Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Message from an Ethiopian Missionary

A day in my life with some of my thoughts and explanations woven inside, a few reflections at the end

SIM employee = Ethiopian, usually one who lives in Addis Ababa

SIM colleague = missionary from US, UK/Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Korea or Canada

I woke up a bit early so I could stitch up Esther’s Ethiopian dress as it’s a bit long. Today at Bingham is Ethiopian day, meaning that anyone who dresses up Ethiopian gets points for their “house team” (the school- teachers and students- is divided into 3 teams who have friendly competitions through the year for points). Daniel does not have an Ethiopian shirt, but he will wear some of the Gumuz beaded male-jewelry I bought in Geses (he will wear more clothes than the average Gumuz boy in order to meet the dress code for Bingham). Eventually, after going out to the taxi to go to school, Jarena decides to participate, comes back to the house and puts on her Ethiopian shirt.

Drove to work with the two Bingham assistant teachers and the maintenance guy for the headquarters compound (all Ethiopian). Doing this provides me with free language and culture lessons. It provides them with free transport at a busy time of day. Had a few phone calls and then had my devotional time. I’m reading through Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. An associated verse, Romans 15:13 was really great for me and I wrote it down for a patient. WM, an SIM colleague is at the end of her pregnancy, and whom I’d originally required to leave November 24th. But, in order to have her husband accompany her and her two small children back to the US, I allowed them to stay a bit longer. Now she's not feeling right and I’m questioning if she’s “threatening” preterm labor… However, another missionary who’s been a high risk OB nurse, is already planning to go to the US soon anyway. I call her and she’s willing to change her own plans to accompany this family on the next flight they can get on. Thanks, Lord!

I also have to call the mom of two small kids, CT. She called me a couple nights ago from Arba Minch (one full days’ drive away), after her daughter got upset, had a “breath holding spell” and then seemed to have convulsions. An email consultant and friend has offered additional and very helpful reassurance that this was not a real seizure than requires more medical testing. Great since they live a full 2 days’ drive away. Nice to offer such reassurance! I also make sure the team leader person is aware of this significant family stress on their teammates.

Another mom of 3 girls with an early pregnancy, just learned two days ago that her baby has died. I did not reach her to check in and see if she has miscarried yet.

My Ethiopian nurse, Meseret, arrived and said her nephew is sick with severe congestion and other problems. She was also aware of an SIM employee who was getting a bone plate removed today, one year after he shattered his arm. We stopped and prayed for these various things going on. Then my American nurse called to say she was sick and not planning to come in.

I gathered up the chart information on the pregnant lady who will fly soon, and I wrote a letter for the airlines, stating her pregnancy dates, health and ability to fly. I ask the Lord to help me know if she can really get on an airplane with what I think is going on.

I also wrote up a letter to request rabies vaccine for the missionaries who work in the far south by the Omo River. There have been many people bitten by rabid dogs lately and none of the “clinics” in the area choose to stock this treatment.

Then a mom from our mission called to say she knew her son had an open sore on his hand when he killed and dissected a cat several days ago. I had just sent out an email asking parents to not allow their kids from dissecting the pests their kids sometimes kill, due to potential rabies exposure. Since we do not know if the cat was rabid, we have to assume it was and treat this boy ASAP. However, dad is out of town, the boy is at school, and mom has two infants at home. Despite these obstacles, he must get the rabies vaccine today. Thankfully, some neighbors help her out with transport and baby-holding, as she was quite upset.

Started seeing patients. An SIM employee who was pregnant came in to say she had resigned her job because she was afraid the hard physical work would hurt her pregnancy. We had already written a letter asking for some reduction in what she did, but apparently this letter did not give the results she hoped for. Her situation is hard to argue with since she miscarried at 28 weeks (7months) last February. We offered what prenatal care we could (vitamins, appropriate labs), since this would be her last visit with us (she will lose the privilege of coming to our clinic if she is not employed by SIM). Saw other patients with a cold that is going around.

