The smell hits me in the face as soon as I walk in the door. Her bed is the first one inside the door of the maternity ward. It is placed strategically on the opposite side of the room from the nurses station. The stench is so strong and horrible that it causes nausea when standing even 10 feet away from the bed.
It’s the beginning of November. Jesus walked me into the lives of a few special women in the hospital maternity ward. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Or rather, what Jesus was getting me into. Yes, while I was in the hospital with Sandra, God opened my eyes to many needs, many situations, and many heartaches, and He specifically opened my eyes to the “c-section women”. These women who have undergone the “operation”, as they call it.
And as I am helping these women, I see in their faces the precious face of Miss Mary, my adopted grandmother. As I pray and serve these women, I see the face of Meme, my biological grandmother. Just this summer, I was hit with two precious grandmothers fighting cancer. Meme’s reappeared this past summer after decades of dormancy; Miss Mary has been fighting her cancer since she was 19 years old. Cancers getting worse; bodies becoming so weak. Both hit me so hard. Both have rocked my world. These women of faith play such major roles in my life.
I could not be there. God had me here. And so, as I placed my hand upon Fatina’s feverish forehead, I almost felt Miss Mary’s face under my palm. As I supported Justine while we walked to the latrines, I could see me supporting my own grandmother as she hobbled to the bathroom. I could only pray that as I was here for these…that someone was there for them. That someone held their frail arms and served them food and cried with them as the fears and pain threatened to overwhelm. That someone listened and cared and felt their feverish foreheads. It is hard. So hard being thousands of miles away when the ones I love so deeply are suffering.
Fatina. Was lying on that bed just inside the door to the maternity ward. Thirty years old. Severely mentally handicapped. Starving. Dying. Fatina was suffering from a horribly infected abdominal wound from a poorly performed c-section. Her baby was lost during the c-section. This had been her sixth pregnancy, but only one baby had survived in all. Too many rapes. Too weak, sick, and malnourished. No one seemed to have any hope for her. Nurses were frustrated. They felt sorry for her, but couldn’t seem to do much. As I walked over to her bedside, the smell from the wound in her abdomen became almost unbearable for me. But her face. The look of complete hopelessness, lost-ness, helplessness, starvation drew me to her side. As I leaned in and began to take account of the situation, the young girl staying with her began talking. The food, juice, visits, prayers and medical supplies began coming that day. The love had already begun in my heart the moment I saw her shriveled face.
A few weeks later, I walked into the ward carrying Fatina’s lunch for that day, only to be greeted by many dressed up women standing around Fatina’s bed. I leaned around the women, determined to see Fatina. Under the thin sheet, her little body was lying down facing the wall – away from the noise, chaos and what seemed to be utter confusion.
“They thought she had died”, the nurse whispered in my ear. I turned around with astonishment written all over my face. “What?”, I ask. “Fatina fell off the bed this morning. The girl had left her alone and she just fell right off the side. We thought she might have been dead – she seemed to have stopped breathing, she was so still and got so cold, but now she’s ok. She eventually started breathing ok again, and so we just put her up in the bed and hooked an IV line up.”
“But the relatives thought she was dead?”, I asked, still confused.
“Yes, someone called and they came to collect the dead body. They’re disappointed. Now they don’t know what to do. Now they have to leave her here. Now she’s still a problem for them.”, the nurse stated matter of factly.
Emotions flooded my heart. Words flooded my mind. “How in the world?! How did she fall off? How was no one there? How did they think she was dead? How did the relatives find out – how could they now be disappointed that she is alive?”
I was practically furious. Hot, angry tears burned my eyes. I turned my back to the messed up scene surrounding the hospital bed. “Lord, I’m so tired of these relatives not caring. These people despising this precious woman…Lord, help me. Help me. Give me love. Love for them, Lord.”
I walked back over to Fatina’s bedside. I touched her shoulder and gently rolled her over to face me. I checked her vital signs then just leaned over to hold her. her face was so hot, her forehead flaming. Her breathing still seems very labored. Her eyes locked with mine. Her poor confused brain couldn’t understand everything that was swarming around her…but she recognized me. She knew my face. I watched that wrinkled brow relax. I felt the stiffness in her frail body loosen under my touch.
All I could do was whisper yet again, “I’m here.”
“It’s ok, I’m here. Jesus loves you. You’re going to be ok.”
I help her sit up. She eats the food and drinks the juice. We get the medical supplies for her wound to be dressed today.
All the while, I pray that somewhere, somehow, someone whispered those words in my grandmothers’ ears. As they lay in a bed, fell during the night, faced fears and worries so great, I know that He was there. He has called me here…and I rest in the knowledge that He is also there with them, as I am not. Maybe it is not the women surrounding Fatina’s bed around me in the chaos, but perhaps a grandmother, maybe a friend, is back there in the village somewhere praying that somehow, someway, someone might also love this beautiful 30 year old mentally handicapped woman whom Jesus died for while she can not be there.
He reminds me. He loves her…even more than I love my grandmothers. Fatina is special to Him…just as Meme and Miss Mary are so special to me. He gave me His eyes. He let me see into His heart of love for the starving woman lying on the hospital bed. As I was struggling with not being able to touch them, serve them, pray with them, Meme and Miss Mary were cared for by others. Fatina had no one. She was all alone. And He knew it. Jesus knew exactly where she was. And He knew exactly where I was as I was struggling with only being able to pray against the cancer and sickness in the bodies of grandmothers I love so dearly. But as I was suffering with not being able to be there for loved ones thousands of miles away, Fatina allowed me to love her. Jesus walked her into my world to love. He walked her into my world to care for, to pray with, to serve.
So, I lean over. I kiss the feverish forehead. And I hold up another spoonful of food.