It was a typical Saturday night, dinner was over, the guys group boys had headed home, showers were done, or nearly done and Rusty and I settled into our room to watch a K-Love’s Mercy Me concert online.
Luke came to our door an announced, “We have visitors…”
The next few minutes were a jumble of languages and emotions. Instantly we knew something was very wrong. The local pastor and his wife had brought an Ati lady whose husband had been sick over the last few weeks. In and out of the hospital twice in the last 14 days, we thought he was getting better… but now the situation seemed so grave.
This morning he awoke but could not talk. His hands shook and his eyes stared off. The family took him to the local hospital but there was no hope there. The doctor said something was wrong with his brain and he needed to go to the provincial hospital in the city.
The wife looked exhausted and distressed. The fear of losing her husband in her thirties was real and painted a picture of pain that was hard to look at.
“We have no money”
The pastor’s wife explained that they were going to a village friend’s home who was a member of the local town council, to see about getting use of the area’s ambulance for the transport to the city about 2 hrs away. We promised to help however we could, including traveling with them in the ambulance tonight if needed.
Within an hour and half a text came from the pastor saying that they located the ambulance and would be leaving soon. The village friend had offered to go with the couple for the night and we could meet them at the hospital first thing in the morning.
Sunday morning dawned and Rusty was on his way to the provincial hospital. When he arrived he found the patient tied to the bed, eyes rolling back in his head, restless and agitated. There were medicines needed that the hospital did not stock, so he quickly purchased those at several of the small pharmacies that line the street facing the hospital. The medicines were expensive, just a 24 hrs supply cost more than an entire month’s salary for the patient.
A CT scan was ordered. The government hospital does not have a working machine, but fortunately a newly built cooperative hospital across town housed both trained staff and functioning equipment. The cost of this necessary diagnostic test was nearly a month and half wages for laborer, like our patient.
Back at the provincial hospital the wife and Rusty had a long afternoon of trying to soothe the patient and discourage him from tearing out his IV and catheter. Shortly afternoon the wife made a sigh of frustration as she noticed her shirt was wet. Many hours away from her nursing child left this mother uncomfortable and in need of relief.
Rusty texted me this update and in a few hours I was on my way to the city with the youngest member of the family and a helper from the village. The mother smiled to see her precious daughter again, a beautiful picture of hope and life amidst the gray, hopelessness that surrounded her in the overcrowded medical ward of the hospital. She went outside to nurse the baby and enjoy a few hours of bonding and fresh air. We sat with the patient, sometimes holding his hands and massaging them to help release the tense grip and tugging to be free. We used a section of an old cardboard box to fan him, and occasionally dabbed away the perspiration from a combination of an overheated room and the physical exertion of restlessness.
His situation seemed desperate. Yet no one on staff was desperate to help. Family members of other patients, nearly 18 beds crammed into a small ward, looked sympathetically in our direction. He was clearly the sickest person in the ward. It was clear too, that they were Ati and poor and though everyone shared in the same misery of poor ventilation, high temperatures, inadequate beds and the trials of illness, a few of the families offered the wife a few extra pesos to help with their needs.
It was well after dark and public transportation is sometimes difficult to find as the hours get later, so we headed back home with the baby and her helper. It was a physical relief to walk out of the hospital, but our hearts were heavy for the situation our friends were in and our heads were begging for answers.
Why was he so sick?
What could be done to help him?
Would he live?
Very early the next day Rusty returned to the hospital, expecting a treatment plan to already be in place. The doctor’s morning rounds had only ordered more of the same expensive medications and there was still no official “read” on yesterday’s CT scan. Even though we’ve walked this path with Ati patients before, it’s always hard for us to accept the brokeness of the public hospital system here. Only the rich can afford private care, which leaves the public hospital over-run with needy patients. Even those who have the government health care plan, like our patient, must endure long waits for care and treatment. Everyone is in the same boat and few people have greater expectations. But we know it doesn’t have to be this way. And that time is not usually your friend in matters of the brain. So Rusty begins to ask the hard questions– “When will we have the results of the CT scan?”
