Dear Readers, I am sharing a blog post written by our newest long term volunteer, Jonathan Portney. “JP” comes to us from Loma Linda University, having just graduated with his Public Health degree, with an emphasis in international public health. He, like all our long term volunteers, has taken on his responsibilities with gusto and enthusiasm, or as they would say here, lustfully. I appreciate his post as it shares his thoughts, feelings and reactions to life here in a poor hospital in Sierra Leone. If you want to see his other posts, check out jpinternationaltraveler.wordpress.com. Or you can see his posts on our Waterloo Adventist Hospital facebook page.It’s 8:00 AM on a Monday morning. Sounds of praise radiate from the chapel located near the front of the hospital where the staff of the Waterloo Hospital gathers every morning to partake in worship. Inside this common area is a nursing station and at any given time a patient can be ushered through the staff worship to the nursing station to receive patient care. This particular morning was emotional for me because a few nights before a child aged 2 years came into the hospital with what was perceived as an untreated case of Malaria. The child was gasping for air, you could hear the fluid gurgling in his lungs. Beneath him, on the bed, there was a pool of blood that he had peed — the child was unconscious. As orders are being shouted by the nurses around me, I do what I can to help “Give me the oxygen mask” one nurse shouts looking at me. I held my headlamp over the child so the nurses could see what they were doing, I had to do this because there was no electricity, this is a common problem at our hospital because the electrical power is hit or miss and we can only run our generators at certain times due to hospital finances. The light I had focused on the patient was shaking, and I began to feel nauseous, I could feel myself becoming very hot, and had to continuously tell myself to breathe so that I would not pass out. For some, experiencing death is a common occurrence. For me, this was my first time seeing anyone on the brink of death, laying right in front of me, and I wish I could say it would be the last. The nurses did everything they could, but it was to no avail, the child aged 2 years died. It was quiet in the room once the child was pronounced dead, some staff cried, and other staff members walked away to be alone because I’m sure we all felt that this should not happen to a child this young. However, here at Waterloo Hospital this is a reality and does happen on a regular basis. We are here trying to do everything we can with the limited education and supplies that we have. Could WE do more? Yes, should WE do more? Absolutely. Unfortunately, we have limited equipment and funds to reach this goal, and this is just a reality.
On Monday morning I decided to take a shortcut to the chapel room which passes by the connecting nursing station. Songs of praise are heard radiating from the building. I peer in the nursing station window and see a child around the same age, if not younger, peering out the window with Dr. Scott, our physician, leaning over the child checking her pulse. The child had a little pink beanie on its head with matching footies and blanket. The child was so young that it still had that baby smell which we all love. The child had her eyes open wide, and her mouth opened as if she were yawning. For a brief second, I smiled because the child almost looked scared, often children this age are afraid of Opotu people “white people” because the encounter is probably their first introduction to someone with white skin. As I entered the chapel, I decide to see the baby because it was so cute. I walk in the nursing station, the child has the same facial expression that I noticed before with eyes big and mouth open. The mother is standing at the door of the nursing station holding back tears, saying a soft prayer, the dad is standing at the nursing station bed next to Dr. Scott with a hopeless almost blank stare expressed across his face. I look at the child and notice she is not blinking. I think to myself, this surely isn’t going to be a repeat of the night before. After this thought passed, Dr. Scott pulls his stethoscope away from the child and looks at the father and says gently “I’m sorry, she is gone.” I crumbled emotionally along with the parents as they wrapped the baby in the blanket and carried her off.
Us missionaries often sit around the dinner table on Sabbath evenings envisioning what it would be like if we had more funding and resources. In Gods power, we hope they will come eventually, and we have faith that He is molding the hospital just as He sees fit. We have fully come to accept that we are powerless over our current situation. Every morning without fail we wake up with a smile on our face to greet the day, staff, and patients. If we come off as defeated, then the whole morale of the hospital would change. While I have a smile on my face, inside, I am pained. While praying, I question if it would be foolish of me to ask God for just one week where a patient doesn’t die from preventable causes. I continue to pray for this, but my prayers are a little different now. I’m asking for strength, not only for myself, but for the other missionaries, the patients who have lost loved ones, and of course my family. I feel like if I pray for no one to die, I’m trying to play God and I know that is not my role. My role is to let God use my hands, body, and mind, stay out of His way and put a smile on my face to make the lives of those around me better. For me, this prayer is manageable and keeps me waking up to greet the day with a positive attitude despite waking up almost every morning to screams from the courtyard from family members who have lost yet another loved one.
Jonathan C. Portney, MPH — Mobile Clinic Director