This week I’ve been meaning to blog about a mass casualty that happened last weekend – I was putting dinner in the oven when I got a phone call from surgeon Rich, advising me that a car had hit a bus on the highway up the hill, and so far 10 patients had arrived at the hospital. As you do in rural Africa, I got onto Twitter and sent a message out asking any available doctors to come in, and jumped in the car to go to the emergency department.
Not being surgeons, pediatricians are not often the most useful adjuncts to a heaving mass of bleeding bodies. But I was able to go in and help direct traffic – help Rich to step back and become the “triage doctor” making sure that surgeries and xrays happened in the right order; call in an extra emergency doctor to help ensure everyone else was being treated in order of emergency. Find out if we had any beds vacant in the hospital (hahahahaha…. not usually); create space in ICU for the severely bowel-and-head injured patient. Talk to the surgeons in Nairobi about caring for a patient that we’d stabilize with minimal surgery but then refer for definitive care because our CT scanner is broken; liaise with the Red Cross to get us an ambulance to transfer. