Saturday, January 26, 2013

Learning to Nurse

The hospital has opened!!!

After months of anticipation and expectation, the big moment has finally arrived, and Don Bosco Health Center is a fully functioning health facility.  The first week was void of the overwhelming and stressful emotions anticipated, by the grace of God it was quite peaceful and calm- the polar opposite of my year of nursing at Lehigh Valley Hospital on 6K!! :)  (Shout out to my girls!  Miss you all!)  Since our hospital is staring brand new and the majority of the staff are foreign missionaries new to this culture (except the doctor and laboratory technician who are locals) we are starting out very slowly with the cases we accept in our facility.  Right now simple illness and simple medicines are all, the rest are being referred to Maridi Hospital in town.  Our practice will advance as we gain experience and become more comfortable with the types of patients walking through the door.  For these reasons, and because God is compassionate and merciful, there we no major events in the first week, but a pleasant environment for healing ensued.  It was a consolation after all the nerves in preparation!
Don Bosco Health Center Staff:
Sister Meriline (nurse/supervisor), me, Sister Shanta (assisting),
Dr. Grace, and Stewart (lab tech)
Opening Day Mass
Some patients waiting to see the Doctor
Opening Day
The surprise came in week two.  Over the weekend, Sister Meriline, the head nurse and supervisor of the hospital announced she needed to take another trip to Uganda to reconcile all the discrepancies with our medication order.  No problem… except leaving me as the only nurse in the whole place on my second week of nursing in South Sudan!  Our quiet first week had offered me the experience of giving a few intramuscular injections, a little bit of wound care, and simply passing pills.  Hardly any real nursing at all, which wasn’t a problem for me until a first week of minimal experience left me the RN in charge of whatever would walk through the front door in the week to follow.  Again, my human weakness leaving me worried about something that I knew God would take care of in the end.

The week of Sister’s absence, although different and more challenging than the first, was successful and peaceful.  Inevitably, some serious cases did walk through the door towards the end of the week: two cases of severe malaria in young babies, a young woman who could hardly stand from the effects of advanced typhoid fever, and an elderly man with pneumonia.  Had Sister Meriline been present, I’m certain she would have performed much of the care of these patients, and I left to observe.  Instead of feeling frazzled and unprepared for the tasks that arose, thanks to the circumstances, the outcome was an unexpected emotion: confidence.  Despite the unfamiliar equipment, the list of medications here that we aren’t using in the States, the rusty skills I haven’t been practicing after all these months, yet I was able to tackle all the obstacles that arose.  Nothing so challenging occurred, but every small success left me with a little flower of fulfillment and gratitude for the Lord’s faithfulness.    

In other news, school opens on Monday!  Stoked.  Let the fun begin!

“He said not: You shall not be troubled, you shall not be tempted, 
you shall not be distressed.  
But he said: You shall not be overcome.”
-Julian of Norwich

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Blind Obedience

I am four months deep into the mysterious gift of South Sudan.  To begin to describe my experience is in so many ways impossible and yet quite simple.  The following three themes have penetrated every moment of my mission experience to this point.

JOY.  This overwhelming gift of God has been facilitated through the beauty of every child and Jesus’ profound presence in each one of them.
PEACE.  I've been given such a clear understanding that I am living in the Will of God, wrapped ever so tightly within the Sacred Heart of Jesus. 
BLIND OBEDIENCE.  I walked into this country completely blind.  There was no book, no photo, no straightforward advice as to what exactly I would experience in this new nation.  It seemed that no one could tell me exactly what the weather would be like, what I was supposed to wear, what language the people would speak, or what my work would be like; they didn't even seem to clearly know whether or not I would arrive in a country of violence or of peace.  While my Salesian superiors gave me the most wonderful (though quite vague) expectations, the internet told me so many horrifying things.  Despite the fear I felt in the weakness of my human flesh, my spirit was crying out for this place, drawing me here.  I knew in my heart of hearts that I was meant to discover myself and my life’s purpose in this very place.  Saying yes to that sweet call of the Holy Spirit, despite my human anxiety, was the best decision of my life.

