Wednesday, June 27, 2012


the air is misty and cool and soft after the rains and I can see the pale bright moon casting shadows out my window

I decided to stay another month in Pediatrics - I was so sad at the thought of leaving - in a mad twisted way I love it there. 

These last 2 months of working there on my own and being part of the hospital schedule have been both the happiest and the hardest of my stay here.

hardest - because I had to try (unsuccessfully) to wrap my mind and heart and soul around the obscene death toll - and because suddenly I had personal responsibility in the matter - I was the one in charge, the one making decisions, and many deaths were on my watch.

happiest - because I felt for the first time that i was making a real difference.  I felt that the patients under my care were, well, receiving better care.  I loved not working under the Tchadian nurses and I loved being able to do my work in a manner more consistent with Western nursing and in a manner I felt that was ethical and right. 

I was convinced by Danae - and she is right - that it would be good for me to go to maternity for my last months - I would get invaluable experience, learn from the best, and it would surely be useful to be more well-rounded especially as I will be applying to MSF..... and so I decided to leave peds - but as soon as I articulated that decision - I started feeling sad

I realized I loved it there
I realized I loved the autonomy
I realized I loved the kids (although you would never catch me being all cutesy and playing with bubbles and stickers and making them smile)
I realized I loved the privilege of holding someone's hand as they slip into another world
I realized I loved the raw intensity - of being so close to the greatest suffering and the greatest love
I realized I loved looking at life with my lids peeled back

and this is tricky - its not that I love watching suffering - I don't.  It is heart wrenching and haunting and numbing and everything in between. 

but at the same time - how do i say this,

 I have witnessed the dregs of hell, cruelty, injustice, ignorance, and grief
 I have heard the soundtrack of life wail from the grittiest, rawest strings
 I have caught my breath as someone who was loved by someone more than anyone else in the world relinquished theirs
 I have smoothed close eyelids that saw their last colors
 I have have cradled heads in my hands whose necks can no longer support them
 I have held warm covered bundles in my arms that used to be children
 I have auscultated quavering heartbeats moments as they pump their final rhythm
 I have squeezed the shoulders of screaming rocking mothers as they life their hands blindly, beseechingly to an uncaring sky
and in those moments - I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else

standing side by side with life and wading in the muck and magic of its bareboned stripped rotten and steely core

it is in this sense that I say Africa has saved me but it also has damned me

I will always be drawn back into the inferno of life and death at its most elemental

and, inexplicably, I am not ready to give up the festering insanity

but to every dark side there is color

the age old paradox of contrast

the pendulum

the tumble into the darkest places to open the possibility of flights to the great bright dizzying heights

to roll on the ground with laughter, or be slumped against a wall racked with sobs

because in this place like no other i have also seen the best parts of life

a mother curled protectively around her child - fighting to open exhausted eyes to make sure that the quinine is still dripping
a father cradling his tiny baby in his hands - watching, hoping, moving it from one palm to another with the greatest gentleness
parents selling all they in this world so that there child might live
entire families camping on the hard cement floor - stoic and present and there
calloused fingertips resting lightly over a failing heart - murmuring fervent prayers, loving it into breathing
grandmothers coaxing bits of buille and sauce into the cracked drip lips of fighting children
just the love
the greatest love i have ever seen
walking through it
thick and soft and courageous
it melts around you
it breaks your heart
the tenderness with which these tiny souls are conducted across the great divide
teardrops of salt and pure beauty
it is unforgettable
it is unbreakable
it is undeniable
it is perennial
it is this great love that gives indisputable meaning to these flickers of life that were blown out to early by a dark stinging wind no one could control

I have had the solemn wonder and undeserving privilege of crossing paths with strangers at the most fragile, vulnerable, and beautiful place of their existence - i have been trusted to walk a few minutes with them on their path - I have been allowed to hold their hand as they cross into that which defies explanation

it is sacred
it is diabolical
it is awe-inspiring
it is wrenching
it is gutting
it is beautiful
it is painful
it is truthful
it is deceptive
it is baffling
it is infuriating
it is fervent
it is excruciating
it is unjustifiable
it is undeniable
it is inexplicable
it is inevitable
it is futile
it is hopeful
it is noble
it is pure
it is innocent
it is unspeakable
it is writhing
it is shrieking
it is gasping
it is screaming
it is rattling
it is terrifying
it is tangible
it is will-o-the-wisp
it is solemn
it is potent
it is raw
it is real
it is death
it is life
it is the core
it is the crux
it is the pinnacle
it is the crucible
of what it means to be human


  1. I dont know if i could hang with you in a conversation anymore! Who experiences that SO willingly and thouroughly?! You amaze. Im so glad your safe

  2. Beautifully expressed. Thank God you are there for this poignant experience and for making a difference. Love you, Nifty Niece! Aunt Susan

  3. "flickers of life, blown out too early, by a dark stinging wind, no one could control"===beatifully said!

  4. Absolutely incredible the way you capture the emotions of one living there.