The next morning, as I am spending time with Jesus, He whispers, “Go to the hospital.”
I thought to myself, “What?”
“Go to the hospital, Amy. Go.”
Ok. That sounded great - Oliva and I could go and look around, and maybe see where she will deliver from, talk to a nurse, etc. Maybe it will help ease her fears a little to actually see the hospital and women there. And it would make me feel a whole lot better seeing the place, the entrance, the facilities, knowing exactly where we’re going, etc…especially if she delivers at night.
Oliva walked into the room moments later and I said I believed we needed to go to the hospital and look around. Little did I know that she had never been to that hospital either - never seen the labor ward where she would deliver. She said she would love to go see it and it would probably make her feel better having more knowledge too. She said, “Why don’t we go this afternoon during naptime for the babies?”
I knew that would be perfect. We would go. And see. And ask any questions. And know much more about delivering this baby when the time comes. We set out during naptime, both of us looking forward to knowing more and having a few more answers.
We arrived at the hospital and were told the direction of the labor ward/maternity center. Oliva was still a little nervous about the whole thing - everything about this baby, the pregnancy, and especially the birth and delivery scare her, so I was expecting this. I kept talking with her, keeping her calm, etc. I didn’t want her to get too scared to go inside, meet the nurses, see the place, etc. But we found the building and went inside to try to find a nurse and ask for a tour/info about the public wards and private rooms. Oliva had been telling me there were big public rooms for delivery free of charge and then there were private rooms that one could get, but there’s a charge for those. So, she wanted to see both.
We walked in, sat down, and explained our situation to the nurse. She explained that there was actually a “private room” inside that building and proceeded to show us. She then said we were free to walk through the public wards on our own. I was a little surprised that the nurse did not want to escort us, but there it was - the opportunity to see the public delivery wards, so I was going to take it. Oliva then began getting nervous. There is a superstitious habit that women here commonly do: if a pregnant woman sees another woman in labor, or a premature baby, or hears a story about a difficult birth or complication involving a pregnancy or anything or the sort, she spits on her swollen belly to ward off any evil that might come and bring the same thing upon her or her baby. So, as we began waling through the wards with many expectant mothers and women giving birth, Oliva spit on herself a few times before I saw her and told her to stop. Superstition leaves no room for faith. Or rather, faith should leave no room for superstition.
As we continued, I led the way through the public ward. (i.e. a big dorm-like room, with beds lined up side by side filling the room to maximum capacity). Women occupied every bed, and then I looked to the floor. Women were lying on straw mats in between and under each bed. To give perspective, there are an average of 70-80 expectant mothers in each public ward. The ratio of nurses to patients was so shockingly low that I honestly didn’t know what to think.
I kept walking.
At the end of the hall we turned to find another public ward exactly like the first.
A woman in labor was in a bed. At the end of the bed stood a tri-fold metal frame (screen) 5 feet tall with scraps of fabric hanging to give the woman in labor some privacy. The woman was crying out in pain, naked as could be sitting on the bed all by herself.
“What? This is how these women give birth? Where is the nurse?!”
I am shocked.
Oliva is almost more shocked. She was beginning to freak out at this point and looked faint. I tried to keep walking. My mind was reeling. I quickly took Oliva outside and tried to find a nurse to send inside to the woman. What I truly wanted to do was rush back inside and assist the woman, but I knew that Oliva needed me more at this point. I couldn’t believe what I saw. What we were seeing. This is it. The hospital labor ward where we were going to bring Oliva to deliver. I didn’t know what to think at this point, so I just prayed. Prayed for wisdom, prayed for strength.
The inside “private room” that we had seen contained three beds. Each separated by the metal frames I spoke of with the fabric scraps. Oliva was sure they had one completely private room somewhere on the premises and wanted to try to see it before we left. While Oliva tried to find a nurse to ask about the private rooms. I saw another mzungu. Standing just outside the labor ward. A white man standing with a few Ugandan women beside the door. I hadn’t seen one other mzungu since stepping on hospital premises. I watched him for a few seconds while waiting on Oliva and decided that he must be medical staff. “He’s probably a doctor or something…volunteering or working here.”, I thought. He walked into the operation building a moment later, and I thought, “Yeah, he must be a doctor.”
Oliva could not seem to find a nurse anywhere to ask about the private room, so we began walking around trying to find someone else. We started walking up towards who-knows-where, and this kind Ugandan patient offered her help. She said that the only private rooms were in the labor ward building that we just came from - just on the other side. Oliva started to realize that it might not get much better than what we had already seen. I will not describe the filth of the first private room, much less the rest of the public wards. We’ll leave that subject be, but my mind was still trying to comprehend.
