An opportunity almost lost

During a busy clinic I was asked by one of the clinical officers if I would be willing to walk over to the medical clinic and see a patient with him. I was happy to help. He took me into a room where a young woman of 19 had been brought to the hospital by her family. Immediately upon entering the room there was the overwhelming odor of a terrible infection. The family said she had a chronic skin disease and four days before she had suddenly developed open, draining sores covering most of her body, sparing only parts of her head and face. When I examined her, 80% of her body was covered with open, draining, bleeding sores that were adherent to and soaking through her clothes. When I saw her for the first time, my heart went out to her. As I looked into her eyes I saw a combination of pain, and despair and a longing plea for hope and help I’ll never forget when the clinical officer asked me if I would be willing to take care of this patient. I remember thinking that I was not only willing, but honored to be asked to care for her.
We immediately took her to the ward, gave her some pain medicine, and slowly and gently several of the interns and nurses pulled her infection-soiled clothes off of her, ever-so-gently applied medical salve to all her wounds and carefully covered them with pure white, sterile bandages. As I watched the scene I was reminded of the Good Samaritan who “went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.” (Luke 10:34) When I saw her the next morning on rounds, she looked totally different, she was smiling and in no pain, still surrounded by her loving family.
Later that night I got a call from one of the resident doctors informing me that one part of her bandages had become soaked with blood (not at all unusual) and that she (Dr. Rosalind) had immediately attended her, making sure she was OK , changing and reinforcing her bandages. About an hour later we were stunned when the nurses said she had suddenly become short of breath and despite all measures to resuscitate her, she had passed into eternity. All of us where overwhelmed with sadness and grief.
I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night as I thought about the fact that I had never asked her or her family if she knew Jesus as her personal Savior. I had assumed that I would have many more days caring for her in the hospital, time to ask her about her faith and give her an opportunity to accept Jesus. But now, all I could do was grieve the opportunity lost.
The next morning at 6 a.m. rounds I discussed this patient with the residents and interns. We discussed the fact that we didn’t know her eternal destiny and that next time, we (myself included), needed to make sure we talk to our patients about their relationship with Jesus before it was too late. Dr. Rosalind gently interrupted when she said, “Dr. Osteen, when I changed her dressing last night, I asked her if she was a Christian. She wasn’t—so I had the opportunity to lead her in a prayer of salvation”—less than an hour before she passed into eternity.
So the lesson I learned, is to never assume that you have another opportunity to ask people if they know Jesus as their Savior. Take advantage of the moment, you may not have another. Thank God Dr. Rosalind was there to attend her; thank God she took the time to ask her if she was assured of her salvation, thank God she took the time to lead her into a prayer that allowed this sick little girl to pass from death into life. At the moment she prayed, Jesus removed the soiled, foul-smelling clothes (filthy rags) of her old life and had replaced them with new garments white as snow. And because of that we will spend eternity together in heaven.

A Weekend to Remember

The last weekend I was on call was incredibly busy. It seemed that every patient we admitted through casualty (emergency room) was very sick. Several patients were involved in serious “road traffic accidents”, others had severe infections (typhoid, malaria, meningitis). It didn’t take long before all of our ICU beds were full, all our ventilators (breathing machine for the sick patients) were in use and we were scrambling to make take care of all the sick patients. Needless to say, many times it seemed that the needs were overwhelming and the resources were inadequate. But it was amazing to see all of the staff doing what they could to make sure each and every one of these sick patients was well cared for. I was reminded of when the disciples were faced with the overwhelming need to feed more than 5,000 people with only 5 loaves and 2 fish. When they put the limited resources they had in THEIR hands, into the hands of Jesus…a miracle occurred. All of the people were fed and there were 12 baskets full left over. This last weekend, the needs were overwhelming, but we simply put our limited resources into the hands of Jesus…and miraculously…the patients were well cared for. And on Monday morning, after being up for almost 48 hours straight, amazingly, we still had the strength to work all day. I guess that was our 12 baskets full left over.

On Rounds in Africa

Currently we have between 60 and 70 patients on the surgical service here at the hospital. As I was making my rounds the other day, I realized how very different the surgical diseases are here in Africa. Presently we have one patient who was attacked by an elephant with a tusk injury through his back. Another was stepped on by a water buffalo. One who was bitten by a donkey. Another gored by a bull. We have patients with rabies and tetanus, malaria and typhoid and tapeworms . During all my years in surgical practice in the U.S., I don’t recall treating any patients with these conditions. But the one thing that IS the same is that each and every one of these very sick patients respond to the compassionate care given by the men and women here who are doing their best to be the hands and heart of Jesus.

Friends you Meet Along the Way

One of the real joys of working at this mission hospital is meeting the other physicians who come and volunteer and give their time and their expertise to help take care of patients. Most come for a few weeks, some come for a few months. All have a heart that is willing to sacrificially serve others. It was such a pleasure to meet Dr. Chuck. He is a pediatrician, is 79 years old and he spends about 6 months every year taking care of sick children all over the world. Ten years ago Dr. Chuck’s wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and he spent 2 years caring for her every need. When she went to be with Jesus he told me how he fell into a deep depression, to the point he lost any desire to go on with life. But then with joy he recounted how Jesus visited him and tenderly told him that he wasn’t finished with Dr. Chuck yet, that he had more work for him to do. As Dr. Chuck begin to visit hospitals all over the world caring for sick children, all depression left and he is one of the most joy filled people I have ever met. When I remarked to him, “It is incredible what you do for these children”, he simply responds, “It is incredible what Jesus has done for me”.
Over the last month I have had the privilege of working with Drs. David and Naomi. They are married, both are physicians—David is an internist, Naomi a family practice doctor, and they hail from the great state of Texas, the great city of Houston! They are wonderful people, incredible doctors and we look forward to continuing our relationship when we get back home. We shared Mexican food together last week (thanks to an incredible chef who also happens to be my wife!); we thought we were back at home at Pappasito’s!
Jeff and Melissa are fourth year medical students from California. They have been such a joy and pleasure to work alongside. Dr. Andre is from South Africa, now in Newfoundland. He too is a general surgeon giving a month of his time here in Africa. It has been a pleasure working with him. Dr. Daryl is an internist finishing his residency in Tennessee and does such a great job taking care of his patients. It is such a blessing to be able to meet these new friends, such an inspiration to watch them as they give their lives away for Jesus.