Wednesday, August 31, 2011

one of those days

"i think part of the struggle just of everyday life is
remembering that the love is wake up in
the morning and realize that love is there in the world -
if i can do that, that's half the battle." - kathleen norris

i was grumpy. and exhausted. and sick.  and i had an out. 

but i was also stubborn and trying to prove i wasn't that weak, and i said i would go see patients in clinic that afternoon anyway.  then take a sick day tomorrow. 

i regretted that decision as soon as i walked into the building.  it hit me how very tired i was. how i could be home napping instead. but it was too late now.  oh well.

the first chart i grabbed wasn't that heavy. i figured it would be an easy patient. until i realized that this was chart volume 2.  i scanned the face sheet: hiv. bone disease causing 2 hip fractures. cancer. depression. chronic pain. neuropathy. 

as i was heading down the hall, the nurse practitioner gave me a heads up: he just got a new electric wheelchair. and he cut his hair.

i walked in the room, expecting someone grumpy and bitter and sick.  instead, he was smiling. 

how are you, i asked. honestly, i think this is the best i have been in my life, he said. 

how is the pain? it's there. but i have this new wheelchair and it's totally opened up the world for me. i can go places now, i don't have to sit in my apartment. i may try to take a computer class at the senior center soon. they offer them sometimes.    

i hear you cut your hair?  yeah, i donated it to locks of love. i wanted to give back. i smiled inside, wondering what kind of wig would be made from middle-age, graying, ex-hippie hair.

the attending physician came in. we talked some more, sorted out some medicines, set up follow-up visits.  at the end, the attending prayed with him: god, we thank you for the blessings you have brought in this man's life, for his health, for your grace.

i cringed inside.  blessing? very little of his story felt like blessing.  but he took those small moments - leaving his house without the pain of walking and giving away his hair - as gifts.  and i was humbled...because i know there is sickness in my body too. there are limits and exhaustion and fevers and feeling like i am missing out on life and worry that these little symptoms now could be harbingers of a coming disaster. but there are moments of grace too - people that notice when i need a day off, sunflowers blooming on my walk home, sisters who don't care if you use their popcorn maker, dinners with friends, and patients who remind me to name the good in my life.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

on healing

do you think god will heal anyone who asks and has faith? my sister asks me. 

me, who witnesses sickness every day in the lives of my patients.
me, who lived in the nation with the highest hiv rate in the world, who buried friends before they reached age thirty because they were born in the wrong place as the wrong gender.
me, who carries sickness in my body every day. 

if the answer to her question is no, then why pray?

and if the answer is yes, then where have my prayers for healing gone? why do my swazi friends still fight HIV despite their prayers (and lives) of faith?  why does my body still feel like it's breaking even though i have lit candles and cried out, "how long, o lord?"

i don't have an answer for her question. i only have a story, one i re-tell myself in the moments i feel faint:

i met jabu shortly after i arrived in swaziland.  her name means "happiness" and that is what she was.  she got sick quickly though as HIV spread through her body.  she shuffled slowly down the hill as if every step took all that she had.  she seemed to get smaller every day.  soon, she just stayed home. 

i stopped by to visit jabu one afternoon, like usual.  only this time, she was barely moving, barely opening her eyes. her mom stood fanning her, trying to move the heavy african air across her feverish body.  we lifted her into the car and sped across the 30km of curving dirt roads to the nearest hospital.  by the time we got there, she wasn't opening her eyes at all.  her blood pressure was unreadable on the archaic cuff they used to measure it, barely palpable.  the doctor looked at us sadly: we have no beds left. and there is nothing we can do anyway. 

 we begged for them to keep her, knonwing if we took her home, she would surely die.  knowing too that if she stayed, she would still likely die.  the doctor finally caved, offering the floor under the bed of another patient.  we left her that night, her tiny body on the floor under the bed of another dying woman.  chickens walked past her spot on the floor.  a meager bag of IV fluids hung - the only attempt at treatment offered for her. 

the next morning she could open her eyes, and was discharged to home.  miraculously, over the coming weeks, jabu regained strength and life. 
we were sitting on her bed one afternoon, laughing and talking. i asked her what happened that day when we thought she would die.  she answered: i was lying there, and i was flat. i couldn't open my eyes, couldn't speak. but in my heart, i prayed "lord, extend my days." and he did.  i will never forget what the lord has done for me.  

she never forgot. she never stopped praising. one month later, jabu went to be with the one who had heard her prayer and extended her days. i'm pretty sure she's still singing her praise.