As we were deciding what to do next, a lady walked by carrying a basket on her head. No uniform. No nurses garb. but Oliva thought that she looked like a volunteer/nurse-type person. In Luganda, Oliva quickly asks this woman a question as she breezes past us, and then Oliva turns to me and says, “Let’s go. Follow her. ” As we quickly start following this lady, I turn to ask Oliva, “Where are we going? Who is she?”
“She’s taking us to see the tiny babies.”
I thought, “What?”
“I asked her if we could see the newborn infant babies, and she said she could only let us see the premature babies. I’m not going - you go. I knew you would want to see the babies.”
I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t mentioned seeing babies at all. Oliva just knows me too well, but I hadn’t even thought about seeing the preemies. I started walking faster. I grabbed Oliva’s arm, “Come on, we’re going and you’re coming with me.” She started spitting on herself again.
We hurried along behind this mystery lady with no uniform or ID of any kind as she led us back through the labor wards and to the rear of the building. We came to a door that said, “No shoes beyond this point” and Oliva said she was not going any further. I began to protest, but this mystery lady was quickly removing her shoes and moving inside. I was not letting this opportunity pass by, so I quickly kicked my shoes off and followed her in, having no time to speak with Oliva lest I lose the lady and this chance.
On the next door just immediately inside hangs a hand made paper sign, “No visitors beyond this point.”
The mystery lady breezes through the door. Jesus walked me in right after her.
A wooden desk stood just inside to the left of the door we enter. The same mzungu guy I saw outside is bent over the desk talking to a nurse.
I sayed on the heels of this mystery lady as she led me to the preemie room that was at the back of this main room. There is a big glass window that separated the two rooms – the preemie room and the main room with the mzungu guy and the nurse at the desk. I followed the mystery lady inside the preemie room and there was a mother sitting on the floor with her two babies. Two preemie babies in her lap. Twins. She was bathing them and trying to feed them. Almost completely naked, the mother and child sat together - the sight touched a place deep inside my heart. Natural. Perfect. God’s design. The mother smiled at me as I walked in and watched her with her precious babies.
I glanced up from this precious scene only to notice the other incubators in the room. Her babies are in one, yet there are three more lining the walls of this tiny room. I walk over to the first one and peek in.
A baby. So tiny, so wrapped up in clothing and material that I can barely see the tiny face. A face that almost looks dead. I watch for signs of life - the clothing moving at all - and I see it move ever so slightly. That’s when I noticed the fabric material. A women’s shirt. Dirty. And underneath the baby was a pair of pants. No blanket. This baby was wrapped in clothing. The incubators. Wooden boxes with plastic sides – not closed. Not connected. Swinging open in some places.
As I sat and stared at this baby and the clothing, my thoughts wandered to another precious baby who was probably wrapped in clothing very similar to what was before me. A baby born thousands of years ago in a stable and placed in a manger – probably very similar to the wooden box that held this baby in front of me. as I thought about how my Jesus might have looked on the day of his birth, I couldn’t help but wonder if He didn’t look a lot like this precious bundle. My eyes filled with tears as I imagined my Jesus, my king being born in such conditions – and then my eyes focused back on the baby in the incubator. Jesus came to be born as a man. Jesus humbled Himself to be born in such conditions. These incubators were probably wonderful compared to the conditions baby Jesus lived in for His first few days on earth. And Jesus was born in that stable, in that manger…for babies such as this one wrapped in the clothes inside the “incubator”.
Wood. A box. Clothing. A tiny baby. Two thousand years ago. And here with me today.
Four incubators. Five preemies. After looking at each one and whispering a prayer over their sleeping bodies, I knelt down beside the mother and her twins. She immediately picked up the tiny baby lying on her legs and placed him in my arms. So tiny. Weightless. Precious. Only a few pounds and one week old. he cried as I held him to my chest and smiled as the tears streamed down my cheeks. What a blessing. This precious baby’s life – I knew was a miracle. I sat while the mother bathed the other baby, then we swapped. I had been sitting for maybe 10 minutes when the mzungu guy from earlier came to the window connecting the two rooms and gruffly asked, “Are you medical personnel?” My mind raced as I thought, “Oh, no, I’m in trouble.”, but I calmly said, “No, I’m just a visitor.” He turned and walked away.
