If I sell my last cows, I can afford the surgery.
My mind drifted as he spoke to me. Well it did not really drift. I intentionally let it wander away. I was hoping he would quickly relate this yet another sob story. He went on to elaborate how he had sold his crops and now was selling his cattle to get his surgery performed. It looked like it was going to be a long day.
Yes indeed, here I was in yet another clinic day. Today was actually lighter than most days. I only had 55 patients to see. The day is only heavy when you reach 80 and overwhelming when it gets 100 or more. With such a paltry number as 55, I was confident that if I could avoid talking to them, I might get finished by 6 p.m. If I did not examine them, I might even break for lunch.
Six in the evening is the usual quitting time and if I am really smart, I can send many of them for laboratory and x-ray examinations that will keep them in those lines for at least half an hour. Those diagnostic results pending, I could tell them they have to come back the next day and see one of my colleagues, hence relieving me of the burden to hear another ‘last cows’ story.
Well I called my mind back to face the old man in front of me. His illness was not so bad, just a hernia. This is a relatively simple operative procedure which we perform frequently. However, this man was making it complicated by somehow trying to compel me to feel some of his pain. I have learned over the past 19 plus years of working in Kenya, ‘don’t go there!’ Don’t begin to listen to stories. Before you know it, you will start to have compassion and that could be dangerous.
It appears this old man was a subsistence farmer. I would describe that as a person who grows just enough food for the boll weevils to eat. If his cattle look anything like those I saw in recent travel, selling half the herd of 20 would fetch just enough money to pay for the x-rays, ultrasounds, laboratory tests and medicines I just ordered.
I have to financially triage my patients as well as sort them by the stage and severity of their illnesses. Is the 6 month old baby who was born with AIDS and now stricken with meningitis resulting in blindness from the increased pressure from the swelling on his brain, worth investing money in to put a shunt in his brain in hopes of regaining his sight? Wow! That is quite the conundrum. How many cows will that cost?
Which cancer is biggest and which should I offer to pay the deposit for treatment? Two of the women in my clinic had breast cancers so large it appeared they would explode if I did not get them out of the room in time. Who would clean that up? They had both delayed coming to the clinic because they had no cows to sell. Then of course there is always the option of saying; ‘ I don’t care how sick you are, I can’t help you!’ That comes in very handy when there is no money left in the account to help them. That happens more often than I like. Not feeling makes it easier or at least it seems so.
I am of course being extreme in my description of my reactions, but not of the severity of the illnesses, or the choices my patients must make. I am also being quite honest in expressing the emotions I feel. I really don’t know how to feel without feeling. I don’t know how to care without caring. After having two patients cry, I can’t tell the third one ‘I have had enough. Go cry somewhere else’ even if I want to say that.
That is why praying with my patients is always so comforting. I can take them to the one who never runs out of cows. He knows the answers when I don’t. When things don’t make sense to me, I just have to turn it over to Him and expect that somehow He will sort it out.
When I can’t listen and care, I find God can listen and care. After I sell my last cow, I remember;
Ps 50:10 For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.