Every morning, the small boy cheerfully waited for us to come hurt him. He was 10 years old and had suffered a nasty fracture of his left leg months before our arrival. Dr. Bland, the American missionary surgeon we worked with, had removed a large portion of his tibia, but he still had an infection. Each morning, we took off the dressings, squeezed out pus, and repacked the wound with bleach-soaked gauze.
The boy was brave; as soon as the procedure was over, his bright smile returned. We took a few minutes each day to speak French with him and teach him intricate handshakes. Since he was alone at the hospital, we were the social highlight of his day. The rest of the time, he played with other young patients or watched The Jesus Movie in one of the local languages.
In medicine, sometimes we must cause pain to achieve healing. In order for us to do so, patients, like this young boy, must trust that the physician has their best interest in mind and that the outcome will be an improvement.
Another patient who exemplified this confidence was a girl who was having difficulty breathing. She was too sick to ask for help, but her eyes begged us to intervene. As I examined her, I discovered she had a small bulge over the upper part of her chest on the left that seemed to contain fluid. Presuming it was an abscess, I put on gloves and prepared my instrument tray. Using the scalpel, I cut through the skin slowly until I entered the abscess. I positioned a basin underneath and then gently expanded the opening with a clamp. Yellow pus poured forth. The patient coughed, and the fluid spurted out with force.
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My pleasure at successfully opening the abscess rapidly moved to a feeling of unease. The basin was overflowing already, and more pus continued to leak from her chest. A small skin abscess couldn’t produce this much. I looked into the incision and saw ribs on either side. She had an empyema—a large amount of pus in the space around her lung—which had been trying to rupture.
My wife, Melissa, came to help me, and together we switched out the basins. In my head, I played the American doctor game of “If only I had a . . .” I thought lovingly of the chest tube sets at Loma Linda University—so easy to use and so desperately needed in this case. Supplies and funding are very limited overseas, which is why ongoing donations are so important. With no real chest tube available, we continued to encourage her to cough.
In total, we got out more than three liters of infected pus. It was no longer a question of why the girl had had difficulty breathing; now we were impressed that she was still alive! Dr. Bland’s missionary ingenuity came to the rescue as he designed a makeshift pleural drain from a rubber catheter. The patient rested quietly, obviously breathing easier. Her trust in us had been rewarded.
We admitted her to the hospital, loaded her up on all the antibiotics we had available, and went home to pray. Per the textbooks, her chances of survival were low. However, textbooks don’t factor in the resiliency of Chadian girls and certainly don’t factor in the power of God. Every day, she gradually improved. In a few days, we were able to remove the drain, and soon she was a healthy little girl again. She was a walking miracle who would have died without the committed work of long-term missionaries, such as Dr. Bland, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
In Matthew 18:3, Jesus tells us that unless we become like little children, we shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. When I think of what He means, I think of those children in Chad who trusted us despite the pain. They knew they were sick, but they believed, despite not being able to communicate with me directly, that what I was doing would help them.
When I compare them to myself, I’m ashamed. I can read the Bible in my own language and can pray to God directly, yet when I encounter trouble, I too often accuse God of hurting me for no reason. I lose sight of the fact that I’m sick with sin and in need of help. I also forget that God is working through the furnace of affliction (Isaiah 48:10) for His purposes and my good. God is working with each of us every day of our lives to fulfill His purpose, and He’ll continue to give us strength for the struggle as long as we trust in Him.