4/8 – A Storm Trauma

Yesterday was probably the hardest day at the hospital yet. Before we both drifted off into our own thoughts and finally sleep, Tabi and I had been up late, talking in the dark. She has a heart that really feels for people. She’s compassionate in an extremely tough manner, which is good for her as a doctor. It was as reassuring as it could be to listen to her work through the things we saw yesterday, but we didn’t get much sleep.

Yet it was the best thing in the world to be woken up at 5am, as the sun was just barely beginning to show, by the sounds of an Easter parade in the streets. A heavy drumbeat was sounding, brass bells were clanging, and Konkombas were chanting as the group slowly marched down the town’s main street. I gained consciousness, immediately thought, “Easter,” and to my surprise, instead of feeling groggy and annoyed, the image of the two Mary’s popped into my mind. They were rushing back to tell the disciples that the tomb was empty. Jesus is risen. That was their joy that dawn, and this parade was celebrating that exact same elation. The sounds gradually faded as the parade moved on, and I finally felt the peace that I had been searching for last night. He is risen indeed.

The morning was a little brighter, a little cheerier, especially with one of my Bob Young favorites–mango oatmeal. Tabi and I hit the female ward, in the middle of which Jean finished her half of rounds and fetched me to go to Pastor Jonah’s church for Easter service. Again, I felt really guilty about leaving Tabi, but I felt like I really needed to go to church. Jean went back to the bungie to change, so I continued on to the little school building where the English Church meets.

Of course they asked me to sit in front (gahhhh) next to Pastor Jonah (well, alright!), and we celebrated the risen King with joyful singing and Konkomba dance moves. Later, Pastor Jonah said I “danced perfectly.” Best compliment ever. I recorded all of Aggie’s song that she presented, and after that sucked my battery dry, snapped photos of Jean singing as well! Worshipping like this with members of the Body all the way across the globe is probably one of the best things I can describe. I say it again and again, but it’s so true. Even though I can’t understand the words to their songs sometimes, I close my eyes and sense the way they are glorifying God, and there’s just no better feeling. By this I know we were made to worship.

I was so glad I got to hear Pastor Jonah preach today. His theme was “He was not there in the tomb, and He is not there today,” meaning that Jesus is risen, and as a result we are given new life. Therefore, there is no place for continuing guilt for past sins in our lives if we accept His sacrifice for us. Furthermore, we cannot go on sinning as if we were still in our old lives. It was a simple but direct Easter message, the type that Pastor Jonah is so good at. I prayed for the church at the end of the service, and after clearing away the chairs and putting the huge speaker onto the back of a moto, I was able to take a photo with the entire church, one I know I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Pastor Jonah, Aggie, Ruben, James, Gloria, and I walked OK, Gloria was carried) back in the direction of home. We saw a HUGE rat run across our path. It was the size of a large rabbit, and I am not kidding you. I said goodbye to the Manyan clan, and walked into a bungalow filled with the smells or seasoned garlic pork roast with roasted carrots, potatoes, and onions, and a cucumber salad. It was an amazing Sunday lunch compliments of Chef Bob. We even got to have chocolate ice cream for dessert. It was like Jesus knew exactly what I had been craving for the past nine weeks. It was absolutely wonderful.

After lunch, we just relaxed. Tabi suggested going to swim in the Oti! Ishmael, Shepherd, and Brendan (Unibonmo) were coming along too! We rode there together and stopped at the place where the big lorries load sand. It was a sunny little riverside beach with some cow patties littered around. I definitely got a little squeamish about swimming near the feces, but just sucked it up and told myself not to let one drop of water enter my mouth. Hopefully my immune system’s first defense mechanism (my skin and mucous membranes) would keep me safe!

Like I said before, I am definitely a city girl. Some parts of living in Ghana have been really easy to adapt to, and some parts I’ve struggled more with–for example, swimming in this river! I do not like the feel of slippery algae-covered rocks beneath my feet, especially when the water is completely opaque and I can’t even see what I am stepping on! It makes me shudder! But Tabi and Ishmael were having a great time, and even Brendan got in. So as soon as I made myself get over it and moved into the deeper water where I could just take my feet off the bottom and swim without really touching anything, I felt better. The current was surprisingly strong, and even while swimming, I was staying in the same exact spot perpendicular to the bank!

We just splashed, joked, proposed races and trash-talked, and floated along, enjoying the relatively cool water. It was great to be with friends. Brendan and I sat on the beach for a while, talking about our Ghanaian experiences, the Peace Corps, Berkeley, and a host of other things. I could list a bunch of friends that Brendan reminds me of back home, so I feel like he is my friend automatically. Talking with him always makes me miss home a ton initially, but when he starts imparting little bits of wisdom from his 9 months here in Ghana, I feel encouraged instead.

Shepherd had gone to meet one of his school friends who was visiting Saboba, so when it was about time to head back, we started walking toward the hospital, Ishmael taunting us on his moto, riding along the side, that rascal! Danba, a nurse from the childrens’ ward, met us part way down the road and picked us all back to the hospital, thankfully! It was a breezy ride in the late afternoon air, and the perfect ending to our little outing on the Oti. The sun was shaded by some voluminous clouds rolling in, and it looked like it might rain soon.

At home, a nice shower to wash off all the disgusting river water was definitely in order–felt so good! Brendan also stopped by after he finished his lesson with Trinity! We were just chatting and listening to Tabi narrate her photos when thunder started to clap, and rain began to pour down. Looks like Brendan was stuck in our bungalow for supper! I was getting ready to wish Brendan goodbye; he would be leaving in two days for the Ghana Peace Corps conference, during which I would also be leaving Saboba, and so I wouldn’t get to see him again in Saboba.

