family, that He will fill those empty arms to overflowing.

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