Saturday, July 4, 2009

Benedictine Balance

Although I have been aspiring to live according to a specific monastic rule for years as a Benedictine oblate, I continue to learn by bumbling along. And I still struggle daily for some semblance of Benedictine balance, or "stability of heart." Hospitality, no problem; humility, okay; lectio/holy reading and reflection, yes; love, by definition; moderation, of necessity; obedience, certainly; peace, without question; service, of course; ora et labora/prayer and work, definitely; silence, um, in the middle of the night when God has a chance to get through; stability... well, maybe.

And maybe not. God must have been shaking her head as my heart was careening its way through these past few days. "This was the week that was" in Maseno, Kenya...

(1) Five days and nights without electricity. Read without emergency hospital equipment, including our new oxygenator. Read without water pumps. Read without security lights. In nearby Luanda, people took matters into their own hands when our police -- "the most corrupt in East Africa," according to a Transparency International report released only yesterday -- neglected to detain an accused thief. The crowd "necklaced" the suspect in the marketplace with a gasoline-filled tire set alight. "Mob justice," it's called. Murder, She Writes. Meanwhile, in Kisii, just southeast of Kisumu, seven "witch lynchings" have been reported recently. The mostly-older people were literally burned at the stake ( Much of the world is obviously in darkness far longer than five days and nights. Perspective, She Prays.

(2) Ten days of escalating tension on the hospital grounds after a series of break-ins. The inquisition and incarceration (better than necklacing and lynching, perhaps, but not by much) of four of our night-time security guards followed, inciting sub-tribal conflict, demonstrations at the gate and mistrust among neighbors. No evidence has been found, and no trial date has been set.
(3) The usual unusual procession of presenting problems in a small mission hospital with good intentions but few resources -- set against, and complicated by, the background above:

Emily, 9, born with multiple problems, is now suffering from fever, Kwashiorkor and as-yet-undiagnosed ulcerations covering her entire body. Unable to see, speak or hear, all she can feel is pain. Emily is receiving antibiotics, corticosteroids and analgesics, all we can offer -- with prayer.

Michael, 13, was admitted in acute pain, another sickle cell crisis that will eventually lead to his death. We have given him a blood transfusion, IV Ceftriaxone and pain killers.

Floridah, 16, came in suffering from severe thyrotoxicosis. She was responding to treatment and about to be discharged when she suddenly collapsed on the ward and died.

Thomas, 19, was given five doses of IV quinine for his "4-plus" malaria, but he is still spiking fevers of unknown origin. He is now on IV Ceftriaxone, our only real antibiotic line of defense.
Tobias, 21, was essentially held hostage at a public hospital for weeks until his family could afford to pay the bill. Brought to our Outpatient Department today, he has extensive pressure ulcers, and his AIDP -- a form of Guillian Barre Syndrome -- is so advanced that there is little chance Johnes will ever walk again.

"Mama Simon" has 25-year-old twins. Both sons suffer from epilepsy, but only Simon lives at home, and Mama is destitute. Her son was admitted with repetitive seizures because there was not enough money to renew his phenobarbital and tegretol. They cost four shillings a day, totaling about $1.50 per month.

Maurice, 32, wasted, feverish and disoriented, was brought in by a neighboring church's outreach team. We await the hospital lab results for his spinal fluid. If it's cryptococcal meningitis or toxoplasmosis, we can treat it.

Samuel, 46, was treated for lobar pneumonia, then discharged from another hospital. Dr. Hardison diagnosed widely-disseminated Kaposi's Sarcoma in his lungs, instead. With so few platelets left, Samuel will not be able to withstand the requisite chemotherapy.

Jacktone, 48, was discharged with analgesics after his biopsy revealed that cancer is causing his liver cirrhosis. There is no more we can provide here -- no morphine pump, no hospice care. And, frankly, three-day funerals cost families a whole lot of money. It is not fair to keep people hospitalized. 

A recent swine flu outbreak in Kisumu was clearly the least of our worries.

The same week, however, five children were sent home after successful treatment for malaria. A pregnant mama delivered healthy twins via C-section. Several students recovered from salmonella infections. A visitor purchased a year's worth of prescriptions for Simon and his brother. The power is on, the water is running, and Emmah is humming. Morning has broken, and it is Independence Day in the U.S. (Expats were invited to a party at the consulate in Nairobi, but that's eight hours away.) Happy Birthday, America, and Happy New Day, Kenya!

We fall down, we get up; we fall down, we get up. Balance? Benedictine or not, I can only continue to pray for it. "We are all such broken people," my beloved sister-in-law once said. Lala salama and rest in peace, dear Jane. And asante/thank you, dear friends and family, for being my community, "the company of all faithful people" that stabilizes every heart. Conversatio morum is a basic Benedictine vow -- the commitment to being a pilgrim, remaining ever open to change and transformation in the Christian life. It is a gift to be walking, praying and, yes, occasionally careening with you on this, our mutual journey. Amini/Amen.


Nancy Rowe said...

WOW, what a week....I felt like I was holding my breath just reading of it. May the Lord bless you with much PEACE that Passes Understanding this week. May you feel God's arms holding on to you and all of our dear brothers and sisters in Maseno, Kenya! Asante Sana to you, faithful servant! love from your WI friends.
Nancy Rowe

Julie said...

I cried reading this. Loving you from so far away and in total awe of your service and life. Be well, be careful, be safe, feel our love, so many of us.