I returned to Central Asia a little over six months ago, after a two-year hiatus at home that had seemed to take forever. Yet now that I am back here, that time at home seems more like a memory, a blink of time that in reality passed very quickly.
I have returned to a very different part of the country to what I left. No longer am I in an isolated, almost forgotten, rural location: I am in a city, bustling with over half a million people, full of the noises and busyness of urban life. I am also in a very different job to before; I am now a nurse in a government hospital.
I work in the Children’s Ward in a teaching/mentoring capacity. The ward is made up of about eight rooms with 7-10 beds in each, but they double- and triple-bed, so there is actually ‘space’ for over 200 patients. I work in the ‘ICU’ room with the sickest patients: ICU just means there is usually oxygen available, and two to three nurses in the room instead of only one.
One of my most overwhelming doubts over the past months has been, can I cope? can I do this job?
At least two or three children die every day in the ICU. Some of these children have arrived too late at the hospital, and probably would have died in any case. But I often feel that what most children seem to die from here is ignorance and injustice. It’s not that the nurses and doctors don’t want to help, but they are hampered by the lack of resources and knowledge, and understaffing.
Each morning I enter the ICU with a degree of trepidation, not knowing what this day will hold. Will the six-week-old girl with pneumonia still be there, or the little boy with meningitis, or the older boy who was in a car accident and suffered severe brain damage? But, as I enter I am quietly greeted with ‘salaam’s’ from every corner of the room. Many gazes are anxious and worried as they meet mine, and many mothers beckon me to come to their bed first. And I find, as I enter into this strange world, that the anxiety goes – there will be grace for this day. There may be tears – mine and theirs – before the day is over. I will almost certainly be frustrated and even angry at what feels like unnecessary suffering as I discover, yet again, all the oxygen cylinders are empty, or there are no IV fluids left in the pharmacy, or some other shortage that is inconceivable at ‘home’. However, if I allow myself to stop, to truly see these families and their precious children, if I allow myself that moment to sit with them in their struggles, perhaps something of the aroma of our Father will inhabit that moment.
I remember when I was first thinking about coming here, I heard a song, only about 30 seconds long, that wondered, “What if I am too small, what if I lose my way, who will be there for me?” This song has been playing over and over in my head these past months. The needs at this new hospital seem so overwhelming. The grief is so huge, the loss of life so frequent, the opportunities, by human reckoning, to really make a difference so lacking. I often have only moments with the family of a seriously ill child. Moments fraught with pain and grief, and that seem all too brief.
I hear those around me, from the dominant faith, saying “Don’t cry, God is kind.” But, I know what they really mean is, “Don’t cry, death is inevitable, nothing can be done. God is distant, but we must accept what comes from His hand.” My heart breaks and I long to cry out: “God is kind, so it is okay to cry, because He too weeps at the injustice and pain of this world. So much so that He suffered the loss of His own child to make sure that this pain would have an end.” Instead, I pat an arm, rub a back, hold a hand, and hope that somehow this act of gentleness in the harsh environment of the ICU, this taking time to recognise a mother’s grief, will bring something of God’s presence into this situation.
What I have recognised is that I am small – too small. I get lost, I lose my way, I lose faith, I forget who is in charge. But He is neither too small, nor lost, nor faithless, nor forgetful, and He is with us, dwelling in us and working through us wherever He has called us to be.
The author has been serving in Central Asia since 2004.