J Walking

Thanks for your comments and emails about my blogging problem.
Thank you too for the exhortations to keep talking and processing and exhorting and confessing.
There is a single moment I cannot get out of my mind.
It occurred on my last full day in country. I was at the hospital, with the kids suffering from cancer, walking back into the building bringing something inside.
When I walked in, I saw the lone nurse – the completely, thoroughly untrained nurse… the one who didn’t know how to change the dressing on a wound – injecting something into the IV port on a little girl’s hand. She screamed, screamed. I chased the nurse down to figure out what she had done and she just casually said she’d injected a cocktail of antibiotics into the girl.
I flashed back to a moment in 2003 when I was lying in the hospital after my brain surgery and the IV drip of my antibiotics was turned just a bit too high. The veins on my left arm burned, my arm ached, my fingers grew numb. And that was an IV drip.
The nurse had injected a powerful cocktail of drugs directly into the little girl’s veins. I had to steady myself against the wall. The blood had rushed out of my head. I walked outside to try and get air and my little video camera. I don’t know why I pulled out the camera. It isn’t that the moment was something I particularly wanted to watch over and over but I just wanted to record what was happening.
To my horror they brought in another little boy – a frail little boy who I had been playing balloon volleyball with moments before; a little boy who didn’t have the strength to stand.
The little boy was screaming so hard he threw up what little food and water he had inside of him.
I spun – I just spun. There was absolutely nothing I could do. The moments of happiness we brought with a few pillows or balloons were overcome by the darkness. I was in a hive of suffering and nothing I could do could change it.
The complicated truth of the whole thing is that that boy and that girl were the lucky ones. Somehow they had actually gotten the precious antibiotics that might ward off infections – that might save their lives. There were many in that place who probably longed for those moments of agony.
But that is so much a part of the desperation of the place – even the good is wrapped in the horrible.
This image, this experience as much – more – than any other moment in the trip has broken me.
It has broken me because I am so close to it. I know a bit of what it is like. It doesn’t require pure imagination I can feel it. I can put myself on the other side of the needle as both patient or parent to a child. It is a suffering I cannot bear and cannot understand. I can’t get beyond that moment and the reality that even now as I write and you read this is happening. This makes it hard for me to care much about who won the debate in Ohio.
Part of the other problem is that this is all so UN-original. It is, frankly, so very cliched. I’m not even the 1,000,000th person to have come back from Africa with these stories – with stories far worse. Nothing I write here is actually terribly unique.
It feels like I have traded in my 10-year-old big, think cashmere sweater and faded jeans for burlap. Not only can’t I get cozy, I just can’t get comfortable.

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