I rolled over, pushed “Answer”, laid the phone on my face, and mumbled “Allo.” “Jake, we just received a kid that has a fever and vomiting,” said Ecle on the other end. “Yeah, I’m coming,” I said, while hanging up. I was barely cognizant of anything around me, but I knew that I had to get out of the bed. I kicked both my legs off the side of the bed, hoping that would make me uncomfortable enough to lift my head. What time is it anyway, I thought as I fumbled with my clock… 4 am, so not cool.
With what felt like tremendous effort, I sat up, pulled on my scrubs and stumbled to the door. I was driving down the road on my moto before I was fully conscious. The cool night air woke me up just enough to become decidedly angry. “For real… I mean what parent decides to wait until 4 am to bring their kid into the hospital. The kid had probably been sick for days now, and they decide to come NOW? Ridiculous. Do they know that I’m on-call and they just want to spite me? And besides, I already paid my debt to the hospital tonight.”
I had been at the hospital from midnight to two admitting a baby that had come all the way from the capital city. I had lingered to make sure the baby was all taken care of, that the staff understood the orders, and that two of our staff that will soon begin training in pediatrics had a chance to see what I had done. To me, this is more than doing my duty. A second call-in felt really excessive. They couldn’t have come at 1:45?
Pulling up to the hospital, I was grumpy and absolutely convinced that the family had done this to ME, ON PURPOSE. I couldn’t have been more disgusted.
I took off my jacket in the nursing office, then walked into the pediatrics room and saw the child in the mid-seizure. Looking at the terrified expression on the face of the mother and father, my crazy illusions fell to pieces. I could only shake my head at my illogical, unreasonable emotional response. We began treatment on the kid immediately, and after making sure everything was in motion, I left for home. (He made a full recovery and went home a couple days later.)
I limped through the next day, staying at the hospital only because I was needed in surgery that afternoon. By that evening, I wasn’t feeling very good, so I went to bed quite early. The next morning I wasn’t feeling much better, and after three hours at the hospital, I came home again. I spent the rest of the day resting and doing a whole lot of nothing. But while lying around, I couldn’t get that event out of my head. I mean, yes, it was the middle of the night, and I wasn’t in my right mind, but I couldn’t believe how crazy and irrational I had become in my own head. I’m only thankful that I “woke-up” before I said anything stupid to someone else.
I’ve had the joy (ha) of being sick a couple times since then, and the month of December has been a little crazy in addition to all of that. Isaac has his vacation this month, which has left me as the only person on 24/7 anesthesia call. With that combo, I’ve been pretty tired this month and have had plenty of moments where I have felt like I was dredging the bottom of the barrel to keep going. Maybe it is the tiredness, maybe it’s that you run out of things to think about when you are curled up in the fetal position all day, but I have had several lucid moments, in which I have been very cognizant of my weaknesses.
For example, I thrive on busyness when things change enough to keep it interesting, but when the adrenaline disappears and it is the same old, same old at a non-stop pace, it just makes me grumpy. I’m also far too impatient, opinionated, and self-oriented, to name a few others. It isn’t that I didn’t have some inkling of these truths before. It is just that I didn’t feel like they were such prominent traits in my life. Those lucid moments come, and all of a sudden I see these imperfections hanging off my life, like I’m some kind of freakish monster. (And the thought does occur to me that perhaps I’ve been an exceptional brat during the past month, giving rise to my own self-awareness, but also meaning that others have noticed too… a thousand apologies.)
While I’m being honest, I should admit that I’ve never been so deluded as to think I was perfect. And though fair criticism could be leveled at my acting this way, I’ve never even felt like I was “top of the class.” But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I did think I was ahead of the curve. And then I moved to Africa. The first thing I noticed was that the other Westerners here, whom I thought would be like me (quality, ahead-of-the-curve types), weren’t exactly what I expected. They were just normal, and maybe even a little weird. Then I started to see their flaws, and this was a bit scandalizing. But it was nothing compared to seeing myself in them—a little weird, a bit complicated, and flawed. If the evidence wasn’t so damning, I might be tempted by disbelief.
To their (our) credit, living in Africa has its challenges. Uprooted from family, friends, and a sense of normalcy, you are always (at least) a little out-of-the-loop—and in my case, a bit confused—as to what is going on around you. The living and the work aren’t the easiest. And you are put smack dab in the middle of people who don’t seem to struggle at all with what you struggle with. For example, Malians, for the most part, thrive on the same old, same old. They have inordinate amounts of patience, they are very careful in expressing opinions, and they are by culture, community-oriented. (Everything that I’m finding, I’m not…)
It’s a bit like being naked in a dark room. You become aware that there are many other people in the room. It is impossible to avoid interaction with them, but you quickly learn to interact while keeping your nakedness hidden. Since it is so dark, no one really understands the extent of your nakedness, and you are unsure of the extent of the nakedness of others. The group quickly adjusts to the manner necessary to continue the polite interaction without things getting ugly. Occasionally, someone bumps into you, making things uncomfortable, but you write it off as their fault for not playing by the rules, not anything having to do with your nakedness. After all, you aren’t perfect, but you know how to play this game. This is life in your home culture.
Moving to Africa (or wherever) is like waking up in another dark room altogether. You stand up and gradually become aware that other people are in the room. No problem, you think, I know how this game is played. You begin following the tacit rules that were in place in the other room. But in the first 10 minutes, you’ve already bumped into several people, and there was that really embarrassing incident where you clobbered and then fell on top of another person. You already feel discouraged, but then with a sense of horror, you realize that your butt has been painted with glo-in-the-dark paint.
Yes, here I am in Africa, with my glo-in-the-dark butt, bumping into people left and right. At other times in my life this would have been discouraging or would have elicited a “I’ll work harder” response. However, this time neither of those options are appealing—maybe because I’m too tired, or maybe because I’m not convinced that either of those responses will do anything. Instead, I’m learning to lean hard into the Lord’s grace. More for myself and more for others. I mean, it gets a little ridiculous to pray, “Lord, forgive my sorry, neon butt,” a hundred times every day…but it’s all I got.
Semper Peccator, Semper Penitans, Semper Justus