Last week I returned to the site of Olive’s birth. Matany hospital is about three hours north of us. I reconnected with the midwife who delivered Olive, the Sister who helped make arrangements for us, the lady who cooked for us and sundry other hospital staff and neighbors. Unfortunately, it wasn’t exclusively a social call.
The decision was made the evening before I left. We left in a flurry. Christopher was in Mbale returning later that day. Zion and Carmel stayed behind with other mission members who graciously offered to watch them. I loaded up myself, Olive and anything I could think of that my friend would need at the hospital. You see, my friend, Zion’s Karimojong namesake Acia Rose, was very ill. Our clinic could do nothing further for her. She’s normally tall and stick thin. Over the years she’s been treated repeatedly for many diseases including malaria, brucellosis, pneumonia, infections, amoebiasis, and more. This time, she simply wasn’t getting better and no one knew why. She was referred to Matany for additional tests. She was too weak to walk on her own so I had to drive the vehicle up the narrow walking path as close to her house as I could get. Her son and husband supported her to the vehicle. We stopped in Moroto on the way to pick up her sister. When someone is admitted into the hospital in Uganda, they are required to have an attendant with them. The attendant cooks, feeds, washes, helps them relieve themselves in a basin and then washes it out. They do all the care for the patient that isn’t strictly medical. They even sleep on the floor under the bed, but are required to bring their own bedding. Someone in her state wouldn’t be admitted into the hospital without an attendant.
We arrived midday and began the process of getting her admitted. That afternoon and evening she received a chest x-ray, ultrasound, COVID test and was finally settled in a bed at 8:00pm. None of the tests revealed anything that could be the cause of her current complaints. The doctor told us that she would go for more tests the next day. We were told she shouldn’t eat anything before another test in the morning. I communicated this to her and her family and left to find my own sleeping arrangements at the Catholic mission’s guesthouse.
Upon arriving back at the Medical Ward in the morning, I was instantly informed that Acia had eaten porridge and now the test was delayed until the afternoon. When I apologized wondering what they had misunderstood, the Italian doctor shook her head and said, “It happens all the time.” I then found myself in a strange shifting orbit. I was constantly advised by friends and hospital staff that I shouldn’t spend too much time with Olive on the ward, I shouldn’t sit with the patients waiting for scans, I shouldn’t mix with the ill. And yet, I had come to be with Acia in her illness, in her need. Even as I walked the halls trying to calm Olive when nap time was near, everyone walking by wanted to greet her and I heard the ripples of, “This is ourchild!” as I passed. Thankfully, our cook and midwife both took turns helping me with Olive so that I could sit with Acia, or discuss her case with the doctor. At one point, I read to Acia the story of Nabal and David from the Karimojong Bible that she had brought. A little later as we waited for the doctor to visit each patient, I helped a nurse translate the color of a neighboring patient’s phlegm. The doctor was Italian, the nurse I presume was Iteso (a tribe related to the Karamojong), and the patient Karimojong. There wasn’t a common language among them for the word yellow. When Acia was called for a more invasive procedure to put a camera down her throat, her sister was taken to the room and told in English what was going to happen. I’m not sure how much of it she understood. The doctor and technician explained it all to me very patiently in English, and then I asked if they could tell Acia in Karimojong. Although Acia has helped me learn the language throughout my years on the field, I recognized that when you’re not feeling well it’s difficult to understand in a second language. They both apologized and said they didn’t know the language well enough, so it was left to me to stumble through as I could what was going to happen and to get her permission to give her medicine that would put her to sleep for the procedure. It’s in times like these that I’m reminded of how little I know.
As we waited for exams, tests, results, and doctors my heart was tempted to grumble. The words love is patient, love is kind came to mind. I am nothing without love. I chatted in the hall with Brother Gunther, the hospital administrator. We lamented similar woes in the struggle to run a quality health facility in Karamoja, where every bit of care is highly subsidized and yet people still can’t afford it. He mentioned that the funding for the hospital was drying up. After he walked away, in the place of discontent was a maturing respect for the hospital staff whose everyday work now seemed a heroic, exhausting act of love.
After three days, I was forced to leave Acia Rose behind with her sister in the hospital. There was one more test they wanted to run, and I simply couldn’t wait anymore. I had stepped away from my duties at home for long enough, and I was eager to get home before dark. I had no desire to get caught in the raiders’ corridor between Moroto and Nakapirpirit after sunset. Her son, Wire, rode back with me along the tarmac road, my eye on the heat gauge as dry season whipped around us. Herd upon herd of cattle studded the roadside. Shepherds lazily leaned on their walking sticks, watching us rather than their cows. Not infrequently I was forced to stop for a herd crossing the road, completely unconcerned and unhurried. Once, it was soldiers leading the cows, presumably reclaiming them from thieves.
Acia remained, for many days without conclusive results. The lingering suspicion among our clinic staff is malnutrition. It breaks my heart that such a sweet, kind, uncomplaining, godly woman would literally be starving to death surrounded by her family and friends. These days food is scarce and will continue to become more difficult to buy until harvest, which seems like forever away right now. But Love is enduring, undeterred by obstacles or pain. Praying for her family, friends, the church and mission to have this courageous steadfast love to nurse her back to health and shine the light of Christ.