Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Gift of Numbness

I wish I could explain it. I wish I could somehow wrap it up with words and convey the height and depth of the joys, the frustrations, the griefs I experienced while in Africa. But it's impossible. Because I have yet to fully feel and know the weight of what I've seen and known. Pieces of it seem like a dream, one that I wish I could spend the rest of my life in, and the other parts seem like my worst nightmares become reality. The daily contrast of light and dark, joy and pain, life and death.

I spent most of my time in Zimba feeling a strange sense of numbness. Meg talks about it here and in a similar way, I wrestled with my lack of feeling and what it meant. Could it be that my heart somehow had grown calloused so quickly? I didn't cry more than five tears the entire time I was in Zimba... maybe it was just too much to process, too heavy to bear, too much work to get done? It was never a matter of detachment or apathy. I deeply connected with the patients, my heart sank in their struggles and overflowed in their victories but the degree of emotion was dampened and the outward expression remained stagnant. 

As I left Zimba on Saturday, the wall that had been guarding my heart for 5 weeks crumbled and I finally began to grasp the reality of the things I’d seen and experienced. Sitting on the plane, the tears started flowing and couldn't be stopped and I grew thankful for the gift of numbness, like maybe it was part of God's grace so that I could do the work that needed to be done. To love those who hadn’t been loved well in a while, laugh with those who hadn’t laughed in a while, provide hope to those who had probably felt the hope fade long ago and couldn't see past the gravity of their condition. They looked to me for strength and encouragement and without the strength and grace of a mighty God, I would have been crushed beneath the weight of what I faced each day. 

So I think the numbness was a holy protection from my own emotional instability so that the King of Glory could use a wreck like me. Because the glorious thing is that Jehovah God does not change with the rollercoaster of my feelings. He is always good, never swaying, from beginning to end the same. He makes life out of death. He shines light in the darkness. He makes beauty from ashes. He gives hope to the hopeless. He never forsakes, never abandons, never tires, never suffers defeat. He has overcome the world. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


No, I'm not talking about my return to the States, though it is right around the corner. 
Do you remember sweet Esther? Esther was my patient in the female ward two weeks ago. She was a joyful presence in the ward and I looked forward to seeing her face everyday. At 89 years old, she has doubled the life expectancy of most Zambians. Her heart was failing, her legs were swollen, her abdomen was sunken in except for the pulsatile mass that was protruding, her blood pressure was rarely stable. I worried about her condition every day she was in the hospital but finally we had her stabilized and she was able to go home. I was ecstatic to watch her walk, yes walk, out of the hospital on her own, though she was literally at a 90 angle because her spine was so badly hunched. Precious Esther. 
Monday afternoon, around 4:30, as I was trying to finish up the long line of patients waiting to be seen in OPD, Meg rushed into my exam room. Esther was being wheeled into OPD. 

From the second I placed my stethoscope on her chest, I knew she had deteriorated since I'd discharged her. Her lungs were congested, her heart rate was erratic, her legs had filled back up with fluid. We wheeled her over to casualty and hooked up the cardiac monitor where my fears were confirmed. Her heart was contracting irregularly and she was getting progressively weaker. I admitted her to the female ward that night and hoped her condition would somehow turn around. 

I stopped by to check on her yesterday morning and she was awake and feeling better. Her chest X-ray showed progressive pleural effusions and her oxygen saturation had dropped but she was hanging in there. As Dr. Joan came home from the hospital last night, she assured me Esther's condition was unchanged. 

I arrived to the hospital this morning and headed straight to OPD. I quickly got word that Esther had begun vomiting and was not doing well. I walked over to female ward and was relieved to see Tanner and Dr. Joan doing rounds standing by Esther's bedside. Esther was awake and talking so I went back to OPD to work. Around 11:30, one of the interpreters came to my exam room to tell me Esther had taken a turn for the worst and passed away. It literally took my breath away.

The heartbreak of losing another patient. It's always gut wrenching. It happens too often here, at least once or twice a week and it never becomes normal or gets any easier. Last week, three of my patients from the male ward died. One of which I was standing over when he stopped breathing. I listened to his heart as it stopped beating. There was nothing that could be done. His family looking on, watching me, hoping for a miracle. 

Esther told Tanner this morning that she was feeling well after a long time of prayer and confession. She was in good spirits and at peace. Her faith was strong.

Two weeks ago, I was rejoicing that Esther was going home from the hospital and while my heart is weary and grieving, today I rejoiced that Esther was truly going home. 
Hope remains. 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy SpiritRomans 15:13

Thursday, June 6, 2013

These Days

The days are moving so quickly and this has just not been the best week here in Zimba. But instead of going into detail of the Montezimba's revenge that attacked my stomach today along with the heaviness of the male ward that seems unending and risk becoming the most depressing blog ever, I'll just share some non-depressing facts and photos about my time here so far.
Zambians can't seem to figure out their "R"s so no one can say my name. After 5 weeks, I don't think twice when the patients yell out, "Dr. Lola, Dr. Lola" as I walk past. 
This is my room. Bottom bunk is mine and unless a visitor comes through town, its just me. Complete with a zebra throw rug and decorative mosquito net. Glorious. I shower with a gecko every day. Not sure if its the same one or if they take turns but there is always a lizard somewhere in my shower and somehow it doesn't bother me at all. When in Africa...

This sweet baby at church made me so happy. It's not a trip to Africa without a Little Mermaid appearance.
Right, Marisa and Emily? 
Africans are born to harmonize. I am constantly amazed at how perfect the harmonies are in chapel or church. Effortlessly, not a note out of tune. For instance, choir at Sunday church:
Earlier this week, while doing rounds, the TV in the male ward was blaring some Zambian soap opera when a commercial started playing the country song "God is great, beer is good, people are crazy." I couldn't help but think of home in Nashville. Thankful for God's reminder & sense of humor. 
One of my favorite people here is a 13 year old boy named Cholwe. He is quite the character and we've become good friends. He is the older brother to Caleb, 4. He is the sixth grade choir director at school, loves English and Science, and is a master at photography. Last night, he knocked on our back door and with his hands behind his back, told me he'd brought me a gift. Grinning from ear to ear, he presented me with a giant African toad. Boys.
Speaking of Cholwe, he and his little brother Caleb snagged my IPhone and left some pretty killer videos behind. I mean, seriously, it does not get better than this.
I leave for Safari tomorrow. Meg, Tanner, and I will be headed to Livingstone and then on to camp in Chobe National Park in Botswana. Like literally camping in tents, in the middle of lions and elephants and giraffes. It's going to be epic.