I've continued to walk blindly in the arms of God since my arrival.  One transition after the next has caused me frequent doubts about my abilities and to ever question what the heck the Lord was doing.  He sent me to Juba for my first three weeks, where I felt the love of a family and deep purpose like I've never felt before.  I never wanted to leave.  But then it was time for Maridi!  After I allowed myself to feel at home and find my joy in the new placement, I learned that the hospital I was supposed to work for wouldn't open for another several months.  God decided I should become a teacher.  I laughed at Him.  How could I possibly teach 6th grade?  I have no idea what I’m doing!  He laughed back and handed me 5th and 7th grade as well.  And then I fell in love!  

Every transition has brought my human heart much worry.  I always fear these changes every time God calls me to shift forward, feeling incredibly incompetent and afraid of missing the place from where I have come.  Then, after I allow God to do what He does best- lead my heart to rest and fulfillment- I am again reminded that His plans are perfect, and I ought to have trusted Him from the very beginning. 

Big changes are again in the wind.  This time I’m trying to do it better!  So far, so good.  I ask for your prayers that peace can overpower any doubts or nerves in the process! 

  • I am pleased to announce: This coming Monday, 14th January, 2013, the Don Bosco Heath Centre of Manguo-Maridi will officially be open to the public!  Finally!  We will be running an outpatient facility, working from 8:30 am until 1:00 pm, Monday through Friday.  You will find me there in a white lab coat, confidently clueless, again practicing the nursing that I’ve been missing for the past six months.  I have no idea what my day on Monday will look like, but I imagine a mix of every nursing specialty in one jumbled package.  I am repeatedly quashing any fears with the reminder that this is what I came here to do.  It has to be the best yet.  God wouldn’t have put me here to do something lame.  I have big expectations. 
  • On the other hand, the opening of the Health Centre will result in the closing of my little nurse’s office in the school, which has been the icing on my cake since I've arrived here, sweeter than sweet.  Please pray for me in that transition as well.  I have loved being the nurse of each one of these children, knowing all their ailments and striving every day to promote health for my dear friends.  I will continue to love them so much, no matter what exactly my role looks like. 
  • Don Bosco Primary School commences the 2013 school year in two weeks, and you will find me there, every afternoon after the close of the Health Centre, teaching Religion to Class 7 and Arts & Crafts to Classes 6 and 7.  I am super excited for this class assignment; I couldn’t have asked for a better supplement to my nursing career!  I just pray it all doesn’t run me to the ground from exhaustion, but I know His grace will be sufficient.

“Cast yourself into the arms of God
and be very sure that if He wants anything of you,
He will fit you for the work and give you the strength.”
–St. Philip Neri

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Joy to the World

The experience of Christmas this year in South Sudan was an incredible gift of joy.  It was, needless to say, so vastly unlike any Christmas I have ever celebrated in the past.  Of all that I have seen and experienced, and I am left with three simple thoughts to share.  These are my three little flowers of Christmas.

1.  A Little Flower of Simplicity
This Christmas I was stripped of almost everything that has defined Christmas for me for the past 24 years of my life.  I hardly missed the exaggerated, commercial aspects of the season, except for the opportunity to give gifts to the ones I love.  (And I might miss Target a tiny bit...)  As we drew closer to Christmas day, without the traditional decorations and lights lining the streets or the Christmas songs on the radio, in addition to the steaming hot weather, it hardly felt like Christmas at all.  On the big day, there were no baked goods, no steaming mac & cheese or baked ham from Granny's kitchen, and there was only one, small Christmas tree, which we placed in the church.  Overall, the most significant absence this year, unquestionably, were those people I love so much, and not being surrounded by family and friends to celebrate one of the greatest feasts of the year was particularly difficult. 

