To work in the wards on the Africa Mercy is to be confronted by extremes--despair and joy, poverty and riches, darkness and light, mourning and dancing.
I watched in tears as one of the VVF Coordinators held the hand of one of my patients and explained to her that we were sorry, but we would not be able to do the surgery that we had planned. I watched as the interpreter and the VVF Coordinator took their turns explaining the situation to her, and I watched the light die out of her eyes and her entire body slump in defeat as understanding broke her.
I watch as some of my ladies who have been through VVF surgery realize that they are still wet; the surgery did not fix the hole in their bladder. Most are stoic, still thankful that we tried to help. But with many women you can see that hope has left them in the same way that husbands and families have abandoned them.
And yet a few days ago I danced in the hallway with the women as they marched up and down the corridor singing and clapping, enjoying some time outside the ward.
I held a beautiful three month old baby named Louise, whose birth caused her mother's fistula. Louise is cause for joy because most of the complicated, prolonged labors that cause a woman to receive a fistula also cause the baby to be stillborn.
I made my hands into fists and moved my arms as if I were gently pounding on a tabletop, a motion that means "it is good!" after I removed the pad underneath one woman. Her eyes widened as she understood the implication of my action-- she was dry!-- and she signed back to me "it is good!"
It's hard to have to live with both the joy and the sadness. It's also hard to know that although we are able to help many people, there are thousands more that we cannot help. Mercy Ships had to turn away 1150 people during a recent screening day because we had no more room on our surgical schedule.
It's easy to think about all the "if only's": if only we had additional specialty surgeons. If only we had more operating room nurses and ward nurses and pediatric nurses. If only we had enough staff to operate all six operating rooms and open all 75 beds. If only we had more room on the surgical schedule. If only we had more resources: time, money, equipment, staff, you name it.
But when I look into the sleeping face of little Louise, I know I am thankful to be a part of how God is healing people and changing lives here in Benin. I am thankful that God gives me grace to live with these kinds of extremes. I am reminded that the joy of the Lord is my strength (Nehemiah 8:10).