I stood up, stretched, and muttered to myself, “Day after day, week after week, nothing but hours and hours of writing down words, and grammatical features on hundreds of little cards. This monotony is getting me down.”
In comparison, learning to speak Canela was a lot of fun, even though I regularly got laughed at whenever I practiced a new expression. But writing words on little cards was demotivating.
I looked at the clear blue, dry-season sky and prayed, “Lord God, please help me. This dictionary needs many hundreds more entries before we can start to translate Your Word.”
“Come quick. A woman is dying!” The shout broke my mid-morning musings and I ran out to the porch of our mud-walled house where a boy pointed across to a house on the far side of the village. I grabbed my small case of medical supplies and ran after him.
“Oh Lord,” I prayed as I ran, “Please help me. I’m not a doctor. But You know all about this situation. Whatever it is, I know You can handle it.”
I ran into the house and knelt down by the young woman lying flat on her back on a mat. Her mouth was closed, her nostrils were full of white foam – not breathing. I put my ear on her chest – no heartbeat. No evidence of life at all.
“She wasn’t feeling well,” her mother explained, “so she laid down for a nap and suddenly she was choking, and then she stopped breathing. And after quite a while white foam came out of her nose. That’s when we sent for you.”
The thought suddenly popped into my head. While this girl was sleeping, she suddenly vomited and, because she was lying on her back, she breathed the contents of her stomach into her lungs. With her lungs full of stomach acid, she would have died almost instantly.
“She’s gone.” I said. “I can’t do anything for her.”
“Yes, you can!” her parents said, pointing at my medicine case. “You can give her that same injection you gave your neighbour. Remember, she died and you brought her back to life again.”
A Flashback Story
I remembered the event of a couple of months earlier. One evening Jo had gone next door to check on a girl who had been in labour nearly all day, leaving me to study by the light of the kerosene lamp. Suddenly a little girl ran in saying, “Your wife wants you to come right away.”
I ran to the neighbour’s house which was packed with female relatives.
“Jack,” Jo said, “Her pulse is extremely fluttery and weak. For the past half hour she has been only semi-conscious. I think she’s dying.”
I ran back to our house, grabbed a flashlight and scanned the contents of our medicine shelves looking for something that would help low blood pressure and a fluttery pulse. I noticed a small bottle of injectable adrenaline.
“Hmm,” I thought as I grabbed the bottle and a syringe with a long needle. “Adrenaline makes the heart beat. Let’s try it. There’s nothing to lose.” I aspirated a couple of millilitres of adrenaline into the syringe and ran back to the young mother-to-be.
She was lying very still, leaning back against her husband, barely breathing. I gave her the shot deep into a muscle mass, and felt for a pulse in her throat.
It gradually became stronger and more regular. Then suddenly, there it was, a pounding rapid heartbeat. Her eyes flew open, she took a deep breath, then another one. Relatives shouted encouragement. She pushed, let out a yell, and there was the baby! Joy all around!
What Was the Use?
No wonder this poor dead girl’s parents insisted I give their daughter the same injection. So I did, knowing it would accomplish nothing for the girl, but at least I could not be accused of refusing to use the miracle injection.
I closed my medicine case, and my tears flowed freely as I joined in the crying and wailing.
And I prayed, “Lord God, I feel so helpless, so useless. There’s nothing I can do but cry with them. Is that all I’m here for?”
A few hours later that prayer was answered. (A story that will need to wait for next week. )