“Oh, I’m in trouble now.”, I thought. “This ‘doctor’s’ going to report me. Oh, well, at least I got to see the babies and preemie room and hold the twins. What a miracle!” Seconds later, the mystery lady opened the door and said, “You’re wanted outside.” I hoped I wasn’t in too much trouble, but I knew it would be ok. I gathered my things and followed the woman out of the preemie room. As we entered the other room, I saw the same mzungu guy standing hunched over the desk by the door. As I walked by, I glanced over at him expecting this “doctor” to be upset with me being in the room, but instead my eyes met a frantic face. Almost panicking, he yelled at the mystery lady, “Where is the nurse?! Will you please go find me a nurse?!” He then looked me in the eye and cursed. My hand flew to my mouth as I gasped – in his hands, lying on the desk was a newborn baby. So white. Not breathing. The baby looked dead. I stood in shock just staring.
The mzungu guy looked directly at me and said, “This is my son.”
I fought back the waves of nausea. I felt sick. Completely sick. I just knew that I was going to faint. His son. HIS SON. This dying baby was this man’s SON. This pale white, not breathing, dying infant was this man’s SON.
I stood frozen, not even knowing what to do – I’m not a nurse, doctor - I know nothing about nursing. “Jesus, help.”, I prayed. I watched as this father began trying to do CPR again on his infant son. From somewhere, from Someone, the Holy Spirit took over my body and I felt myself moving forward and taking the baby into my hands. I looked into the father’s eyes and I heard myself say, “It’s ok. He’s not breathing?” as I picked up the infant from the desk. The baby was wrapped in a thin green blanket…both baby and blanket still covered in afterbirth. The baby felt so cold. His little body looked so small. So fragile. I quickly looked for signs of life – I could find none. Not breathing. Nothing.
The father picked up the most dirty-looking mouth pump I had ever seen and said, “The nurse handed this to me and said, ‘Keep doing CPR’.”
I almost gagged.
“Where is the oxygen machine??”, I wanted to scream. I slowly took the pump from his hand and gently placed it over the baby’s mouth. We laid the precious baby boy out on the desk as I cradled his body in my arms. I began pumping while the father did the chest compressions. I couldn’t think. I willed myself to not even think. We continued CPR as best we knew how. He kept cursing…the hospital, the nurses, the country. Everything. I honestly couldn’t blame him. “I hate this country. I hate this hospital. Come on, my son…live, my son.” This father…was telling his son to live. The reality that this baby was dying in my arms had not even hit yet. The reality that this father was losing his son…I couldn’t even let myself comprehend it. The tears wanted to come…my heart was breaking as I watched this father struggle and fight for his son’s life. We worked on silently. “Where was a nurse?!”, I still just wanted to scream! No nurses anywhere. No one else besides the two of us – the mystery lady having long ago walked out. We worked on alone, me whispering prayers. Prayers that mostly consisted of, “Jesus. Jesus.”
“If I had known how horrible this hospital is…” and his voice trailed off. “Come on, my son. Come on.” My heart cringed with pain. He continued, “The surgery was delayed. My wife and I have been going to a doctor in town, but they said we had to come here for the c-section. We arrived four days ago. She should have been seen then. They just put us in a room. The doctor never came – we called and called and he never showed up. Never answered his phone. So, some other person did the surgery this morning. My wife’s still drugged and unconscious in the next room. She hasn’t even seen the baby.” I was numb. By this point, almost completely numb. It felt like an eternity. Each second that passed, we knew that his chances were less and less. The baby didn’t look any better. No signs of life at all. The father continued to share his heart and life as we worked on his son. My heart knowing that we were probably working in vain, but I refused to admit it. and wouldn’t have said it to the father on pain of death.
We heard the door open. Someone walked in. it was a nurse. She stared at the baby, then at us. She said nothing. The father said, “Were is a stethoscope? I asked for a stethoscope.” She answered, “There’s no stethoscope anywhere.” The father cursed again – couldn’t believe there was no stethoscope in the entire hospital. “My son is dying – can you do nothing? Do you know CPR?”, then he stormed out of the room in search for a stethoscope. The lady slowly walked around me to the other side of the room as I held the lifeless baby in my arms. I laid the baby on my legs and continued trying to do CPR by myself. She slowly pulled gloves out of a box and just stared at me and the baby. She walked across the room, looked down at the baby and said, “The baby is tired. They delayed operation.” The nurse then took the baby from me and practically threw him back on the desk. I jerked as if she had slapped me. She began to touch him and feel him. No signs of life. I knew he was dead. I knew it. I had known it. But something inside of me kept praying and hoping. I held the baby’s now lifeless body in my arms and with my thumb, began to stroke his little cheek – that little cheek that was still covered in afterbirth and blood. I wanted to weep, but the numbness took over. I was shell-shocked. Completely energy-less. “Jesus, Jesus, why?”
