God put a fire in my belly to get to this place.
Last month the fire was replaced with a pit.
On the drive to the hospital, where I am to start the beginnings of my first neonatal resuscitation training with the nurses and nurse-midwives, I just feel nervous. The confidence I carried for the last year only having talked about it, has given way to an insecure ache and the slight trembling feeling one has before an interview, or the first year of being a nurse.
But since I’ve had a lot of interviews, and already made it through my first year of nursing 8 years ago, I know exactly what to do with the feeling. Accept it as the pangs of being new and overwhelmed, and keep going.
My insecurity comes out in fatalism and amnesia.
The fatalism is ironic, because aren’t I supposed to be filled with faith?
The amnesia, or a certain blindness, is annoying as I struggle to remember what I have to offer.
In my better moments, my faith + fatalism + blindness pushes me towards being dependent on God, which for any follower of Christ is a sweet albeit uncomfortable spot to be. I want to feel strong and confidant, certain of myself and my abilities and the things I set out to do.
But it is just in this spot, of desperation and of uncertainty, that God loves to make himself known. He calls me out past myself, where he introduces himself to me anew. Where he’s able to woo me, and display himself, through my weakness.
I’m standing at the morning staff meeting, outside in front of the hospital. The meeting lasts an hour, and we are all doing our best to wear masks and keep our social distance as we listen to staff concerns and get the census and updates.
I’m just a few feet away from one of the head nurse-midwives, who I’ve admired from the first time I met her. I have a lot of midwife crushes. She’s smart and hard-working and carries a certainty that’s the result of knowing how to deal with a heavy load of responsibility.
My mind drifts after 45 minutes of listening, it turns inward, and doubts creep in.
I’m looking at this midwife, so deeply embedded into this health system. She knows so much. She’s got relationships here, knows the local language, has a firm grasp on what’s going on.
What do I know?
My role is to teach the maternity and NICU staff resuscitation skills for the first time, or offer “high-frequency low-dose” refresher simulations if they’ve had this training already. I’m holding a fake baby in a plastic bag. It can “breathe” and has a heart rate. Her name is NeoNatalie. I’m ready to go in and do this, but as I listen I wonder where I can insert myself into a day that is already teeming with needs.
I feel the tension rising as each minute passes.
There are so many patients to see just beyond those doors. Once this meeting is over, it’s like the gun at the beginning of a race. These people are off, running hard, eyes focused ahead.
Does anyone really want this, or need this, or am I a nuisance?
The midwife turns a few times to laugh and mutter to her coworker behind her. I’m painfully aware of my newness and lack of connection. Like a small child on their first day at a new school. I sort of just want to flee. Run back to my nurse tribe that knows me so well. I’m not the only missionary staff here, but I am by far the newest, and they can't carve the way out completely for me.
Am I seen?
My thoughts have taken me on an elevator ride, down. Down to my mental basement where there is no light, just doubt and dread. It is only 9 am and this is my starting point?
So I pray.
Father help. I need you this morning. I don’t really feel like I can do this today.
A few minutes later, after almost a full hour standing next to each other, the midwife turns around to me and with warmth in her voice whispers, “Good morning Kacie.”
Her greeting was a simple yet impeccably timed gift.
That’s how the Holy Spirit moves.
Am I seen?
The meeting ends and I head straight for the maternity ward. There are two patients inside, sitting on the delivery beds. The nurses have not made it in yet, so I search for a cleared off place to put a few of my teaching materials down.
In the corner of the room is a semi-empty counter. I walk over and throw my bags up next to a shoe-box sized bundle of African fabric. I haven’t seen this before in the delivery room.
What could it be?
The counter is dusty, and a thin line of ants trail in from the window, down the wall, to the bundle. I figure it is dirty delivery equipment, but when I carefully push it aside my hand feels something it knows well.
The body of a baby.
I gasp, this body is cold.
I look behind me to one of the mothers and she stoically turns her eyes to the floor. This is her baby.
Does anyone really want this? Or need this? Or am I a nuisance?
I don’t know why this baby died, if it was during her pregnancy, during the delivery, or afterwards. But I’m certain that if it could have changed the outcome of this child’s life this mother would want me here.