Took a letter to another employee with a chronic medical problem, to seek a biopsy to determine the treatment she needs. She’d also asked me to look at the report her relative got about a chronic leukemia. I gave her some information about the treatment (there isn’t much). After a couple other quick conversations, I saw another employee. He is originally from a neighboring country and thus is quite different from the prevailing Ethiopian culture. Two days earlier I’d seen him with his wife. They thought she was pregnant. She wasn’t (anymore, she probably miscarried after some difficulties a few months ago. At that time they sought emergency medical care, but ended up not following through with the recommendations by their own choosing. However, it was great they came in because she has diabetes and they didn’t know it. Anyway, we had a fair bit of discussion about her losing the pregnancy and why (theological and medical reasons). We also set up an appointment for tomorrow to start her on diabetes medications.

Worked through lunch with paperwork and phoning. Had to try and test a couple glucometers to find one that our cleaning lady Atsede could use for testing her mom’s sugars (her mom has diabetes and high blood pressure and just had a stroke that left her right arm lame). I sure am thankful we have these glucometers because this woman is housebound. We really need to know if her sugars are under control. Thanks to those who donated diabetic supplies this past summer! I just went to the house yesterday to check Atsede’s mom’s blood pressure… they barely live better than people who live on the street. On her own initiative, Atsede went outside and bought tomatoes for me from a wheelbarrow for 4 birr a kilo (a good price – about 10 cents [US] per pound) – but weighed the tomatoes when she returned and found they’d not given her full kilos. She returned to demand the rest but the guys had moved away… Still, it was a better price than I, as a white-skinned person, could get. Time to make spaghetti sauce!

It’d been busy like this at the clinic for several days, so I left work in time to swim… it was cloudy and sprinkling as I swam, but so what! Glad to have the opportunity. Got home just in time to go to a high school classmate’s home for an American Thanksgiving. His wife works for the CDC (Center for Disease Control), so they have connections to get real turkey J. We took pumpkin-cranberry bread and applesauce. Nice to see people there who work in very different, but important, capacities here in Ethiopia.

The mom who might be in early pre-term labor called a couple times – wants more certainty about her own status than I can offer. She wants more reassurance than even good technology could offer. So, after we get home, Fred puts the kids to bed and I go up to talk face to face with her and her husband about their situation. They need to leave as soon as it can be arranged. (SIM does not allow women to deliver in Ethiopia mainly because of the lack of a secure/clean blood supply AND because of the lack of care for an infant with breathing difficulties.) I’m thankful for the support that other SIM colleagues offer this family, too. One had just spoken to them before I came and others came as I was leaving. All this seemed to help, but the sudden change in plans and need to leave AND not feeling well takes a toll.

And so goes a day. Thanksgiving Day in the US.

Follow up – the lady with threatened preterm labor arrived in the US just fine and had her baby 4 days later (which was about 4 weeks early). It’s great she was in the US for delivery!

The lady whose baby died has now miscarried and is doing well, considering.

The boy who had to have rabies shots never showed any signs of rabies and received the booster dose treatments needed.

Atsede’s mom died Monday, Dec. 6th. I attended her burial (this is usually done within 12 hrs of death, or at the most 24 hrs) Tuesday and will go to Atsede’s home for a lukso tomorrow. The lukso is a 3 day event where people just come to be with the grieving family. No private grieving here – you want as many people with you as possible – all the time. (this is only one example of how “personal space” is a non-entity in this culture.)

I feel privileged to do this work, but pushed often to the end of my own strength and knowledge. While I enjoy helping people tremendously, I am often quite somber in mood because of the seriousness of the problems I encounter. I’m so thankful for those who pray for us, for those who give money to support us so we can do this, and for those who help in other ways – like those who gathered diabetic supplies that I brought back with us AND the pediatrician who faithfully responds to my pleas for help. I’m quite aware of how I am able to help people here, but I feel like I am only part of the help – I represent help given to us in many ways by many people literally all over the world. We are the conduit and God keeps choosing to use us in this way.

The needs here always exceed my time, and I must give time to my own husband and children, too. That balance is a continuous struggle. While some of my days are very focused on medical work, other days are family time. Like many of you, we have to guard and make time for family and for time as a couple or it just does not come.

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