In my last post I told you about a young woman named Chantal who has been with us since February. Every outreach we seem to have that one special patient who becomes like family and steals our hearts away. This outreach, Chantal is that woman. She is a 25 year old woman from Ghana who had burn contractures on her neck and arm fixed with skin grafting last time the ship was in the area in 2009. Initially she was a wonderful success story with a completely healed skin graft. Shortly after her recovery and after the ship had left, due to a chronically suppressed immune system, her graft reopened and she was left with a large, painful, infected wound covering her right chest, shoulder and arm. For 3 years she suffered with this wound, unable to move her arm and doubled over in pain with no signs of hope or relief. That is, until the ship returned this past January to Togo.
I can just imagine her reaction at the news. Could it be? Is it true? After 3 years of intense pain, rejection and haughty eyes constantly on her, the smell of infection haunting her every move, the inability to hold, care, cuddle, and love on her 4 year old daughter. And now that big white metal floating box that once gave her hope and healing is back! Normally the ship does not take on medical patients because we aren't equipped to handle care to that extent. With few exceptions, our patients are relatively healthy people who are in need of surgical help- to remove tumors, fix birth defects, hernias, bone and joint deformities, burn contractures, etc. Because Chantal was a past patient of ours, we took her case on in an attempt to help her heal again and regain function. I could go on and on about the ins and outs of her months and months of medical treatment, but it can be summed up into a long road of infections, antibiotics, agonizing daily wound care, physiotherapy, surgery after surgery, skin graft after skin graft, moments of hope for the medical team, followed by moments of disappointment and confusion after each failed antibiotic treatment and surgery.
About 1 month ago, as I shared in a past blog, Chantal accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior and redeemer. For a while she was in higher spirits and had more pep and motivation in her step. (And she didn't mind my embarrassing dancing anymore!) But shortly after that her tired body had had enough, our last ditch attempt at antibiotics failed, sepsis took over, and we were at the end of the road for medical healing. Our medical regime turned towards comfort and pain management instead of aggressive treatment.
I was fortunate enough to be able to spend the last few evenings as Chantal's nurse. She phased in and out of lethargy and alertness, and I was able to be there for her awake moments, to make her smile a few last times, and to talk with her and give her comfort. After spending months down in the dark, window-less ward with few opportunities to see sunlight, my friend June and I packed Chantal up in a comfy wheel chair full of pillows and took her up to the top deck of the ship to sit for an hour and enjoy the sunset and warm breeze. It was a moment I will never forget as it was in her last 48 hours of life in that tired, broken body.
Last night, in and out of moments of clarity, Chantal was able to enjoy some more fresh air from the comfort of her bed as she was rolled in front of a big door right at sea level that was opened especially for her. In a very peaceful moment, with people who cared so much for her sitting by her side, Chantal said "Jesus is here, Jesus is here", and she was finally taken home with our Lord and left her broken, hurting body behind.
It was a sad and difficult evening for us nurses and caregivers who had poured out so much love and energy onto Chantal over the past few months, but our sadness was only selfish because it is truly a joyous moment that she has finally gone home! It is easy for us, as logically minded medical professionals, to feel like we failed Chantal, that our efforts and the pain we put her through were all for nothing. Why would God let her go through this only for medical treatment to fail? But as one of my colleagues said, God was never surprised by what happened. Everything that happened with Chantal was exactly how God had it planned all along. She was in constant pain for over 5 years- struggling from burns, wounds, and infections. She didn't receive medical success while she was here, but she did have a better outcome than most of the patients we see-- she received spiritual healing, which is the primary purpose we are here. For the first time in a long time, Chantal is without pain, without wounds and infections, and has a new, restored body. Not only that, but before she left this earth, Jesus came to the ship, sat in the ward with her, and took her home.
It was a sad, happy, frustrating, relieving, and incredible experience, all mixed together. God had a purpose in Chantal and it was faithfully fulfilled.. she came to the ship to meet Jesus so that she could go home to Eternity with Him. For the first time Chantal is walking down the golden streets of heaven with no wound, no infection, and no pain, hand in hand with our Creator. The biggest success stories from this outreach are the hearts that are redeemed by Jesus, and Chantal has helped to refocus us and remind us of our true purpose here-- to share the love of Christ.