The young nurse beside me placed the wriggling baby girl on her mother’s chest. The baby’s mouth opened wide, taking in its first precious breath of air. The sharp cry pierced the heavy quiet hanging over the room.
We all released a breath and prayer of thanksgiving.
We rubbed its back with a dry chitenge (large traditional cloth). The little girl’s cry was strong and her muscles even stronger.
“Every cry is a celebration.” The senior nurse’s words pulled my attention up to his eyes full of pain and hope. “Yesterday was too quiet. So many never cried.”
Our hospital has more resources than the health centers that surround us for miles, which means some of the sickest patients pass through our doors after the brave efforts of others. The losses of the day before were already tragedies before the patients even made it to us.
In a place where so many children do not live to celebrate their 5th birthday, most healthcare providers are hardened to the realities of death. Or so I thought.
I arrived in the ward that morning, and instead of the wonderful sound of laughter and friendship, the mood was heavy and somber.
There was an unusual hush over the room despite all seven beds full of mothers being evaluated, in labor, or resting with their baby at their side. The team of nurses, clinical officers, and patient attendants went about their work with vigor but a slight quietness. An entire department mourned together for the loss and heartbreak of the day before.
My heart filled again with reality of our calling from God’s to this place.
Nkhoma is not just another hospital in rural Malawi with limited resources. My fellow providers have hearts full of compassion and the capacity to feel and hurt with those who hurt, comfort others in their afflictions, and be the image of God within a community that aches for hope within their own harsh realities of life.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
We have been called to walk beside these people, encouraging them through the hard days, celebrating their victories. They have allowed us to become apart of their team, offering hope to the hopeless, comforting patients alongside them.
I looked to the student next to me, so young and eager to be the future of medical care in Malawi. She one of so many of her generation, determined to serve and bring change.
My question broke the quiet rejoicing, “How many babies have you delivered today?”
“Three,” she said. The shift of her mask across her nose and the wrinkles at her eyes reassured me of the smile I could not see but heard in her single word.
“Hold on the joy of this day. It will help you survive the days like yesterday,” I said.
We have written before of our struggle to balance the hardening of our hearts from the constant pain of loss and suffering with the capacity to offer comfort and compassion. It is something that becomes easier with time, but only slightly. Keeping your heart open to God and those around you takes a lot of intention and energy.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”
2 Corinthians 4:16
This verse has been a lifeline for us over the years. May it encourage you through your own battles and challenges, victories and celebrations.