Current tunes: Fickle Heart, Ira Wolf
Setting: April 2017, Kipkarren Village, Kenya
She came rushing and panting, a bundle of squirming blankets in her arms. She laid him down, the tremors starting to subside, but his eyes still deviated far right and my chest felt tight with panic as I surveyed the look on Michelle’s face. His little belly was puffing in and out and you could hear his crackled, labored breathing. Weary, ill adults I could handle, but a seizing baby in respiratory distress? I was out of my element, but Michelle, a former ER nurse turned family nurse practitioner and the founder of this clinic, started to delegate tasks and as a team we surrounded the toddler and got to work. While two other clinical officers worked to get an IV line in one of the oh so tiny thrashing limbs, I grabbed some vitals- heart rate in the 150s, respiratory rate of 55, SpO2 87-88%, febrile 38.9C and when I put my stethoscope to his little chest I heard wheezes and rattling. Michelle rushed to get a breathing treatment started. We don’t have oxygen tanks at the clinic but we do have a nebulizer machine. The mother sat silently in worry, her brow furrowed as she watched us swarm her child. I supported his neck up with one hand and held the treatment in place, his screams actually aiding him in getting the medicine more quickly. And eventually his breathing slowed and his oxygen levels began to improve. My hand was cramping, holding the treatment in place and trying to avoid the bundle of cloth that covered his lower half as I could smell and see was soiled, but I could finally sigh in relief as they managed to get some IV access and start antibiotics and fluids. His tests came back positive for malaria, typhoid, and it was obvious he had some sort of respiratory infection as well. And the seizure was likely a result of a sustained high fever caused by his three infections. I handed him over to his mama now that he was stable.
I went back to Michelle’s office to reflect on what I had just witnessed…I couldn’t help but think of the outcome if he had not made it to the clinic. Malaria is a common and treatable disease but the mortality rate for young children is actually quite high. And while it’s not everyday that the clinic has real emergencies, it does happen. I felt the weight of everything and as we drove home that day I looked over at Michelle and just said, “Michelle, you and your clinic, you saved a life today.” And while it’s an immense amount of work to run an NGO in a third world country, I know it’s days like today that reaffirm her efforts are not in vain.
I share this story not to flaunt our volunteer efforts or for praise. They knew what they’re doing and while it was an honor to assist, the clinicians here are skilled and they could have functioned fine without me. In fact, I was the one learning since caring for babies is not really in my scope. But it feels amazing to have purpose and be needed, doesn’t it? Usually when I share about the volunteer opportunities I have had, most people show interest in doing something similar. However, one time I shared with a co-worker about my first Africa trip in 2015 and her response was, “Oh that’s cool. I want to do that too. But not with a church. Because I don’t believe in doing good things to get to heaven, I’d rather do it because it’s the right thing to do.” I stared at her, taken aback, not sure how to respond. I think my silence made her realize I found it a little offensive as she just indirectly said that my efforts were for personal gain only or maybe only done out of fear of a higher power (that she probably didn’t think existed for that matter). I was actually more sad than offended. Sad that this person believed a walk of faith and service to others was solely to get spiritual brownie points, as if God keeps tabs on my good deeds and is unconcerned with the state of my heart. Salvation doesn’t work like that. If it did we’d all be screwed.
So it got me thinking, is there such thing as a selfless good deed? Another friend of mine challenged me with this question before. He insisted it doesn’t exist and that we are always out for ourselves making us look or feel good, even if it is done subconsciously. Of course I ended up a little defensive, trying to disprove his points but after this second trip to Kenya I think I’ve come to a new perspective about selfless deeds. What if they don’t exist? And what if selfless deeds don’t exist on purpose?
As humans, I believe we are created differently. We have a soul. A spirit that allows us to think, feel, love, create and separates us from all other walks of life. So what if our souls were intentionally designed to hunger for serving others and the joy that comes with it? Maybe it feels good to do good for a reason. Maybe we were crafted for kindness and are called to live for more than ourselves. And I like to hope that just maybe this helps to spur humanity to pay it forward. Think of the last time you put some one’s needs before your own…okay, so it probably doesn’t always feel good in the moment, but when you feed your soul in this way, I think you build character. So you’re still gaining. And other times it does feel a little magical knowing you made a difference for just one person. Because whether you’re a theist, atheist, agnostic, or are undecided on who you serve or your purpose on earth, I think we can all agree that our world could use a little more “selfless deeds.”
Which is part of the reason I re-entered America feeling so refreshed. Like I actually believe that I needed this opportunity and time away more than that African village needed me. It was so cleansing to be unplugged and away from the distractions of my first world probs. It was as if time had stopped with little need to check my watch or phone (the village has spotty connection let alone reliable electricity…our power would go out daily). My schedule was simple, pre-arranged, and filled with many opportunities to bless others and meet people who’s stories really put my own into perspective. After a day of working at the clinic I would go catch up on some much needed Zzzz’s, stroll down by the river, actually read books without picking up my phone every few pages, and sometimes wound up asleep by 9:30pm…woah, who is this girl? Now I think over a long period of time I probably would get antsy because I tend to be a busy bee and struggle with being physically and mentally still but for those three weeks, I just felt free. Also, getting to live with Michelle and William Kiprop, the missionary family and founders of the clinic, and watching firsthand what it looks like to live so sacrificially was such a blessing to me. They definitely have changed my perspective on what it looks like to live for others and Jesus. They do more than provide healthcare to an underserved population. People would often randomly show up on their doorstep at all hours of the day and night asking for food, money, health treatment, a ride, etc and while the clinic and building a hospital in the area is their tangible mission, overall they have committed themselves to representing Christ by providing hope to a community that may feel less than or forgotten. And it was an honor and privilege to watch and take part in and I know this just the beginning of many years/trips to come of working with the Kiprops and Hope Matters International in Kenya.
Oh and just a quick PSA- you don’t have to leave your home or work in the medical field to feed your soul in this way. If there’s one thing I have found through traveling is that people are broken all over the world and struggle with the same sins, hurts, and tragedies. I truly believe that becoming more mindful of helping others and intentionally serving in your everyday life can bring you so much joy and purpose and I’m sure there are needs in your community, heck even in your immediate family, that you can impact. You just have to start looking. Because people matter. And people need people. People need you.
As far as my current whereabouts, I am back in California for a month, spending time with family and was able to swing a temporary registry contract back at my home hospital in Fresno. Not going to lie, it feels pretty darn good to be back with my Trauma ICU family and in a familiar workplace. So if you have seen my Snaps or are wondering if I stopped wandering since I’ve been in the 559 for longer than normal the answer is… nope, nope, nope. But is nice to be back on the West Coast (best coast). I counted and in the last 11 months I think was only in Central Cal for 12 days…weeeeird. But I’m going to soak up the Cali sunshine as much as I can before heading back East. I think I am currently the whitest I have been since leaving utero. Vitamin D stat please.