We were enjoying our jollof rice and side of ice-cold pineapple and I was enjoying some last moments with my friend Brendan, when someone from the hospital called. Four trauma patients had arrived–all sisters, all struck by a falling tree in the storm. There was no time to spare–I tried to wish Brendan a semi-proper farewell and best wishes, all while pulling on my socks and shoes and mentally preparing for what might await us at the hospital. Tabi, Jean, and I jumped in the lorry and sped down the little path.

When we got there, Jean took the female ward where the two senior sisters lay, and Tabi and I rushed into the childrens’ ward, where the two junior sisters were admitted. We burst into the light of the ward. Passing the nurse’s station, I noticed a big splatter of fresh red blood on the floor. Holy Crap. Other parents were watching wide-eyed as Tabi and I ran past, looking for the patients. They all knew what had happened and pointed to the far end of the ward where the girls were laying. To me, that indicated the accident had been very big that practically the whole ward was aware. Not good.

All these things rushed through my mind within the few seconds it took us to reach the two girls’ beds. It was a pretty horrific sight. One girl had blood everywhere, especially on the head, every sort of family member around, panicking and holding her, moaning and struggling against them. Tabi sprung into action, and I realized I had to check on the other sister.

There was very little blood, only some abrasions, but she was lying very still and to me almost looked dead. In the moment, I hardly knew what to do except to check if she was conscious, check for fractures, and examine her pupils for dilation and sign of possible severe brain injury. I called out the examination findings to Tabi who was busy with the more serious case at the other bed–the girl woke to my call and could talk to me coherently, but her pupils weren’t constricting very well to my torch. She seemed to only have contusions. I took her vital signs, and since she was stable by the grace of God, I went to help Tabi.

I’ve seen some critical cases during my time here at SMC, but this was the scariest. Firstly, she was about 10 years old. Secondly, there was blood and vomit everywhere. We had to constantly make sure to keep her neck very still when we had to move her. Just the thought of damaging her spinal cord was distressing me. Tabi said that she had a closed-skull head injury and possible herniation (Brain trauma and swelling so large that it pops out of the foramen magnum at the bottom of your skull, where the brainstem and spinal cord should be). We got her the best steroid drug to reduce the swelling, propped her head up, stabilized her neck with a soft cervical collar, cleared her airway, inserted a Foley catheter, kept her warm with a couple blankets, and cleaned her up.

Tabi taught the nurses how to classify a patient on the Glasgow Coma Scale, a system of measuring how progressed a patient’s state of unconsciousness is (our little girl was a 6–quite bad). She also taught the family members to keep watch over her through the night, constantly keeping the head in the proper position for breathing. That meant two hands pushing the jaw forward throughout the night so she wouldn’t choke on her own tongue.

It was a long, hard, night, full of adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormone) coursing through my blood. In many instances, I was rushing around, running for this and that, asking the nurses for help, delivering messages, phoning the staff on-call, and silently begging God to let her be alright. But finally our patient was stabilized and we had done everything we could for her at that time.

We checked in with Dr. Jean. Of the two sisters in the female ward, one had died upon arrival, and the very eldest had a chest injury. With no X-ray at our disposal, Jean referred her to Yendi hospital. It was a tragic night, to say the least. This poor bereaved family had lost one of their dear girls, the youngest one was injured, and the other two were in critical condition. There must have been a dozen family members huddled together in constant anguish over their children in the wards. They all loved these little girls and each other very much, and it was absolutely heart-rending to witness.

After you’ve done all that you can do, sometimes it’s best to leave the family by themselves to be with their loved ones, and this was one of those times. I felt like staying around to monitor, but really what could I do after everything? Jean loaded us girls in the lorry and we headed back to the bungalow.

It was time for a cup of late-night tea. Something about it is so comforting, especially when after a tragedy like this one, and especially when you’re sitting around a table of God-fearing women who encourage and strengthen you. We talked into the night about family tragedies, during which I realized unspeakable things like this happen every day in hospitals all over the world. The suffering is enormous, and the only way to not go insane is to trust God completely and know that even though it looks like the end of the world to us humans here on earth, our ways are not His ways, and our thoughts are not His thoughts. He has something bigger, better, more perfect in mind, and we’re going to see it come true. We may have to wait a while, but trusting Him will bring it about. These things about God I had already known and even experienced during some really hard times, but now He is giving the same lessons to me in an even more difficult setting. I am praying that after I am tested and tried by these things, my trust in the Lord will not be broken, I will continue to see how God is glorified in these situations, and that as a result my faith with be proven correct and “come forth as gold.”

It had been a joyful Easter beginning, only to be struck with another tragedy… and I am a little confused about being jerked up and down like this, but I think about the disciples experiencing the biggest rollercoaster ride of all. The man they believed was the Son of God had been killed brutally on the cross and everything they thought to be true was dashed to the floor. For two days they were in anguish, at the very lowest point, until those ladies rushed back from the tomb to tell them the good news. Then they realized what Jesus had been telling them all along, and that He indeed conquered death and rose again on the third day as He promised. The ultimate proof of God’s faithfulness to us.

In my own roller coaster days, I have to know that whatever happens, Jesus died and rose again for our sin. He was dead, ultimate low. He was risen, ultimate high. Everything else I experience whether it be sorrows or joys should pale in comparison–not that our suffering here on earth matters little, but that our hope in Jesus is so great that we know we can survive these things and still always rejoice.

Thankful for Easter,

-ATP

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