Another nurse walked in. Friendly, happy – had no clue about the baby. It was if the entire hospital had no clue that there was a dying newborn infant who needed help – it was as if no one knew we were there...no one knew we were struggling to save this baby's life. It was as if no one cared. I later learned that it had been lunch time – and everyone leaves during that hour. No one in the preemie room no one helping with dying babies – nothing.
The father returned with a stethoscope and quickly tried to listen for a heartbeat. He couldn’t hear anything. He quickly handed it to the nurse and asked her to please listen. Again, nothing. Dead. He as dead. We knew it. The father knew it. His son was dead. He slumped back in the chair next to mine and put his head in his hands - wanting to lose it and weep, but still so frustrated that he didn’t know what to do. The friendly nurse began shaking the baby now on the desk and asking what had happened. The father didn’t even know what to say – or even how to react. What do you do? get angry? Cry? Chew the nurses out? Call someone? Others began to trickle in and we had to tell them the baby was dead. I wanted to scream, “How did this happen?? How?! Why are nurses now streaming in – NOW?!” The nurse later points out the oxygen machine in the corner of the room. “Were the nurses who kept coming in the room, looking for stethoscopes, supposedly calling others – were they incapable? Lord, what went wrong? Why did this baby have to die?!”
The nightmare just continued. It all became a blur. The friendly nurse was standing right beside me – I remained seated in the chair, not able to even think about walking. The nurses got a white sheet to wrap the baby’s little body in. They laid it on the desk and the friendly nurse picked up the baby – by his feet. She swung him over onto the white sheet as the baby’s lifeless head rolled backwards and jerked around. Waves of nausea again threatened as I fought the urge to vomit. I cringed. My body jumped and I turned my head into the nurses skirt right beside me. I hid there as I tried to regain my composure. “Lord, Jesus. Help us. Help this father; help me.” The father got up, not able to control his tears any longer. He walked to the other side of the room and hit the wall. Helpless. I felt completely helpless. The nurses wrapped the body up and needed names – names of the mother and father. The nurse turned to me and asked, “Do you have a bag?”. The father asked, “What is the bag for?” and the nurse replied, “To bury the baby in.” He was shocked. “Don’t you have a coffin - can’t we get a coffin somewhere?” She replied, “coffins are expensive – the bag is much cheaper and works just as well.” I couldn’t remain silent any longer as this broken hearted father lost it and turned away, “No, we’re getting a coffin. He wants a coffin – it doesn’t matter how much it costs.”
I watched as the “death certificate” was handed to the father. I listened as the nurses kept saying to this hurting father, “You’re fine. Don’t cry. It’s fine. Quit crying – everything is fine.” He yelled, “My son is dead! Dead! I just lost my son!” I kindly asked the nurses to stop. This father had no family, no friends, no support system. I felt helpless. I could say that I was sorry, but it felt pointless – like a waste of breath.
I walked with the nurses and father to where they wanted to wash the body, and watched as they laid the white sheet on a cold steel table. And we had to leave him – that precious baby boy – dead. I followed as the father went to find his wife – still drugged from the surgery. I waited until he had his moment, and then the Ugandan women I had seen this father with before came up to me. I asked if I could see her. I knew her name because the nurses had written it on the masking tape they put on the white sheet. They took me in and I saw her peaceful face lying on the pillow. This dear mother – never saw her baby. I knelt down beside her bed and placed my hand on her face. I prayed as the tears just streamed. She never saw her beautiful baby boy. Her first born child. She never got to see those tiny hands and feet. My heart was so overwhelmed, I could barely utter words as I tried to pray.
Oliva was seated just outside of the room – next to where we had been. Shell-shocked. I was still completely shell-shocked. Oliva walked me away from that hospital and got us in a taxi headed home. Reaching home, I went outside alone, sat down, and sobbed. His words still ring in my ears. “This is my son.” That dying baby – his son. I just couldn’t leave him. He would have been alone. God took me there. Into that room, that day, for that time. For such a time as that. God knew I needed to be there. That father would have suffered the death of his son alone – would have fought for his son’s life alone. If I did nothing else, that father knew that I cared. I went from holding a happy, cute preemie baby in one room to carrying a lifeless, cold dead baby in my arms in the next.
Jesus had a reason for me being in that room. He walked me through the door. He took me to the hospital. He walked the mystery lady across our path. He placed that baby into my arms. That precious baby boy is now in the arms of Jesus. rejoicing and celebrating. I will one day see him again. Until then, I pray for his parents and reach out to them. Until then…my heart is touched yet again – by the life of a precious baby.