Little baby Mathieu has finally been admitted for his bilateral cleft lip and palate repair after a long journey with the ship. His grandma is a straight-faced, serious woman who has cared for him well over the months I’ve known them. When we first met, Mathieu was very sick. He had a chest infection due to aspiration from his cleft palate. It is a very common problem but often causes babies with clefts to get sick enough to die. Mathieu was right on the verge of needing intubation for airway support, but he held on and with tender, expert care from my team, we got through. Grandma and Mathieu have been at the Hope Centre being cared for and fattened up by Lee-Anne, our Infant Feeding Program Coordinator.
This last week 12 month old Mathieu was admitted for his repair. I greeted both him and his grandma with a smile and a rub on the shoulder. Grandma simply nodded her head, Mathieu stared at me with his gorgeous dark brown eyes, no emotion written on his face.
Later that afternoon, I stood in the hallway outside the door of the ward talking to the screening coordinator. We waved at Mathieu, his grandma and a few other patients and I went on my way. As I walked off, I heard a scuffling behind me and someone calling out. I turned around to see grandma with Mathieu in her arms, chasing me down the hallway. I walked back to meet her and out of her mouth came a torrent of French I couldn’t catch. I brought her back to the ward and asked one of my translators for help. Grandma asked if the screening coordinator and I had been talking about Mathieu, had his surgery been cancelled? She was very concerned. I assured her I had heard of no such thing and was sure it was still scheduled for the next day. She simply nodded her head in relief.
Mathieu did indeed get his surgery the next day and came back to his grandma’s arms looking beautiful. It is not an easy surgery to recover from but little Mathieu (who has been bulked up to 8.8kg by Lee-Anne) is most content in the arms of someone, his fluffy head resting on our shoulder or chest. I held him for so long on Friday that I had sore arms the next day!
Yesterday when I poked my head into the ward, Mathieu was lovingly nestled in the arms of a nurse and his grandma, normally so serious, looked up at me and smiled when I greeted her. I looked around the ward and saw another nurse in conversation with a translator day crew, next to a patient with a board game in progress. Other patients were sitting together chatting, bandages adorning their heads, patient ID bands on their wrists, the paths of their lives intersecting on the Africa Mercy and forever changing.
Each of these patients are so precious to me. I have never worked so many hours at work in my career until these last three months on the AFM. The Ward Nurse Maxillofacial Team Leader position holds a lot of responsibility and is no joke when it comes to the work load. I have felt bogged down with tasks and although the days in the ward have been enjoyable, I feel like I always have a to-do list hanging over the spare moments of time in my day, until this last week. I lay it all out before God and asked for the space to just enjoy. That is exactly what I’ve been able to do this week. My eyes have searched for the beauty in the every day and I have not been disappointed.
A few weeks ago I turned around to see my nurse red faced and crying. I rubbed her back and asked, “Are you ok?” Her response was simply, “Adama.” Yes, Adama. She has brought almost all of us to tears at some point in her long stay. She is so brave, one of the most trusting, courageous women I’ve ever met, but that day Adama was also in tears. I took the cool wash cloth for Adama from the nurse at the sink over to Adama’s bed. She was curled on her side, eyes red, covered mostly by her blankets. Around her bed were 9 of our day crew, all with hands touching her, crying out to God for her healing, recovery and comfort.
Adama’s journey has been long and complicated with so many ups and downs that I don’t know where to begin, except to say that I have wrestled with God so much over her. The situation has forced me to my knees over and over and I don’t think I’ve ever cried so many tears over a patient here. How do you continue to have faith and believe in God’s goodness and healing when you feel like you’ve been kicked in the guts multiple times? I don’t have any answers but I do know to my core that God is good and I trust Him. He knows each of my patients more intimately than any of us ever could and not for one moment have they been out of His sight. They come into our hands for a short period and they touch our lives forever and we release them back to God.
The Cameroon field service is coming to a close. There are 4 surgical weeks left, then the hospital stays open for one week further before every single patient must be discharged and waved farewell. We say goodbye to our beloved day crew who were our voices, our guides and our friends every day. We farewell our teammates and friends who walked this crazy beautiful journey with us. The hospital is double cleaned and packed away, no longer full of life and beauty, but a stack of iron beds ratchet strapped to the floor.
In my opinion these are the hardest weeks of the outreach. Please will you pray for us? Pray for our patients healing, physical, emotional and spiritual. Pray for our hearts, that we will be strong enough in love and thankfulness to stand through the torrent of sadness in goodbyes. Also in the weeks right in front of us, pray for no complications of patient surgeries, for healing and wholeness for those still in our care and that joy would abound in the every day.