The nurse reported that we will have the results in another 24-48 hrs. Rusty replied that this is unacceptable. After all, he paid an extra fee for a STAT reading. He decided to travel back across town to the facility were the CT scan was done to ask them about the STAT reading. He’s greeted at the radiology department with the official reading. Back across town, he presented the results to the nurse who takes them immediately to the doctor on call in the emergency department. The CT scan revealed swelling and fluid in the brain. The doctor’s recommendation is another transfer, this time to the government hospital in the next province, about 4 hrs away.
I received a text from Rusty with the news of a possible transfer as I am getting the couple’s children, ages 5, 3, and 1 into a public transportation van to come visit their mother. Another feeding is needed, and the mother is desperate for a few happy moments with her children who’ve been in the care of family members in the village throughout this ordeal. It’s been a few years since I’ve had three children under 5, but it felt strangely familiar even though we only share a few words in common. Before too long, the older two children were asleep, the sweet 2 yr old girl on my chest and her strong and handsome almost 5 year old brother curled up on the seat beside us.
By the time we arrive in the city, the family still has no answers. There are only more questions. How will he be transported? The provincial hospital doesn’t have an ambulance that travels outside of the province. The community ambulance that brought him here from the local hospital isn’t available for this trip either. Perhaps they could ask at the capital. Then there were the fees. First for the ambulance, then for the driver, and next for an ICU nurse because the patient is in grave condition. Grave condition, yes, but yet little is being done here to help him!
We take Mom and the kids to a local restaurant for lunch and a break from the stress. She looks exhausted but somewhat happy to see the joyful antics of her sweet children who are completely unaware of the seriousness of their situation.
Finally around 4 in the afternoon a neurologist comes to assess the patient. Having read the CT scan results and the patient’s history, she makes her recommendation. The swelling in his brain is causing his symptoms but she does not think a shunt is necessary. She strongly advises against transfer to the public hospital which she characterized as even more overcrowded and understaffed than this one. She said she’s personally known of patients who were transferred there who waited an entire month to have surgery! Her best recommendation would be a private hospital in the larger city, but estimated those costs to be between 350,000-450,000 pesos (around $10,000 USD). Knowing that the patient is an indigenous farmer, she quickly rules out that option.
The neurologist decides that the swelling is most likely caused by either meningitis or tuberculous of the brain. Both are serious infections, but best treated by high strength IV medications. She insists that he be moved to either a private room or the isolation ward in case the disease is contagious. She orders the first round of medication– that again cost two month’s worth of a worker’s salary.
It can feel overwhelming to us as we walk with people through these medical trials. There’s a real sense of hopelessness and desperateness about a person when they are faced with a life or death situation and have no ability to get the help they need. Prayer is of course key during these times, a constant abiding comfort that God sees our circumstances and hears our cries to Him. Prayers offered in Malaynon and English, prayers begging for healing, for rest, and provision for the unimaginable needs financially.
The prayers of the saints around the globe carry and sustain, both our family as we walk with those suffering and those who’s lives have been forever changed by the health crisis they are now facing.
The end of this story has not been written, but there’s great comfort in knowing that God knows, He sees and He hears and most of all He loves. This can no better be expressed than in a simple, yet powerful prayer shared by one of our precious prayer warriors:
Father God, You not only made but you also love “E”. Lord, You have allowed this infection to be in his brain and You are able to touch him and do away with it. Father, if it please You, this is what I ask for “E” to Your glory, so that the Ati people would see Your care and Your mercy though this situation. Lord God, You are the Great Physician, You know every cell in his body and nothing is too big or too difficult for You.Thank you that You love “E” and desire only the best for him.
We appreciate your prayers for this family and their situation. We share their story, first in an effort to flood Heaven with prayers for our patient’s healing. But we also hope that you will reflect on your blessings– those of good health, quality healthcare, and options in a time of need. If you are moved to join us in our mission to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those less fortunate among us, we hope you will explore this blog and our ministry website to learn more about partnering with us in this ministry. Thanks for your prayers!