Friday, April 20, 2012

A small glimpse of Eternity

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.

"Encourage one another and build each other up.."

 Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 that as brothers and sisters in Christ we need to encourage one another and build each other up.  I have seen the most beautiful display of this in the hospital this past week.  The plastic surgeries are finished, and we are now just continuing to heal the wounds and do physical therapy on joints and limbs that haven't moved in years, and slowly trying to get all of the patients well enough to go home so we can start a new round of surgeries and patients.  The healing process for burn repairs and skin grafts can be a very slow, painful, and discouraging time for patients (and nurses!).  Wounds we thought were healing well suddenly become infected, and skin grafts that we prayed would take root are lost.  As some patients become well enough to go home, others are left behind frustrated and disheartened because their wounds haven't yet healed.  But so far, God has been amazing and our infection rate is much lower than previous times and nobody seems to be getting "burned out" but energy and excitement are high and the ward is always filled with music, joy and dancing!
Just a regular evening on the ward!

One young woman I asked you to pray for last time, Chantal who has been with us since the beginning of the outreach, has been going through a lot of surgeries, painful dressing changes, difficult medical complications, and it seems to be a never ending road of frustration and discouragement for both Chantal and us nurses.  Last week, we saw something suddenly change in Chantal.  One afternoon I walked into the ward, and she was sitting up in a wheelchair in the middle of the room visiting with the rest of the patients.  We were all pleasantly shocked to see someone who never got out of bed except to hobble to the bathroom with lots of pain and assistance, sitting up by her own choice!  Someone who rarely joins in the ward dance parties (except to laugh at me and say, "my sister, please please, stop dancing")  We were all encouraged and excited to find out that she accepted Jesus as her Savior early that day!
Chantal with some incredible ladies

Unfortunately things didn't stay in such high spirits for long, as more medical complications, pain, and wound care are continually happening.  But this past week I saw something that lifted my spirits and made 1 Thessalonians 5:11 come alive for me.  I was working in the ward and I had my back turned to the patients, when all of a sudden I heard an outbreak of cheering and clapping!  I turned around and Chantal was up- all by herself- ,walking to the bathroom, and all the other patients and patient-mama's were standing up applauding Chantal and encouraging her on her first solo-excursion out of bed!  It was so beautiful to see how the patients have all partnered together in their difficulties and challenges and come alongside each other to show love and encouragement.  It was a true picture of what a healthy Christian community looks like, and half of these people were Muslim or animistic!

Chantal still needs lots of medical care, prayer and frankly, a massive miracle in order to heal her.  But I have faith in the words of James 5:15 that says, "the prayers offered in faith will make the sick person well, the Lord will raise him up!"  I know that with prayer, fervent prayer, she can and WILL be healed!

I saw another display of 1 Thessalonians 5:11 in another patient who has been here since the beginning of the outreach as well.  Kokou's knee was contracted at a 90 degree angle from a burn many years ago.  We straightened his knee, but since even before her came to us, he has been struggling with infections at that site.  He has been in and out of isolation (which means he is in his own room, isolated from all the other patients so the bacteria doesn't spread) as his wound continues to be infected.  Within the past few weeks, he has been very down and discouraged for a number of reasons.  His wound was healing very well and he had gone home for a while, but then had to return  back to the isolation room when he became re-infected.  He was so disheartened at having to come back, especially since he is a very very active, social-able person.  He is a farmer by trade and spends majority of the day outside, so being trapped in a windowless hospital is very difficult.  That paired with the fact that West African culture hates being secluded-- they are a very community oriented culture-- makes living in isolation pure torture for Kokou! 

Dance party begins!
One evening I was in the main ward, and the patients were all singing, dancing, playing the guitar and drum.  It was a regular night on the ward when someone had the great idea of going down the hall to the isolation rooms and singing and playing for Kokou!  So a whole pied piper line walked down the hall, patients, nurses, day workers- the whole lot of us! and stood outside Kokou's room and sang and danced.  He was so happy, he was up dancing around his room singing!  It was so amazing to see how the other patients cared so much for Koko and were so encouraging for him.  It's not just medication and medical treatment that heals- a little smiling and positive thought goes a long way in healing wounds!
Kokou laying in his bed enjoying the musical show

Richara- unable to walk after foot surgery- enjoying the music and dance whilemy back!

It is less than 2 months until the ship leaves Togo, so there is still a lot to go- a lot of wounds to be healed, and a lot of surgeries to be done!  We really need to heal these infected wounds so that we have room for more patients!

Prayer requests:
- Since I initially started writing this blog, Chantal's health has progressively gotten worse.  Please pray for her comfort, that she will be free from pain, and also for her family who we are trying to bring in to the ship to visit.  Chantal has accepted Christ as her Savior, so truly she has the best outcome out of many of the patients we see.  But it is hard for us medical staff to see that at times when it seems that our efforts and work has been in vain.  All we can ask of any patient who enters this ship is that they will get to know Jesus!  So also pray for the nurses caring for Chantal- that they will be able to see the amazing success story that she is!  And even though it is painful on this side of Eternity, we will see her again- smiling and praising the Lord!

- Please pray for Enyonam who is rescheduled for surgery on May 29th-- please pray that we will be able to find her and get her here!!

- Please pray for the VVF (vesico-vaginal fistula) women who have just come in last week and have started surgery.  Pray for successful surgeries and lives to be restored!!

I don't know who this baby belongs to, but it was handed to me and I wasn't about to say no!  Any takers??