Yet from this great void of typical holiday traditions arose an experience of profound beauty.  Having stripped away all the usual and familiar customs, I was able to experience Christmas solely for what it is: The coming of Christ.   He was the center of our celebration and the source of our joy here in South Sudan.  The festivities began with Christmas Eve Midnight Mass, soon after followed by rising for mass on Christmas Day—all the faithful were present for both.  Singing and dancing filled both masses from start to finish, all the carols in Zande language and with full excitement and enthusiasm from everyone present.  The parishioners stayed for hours after mass, beating the drums and continuing the songs and dances from inside the church.  We shared a simple meal in the Salesian community later that day with good conversation, many laughs …and even a bottle of altar wine.  The day was about rejoicing in the goodness of our God and sharing that with others.  How simply perfect.

2. A Little Flower of Thanksgiving
There was no moment more poignant this Christmas, nothing more deeply inscribed on my heart, than when I first saw my friends on Christmas morning.  Here in South Sudan, the children don’t anticipate new toys, fancy electronics, or any number of gifts under a Christmas tree.  All they want, all they desire, is new clothes.  They hope and pray for one new shirt, one pair of pants for the boys or a skirt for the girls, and maybe even a new pair of shoes if you’re one of the lucky ones.  I knew this before Christmas; I had heard all the chatter about new clothes for all the weeks leading up to the big day.  Regardless, nothing compares to that moment when I saw each of the children, one at a time, cross the threshold of the church, not wearing the torn, faded, and soiled one or two outfits they have worn every day since my arrival to this country, but instead in a crisp, clean, handsome new outfit.  They would glance my way and wave, a wide, proud grin across their radiant little faces.  It was an deeply emotional experience for me.  I was so taken aback by the impact of something as seemingly simple as clothing, which at home in America I would thoughtlessly buy every month or two as a need arose, or as Target would so faithfully beckon.  My heart was flooded with thanksgiving.  It was appropriate that I was sitting in church watching this scene unfold, because I was immediately drawn into prayer, thankful to God for providing their parents with the means to provide this necessary and wonderful gift for their children.  I wanted to hug all their parents and thank them myself for their kids’ new clothes!

Just as strong and powerful were the emotions experienced while watching the handful of children walk into the church that day wearing that same, tattered shirt and pants they’ve been wearing for as long as I’ve known them.  My heart was broken imagining how they each felt to be the few whose financial means couldn’t meet the cultural expectation.  I was hurting to imagine the poverty in those families, where certainly putting food on the table and sending children to school is as much of a struggle as providing Christmas clothes, and most probably they are lacking in more areas than just the obvious one.  For those children, I wanted to run to the market and put a new shirt over their little head with everything in me.  I know Jesus wrapped them up that day and held them close to His Heart in a special way.         

3.  A Little Flower of Contentment
I had a blast singing my heart out to the Zande songs and dancing around all day with my little friends.  The celebration was joyful in so many ways; overall, it was a spectacular day.  At the day’s end, as I made my walk home, I found myself in a wide smile as I came to this realization: I was more excited for December 26th.  I was eager to continue to harvest beans with the boys, play football during oratory, put Band-Aids on little toes, and share more of those sweet conversations with friends in simple English.   

I loved the Christmas holiday, but I love my life more.  

And one last little gift from heaven, my Christmas gift this year: these children.  Christmas afternoon I was leaving the convent on my way to the Father's house.  As I pulled open our gate I was intersected by these nine children.  I hadn't met any of them before, but we became instant friends.  They were joyfully and continuously telling me so many things in Arabic, and I was picking apart bits and pieces and responding as best as I could.  Though our attempt at communication was very broken, it was a perfect combination of funny, adorable, heartfelt, loving, and very sweet.  The usual 2.5 minute walk from house to house ended up lasting about 15 minutes after all the chatter, hair braiding, photos, and caroling we did along the way.  They were little angels from heaven, sent to love me on Christmas day.        

The coming of Jesus at Bethlehem brought joy to the world and to every human heart.  The same Jesus comes to us again and again in our hearts during Holy Communion.  He wants to give the same joy and peace.  May His coming this Christmas bring to each one of us that peace and joy that he desires to give.” –Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta