The first time I met Janet* was in the surgery clinic one Tuesday afternoon. She was 30 years old and wore a tattered dress and had holes in her shoes. She came requesting supplies so she could take care of a draining wound on her abdomen. When we asked questions, Janet would mumble an answer, all the while keeping her gaze toward the floor. When we pressed her for more details, she became more vague and withdrawn. It didn’t take us long to realize that this young woman was dealing with an incredible amount of pain or sadness or both. It was if the weight of the entire world was on her stooped shoulders.
With time, over the next couple of clinic visits, her story began to unfold. Several years earlier she had had an abortion and things had gone horribly wrong. First, her uterus was perforated, then a terrible infection spread all through her abdomen. After four operations and months in the hospital, she was left with her intestines draining through an open wound on her abdomen, a huge hospital bill and the devastating news that she was HIV positive. And in the months that followed her discharge, she sank into a hopeless depression with no one to help and no where to turn. She couldn’t come back to the hospital—her bill was too great. She couldn’t buy medicines for her HIV or supplies for her wound, she had no money.
After months of suffering alone, she registered at the hospital under a different number and was able to come back occasionally for supplies to take care of her draining wound. It was then I understood the shame and pain and despair I saw in this young woman’s face that first day in the clinic.
On one visit, one of the physicians I work with—Dr. Odera, began to encourage Janet that if she applied for grants, she might be able to receive money for both her hospital bill and her HIV meds. She applied and was accepted. And when I examined her abdomen and reviewed her x-rays, I thought that if she was willing to undergo another risky operation, there was a chance that we might be able to take care of the draining wound on her abdomen.
A few weeks later we were amazed and encouraged to find Janet on the surgical ward at
Every day when we saw Janet on our rounds, we would let her know that we had done all we could do as physicians to treat her, now we were praying for Jesus to do what we could not do–heal her. Every day we encouraged her that Jesus was her friend, and that He would be her strength and her comfort and because of Him, her future was always full of hope. Her bed was at the very end of the female ward. I would always let her know that–even though she was still in the dark fog of depression, she was the sunshine at the far end of the room.
It didn’t happen overnight, but over the next few weeks as the nurses and doctors and aides continued to embrace her with the love of Jesus, her wounds began to heal, her countenance began to change as hope once again rose up in her heart. And for almost 3 weeks, when I walked into the female ward at the far end of the room I could see the biggest, brightest, most hope-filled smile I think I have ever seen.
Last Monday when I saw Janet on morning rounds she was dressed in a beautiful dress and, as usual she was grinning from ear to ear. When I asked why she was all dressed up, she smiled and told me: “for two reasons”. The first, she said, was because she had been to church the day before–something new for Janet. And the second reason she said was because today was the day she was finally going home.
What made the difference in Janet’s life? What caused this young woman who walked in to the clinic full of despair and shame and hopelessness leave with peace and joy and a smile on her face? It was because of the transforming love of our Savior.
The other day I climbed one of the nearby hills and found a perch overlooking Tenwek Hosptial. And as I looked at the few buildings that make up the hospital, I thought about how incredible it is that God uses a few bricks and some mortar and some pieces of tin and a few of His willing children to bring hope and healing to men and women and children just like Janet. What a privelege it was to play a small part in her care. She truly was sunshine at the end of the room.
* Not her real name