Wednesday, May 21, 2014

If you had been here

If you had been here, my brother would not have died.

Sit with me in my clinic. It is Wednesday afternoon. Everyone, including the patients and their families, are tired. The queues are still long. The problems are many. My intern comes in with a wheelchair bound patient from the female surgical ward. She has brought her here to examine, because doing a pelvic exam in the wards is atrociously difficult (Where is a light? Where is an exam table? Where is a speculum?). So I look up, and there is the patient. She is a 38 year old lady who had a stroke a few months ago and really cannot communicate. She was admitted because she had gotten a blood clot in her leg and had to go on blood thinner so she would not get an embolus to her lungs. She had had polio as a child, and her left leg was limp and paralyzed. Add to this the stroke and being bedridden-and she was a set up for a DVT (deep venous thrombosis). So now she is on blood thinner-and she is bleeding out from her menstrual period every month. Enter me, the gynecology consultant.  I examine her in our busy clinic. It is hot. She cannot move well. She cannot speak. We lift her to the bed.

In my mind, I flash to Bethesda: to the man on his palate by the pool. There is no one to lift him into the water. Enter into his frustration, his pain, his helplessness: the dirt, the smell, and the chaos.

And then Jesus is there. And it is simple. “Pick up your bed and walk.” And he does.

I finish examining this woman: no cervical cancer, no fibroid uterus-just a debilitated woman on blood thinner. And there is little I can do for her. We carry her back to her wheelchair. My eyes fill up with tears. Nothing I can do. If Jesus had been here, he could have healed her-her legs, her clots, her stroke, her bleeding.

I write a note in her chart. We pray for her. She returns to the ward. I see the next patient.

Walk with me up this hill. It is early in the morning. I trudge up to the hospital wards. All of our corridors are outside. I walk past a bench with a woman seated upon it. We are outside of our ICU. Suddenly, as I pass, she lets out a long wail. She shakes her head again and again, and takes her outer skirt and covers her face. “What is wrong, Mama?” One of my interns comes alongside. It is silent except for the wailing. “Her son has just died in the ICU. The father is with him now.”

Her son was ten. He had had a headache for two days. Once he arrived here, he was treated for meningitis-but it was too late. He was brain dead.  The doctor had just removed him from the ventilator. The father is with him. The mother sits alone on a bench and wails.

In my mind, I flash to another small dusty village, two thousand years ago. I hear the wailing. The child is dead.

And then Jesus is there. And it is simple. “Arise little one.”  And she does.

I place my hand on the woman’s shoulder. Her grief is unbearable. We pray for her. She awaits her husband and the body. I walk on. I stumble through the haze.  I go down the hall and into Maternity to begin rounds.

Lord if you had been here . . .

Martha said it at the tomb of Lazarus. And Jesus wept. I think he wept for the fall of man. For all of this brokenness that was never supposed to be.
Which is easier to say:  ‘Your sins are forgiven?’ or ‘Get up and walk?’  But just so you know that the Son of Man has the power to forgive sins, I say to you ‘Pick up your bed and walk.’ (see Luke 5: 17-26)

I know that healing is real. I have seen it here, without medical explanation. But God did not choose to heal this woman or raise this child. And yet, we walk on, through the pain, through the Via Dolorosa of our lives and the lives of the people God has placed upon our path. And we KNOW, because the Son of God died in our stead, we can have forgiveness of sins. So that one day, ONE DAY: the lame will walk,  and the dead will rise.

Many years ago, when I was a little sprout, my mama took me to a Passover Seder, conducted by the Ministry of Jews for Jesus, in Richmond, Virginia. It was about seeing Christ in Passover. Part of the ceremony involves hiding a piece of Matzo bread somewhere in the house. The children of the family then go and try to find it. The bread represents Jesus in this ceremony. I was anxious, and surrounded by many children. And yet, I went to a place in the room where no one else was looking: and I pulled out the bread-it had stripes upon it from baking, and was covered in a white cloth. I found it! And I remember holding it up, and knowing that in finding it, I had been found. And that Jesus would always be with me, not because of something I had done, but because of his great love for me, because of the stripes he bore on his body.

And now, years later, in this hospital in rural Africa, as I struggle to comfort, to treat, to love, to bring the hope of healing to the sick, the frightened, the grieving, the dying:  I somehow know, in the midst on my own brokenness, that He is here. And by his stripes we are healed. ONE DAY. Come Lord Jesus.