I am not a nuisance if any part of these teachings can mean new warmth, and the curling and grasping of fingers with the tiniest of nails, of wet matted hair and stark brown-eyed blinks full of future promise.
I pick up my things and walk to the opposite corner to sit down.
Two older women enter, carrying a small cardboard box. They walk over and unwrap the cloth. One of the women, whom I assume is the grandmother, starts to sob at the sight of the child.
Watching this moment between the mother on the delivery table, wrapped in a kitenge with her legs splayed and an expression of shock, and her mother grieving over their loss, is too much for me.
I need to leave, or enter in. It is too much to observe.
What do I know?
I know that sitting and watching this unfold is unnatural. I have a sliver of something to offer, whether it makes a difference or not. Whether it is remembered or not.
The grandmothers tears make a direct pathway for me to go and offer solace. She cries and cries and I put my arm around her, eeking out a sorry sorry sorry in Lubwisi. I cry quietly with her. Then there is nothing left but to just walk away.
I sit in the corner for a few more minutes, and then grab my things and go. There is no way I can pull out a fake baby this morning and do any teaching in that room.
The world outside hurts my eyes. Sadness fills my heart. The ache I felt that morning morphs into something new, heavier, and different.
I go to the pediatric ward, where my friend Jessie is running the malnutrition program and Dr. Jennifer is making rounds. (This is a plug: Jessie is leaving in 2 months and WE NEED A REGISTERED DIETICIAN OR NURSE HERE to continue running this important program! Could it be you?)
Jessie has an office that I know will be private, so I say ‘hello’ to the bench full of mothers with their severely malnourished infants, slide the lock to the side, slip in and have a cry.
Before I came to Uganda, my friend told me, let yourself grieve whenever it comes, even when it doesn’t seem like a convenient time.
She is an OB/GYN and has worked in the Congo for years. She didn’t welcome grief during her time overseas, and the tragedies and the years piled up, and she left the mission field shut-down with a clogged up heart. It took a lot of unclogging, a process that I was in a front row seat for, which also taught me that although I felt weak in that office this release is important to my well-being.
I make my way back to maternity, equally depleted and refreshed. I bypass the delivery ward and head straight to the nursing station with red puffy eyes. A woman is inside sleeping on the bench. I can’t tell if she is a patient, a nurse, or a family member. Again I’m keenly aware I have no idea how this place works. Can just anyone sleep in a nurses station?
I sit down in a chair next to her, and a nurse I recognize from the week before comes in and sits down next to me. We chit chat. She uses my name a few times. I pull out my phone to read my notes on people’s names from last week.
I use her name back and a small something happens. A lightening of spirits.
This first part of my work is so much about just being around, building repoire, understanding the nurses work flow, skill levels, resource availability, pain points and interests, even their humor.
“And 2 years is going to go by fast” Mike says, reminding me to also hunker down on the teaching, to make the most of my hours at the hospital.
I am trying to strike that balance.
Moreen begins to tell me her work schedule this week. “I worked yesterday day, and I work tomorrow day.” She said.
“And today? That’s a lot.” I say.
“No” she says “I don’t work today.”
It dawns on me she is in her street clothes. But looking professional.
“Why are you here?” I ask.
“You said you are coming every Wednesday to teach. So I am here to learn!”
I wait a second to let that joke settle, only realizing she is not joking. This is a real thing. She’s here because I said I’d be here.
She came here for me?
It takes my breath away a little. It’s the antidote to my fears.
“Oh” I say. “Okay, well let’s do this.”
Another nurse comes in and we start the training.
I sit in the passenger seat on the way home from the hospital. It is about a ten-minute drive, passing most of the population who doesn’t have cars, walking with bundles and buckets on their heads in the heat of the day. I look out my left-side window, a wall of tropical. Everything green. Mountains. Clouds thick as shaving cream, spread across the sky.
A moment of quiet serenity.
God is with me and he hears me.
He heard me this morning, and He walked me through the day.
The pit in my stomach is gone.
His promises and his power extend to anyone who call for him in the dark, yet the ways he chooses to show up are endless in their creativity, and can woo even the most forgetful of hearts.
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
2 Corinthians 12:9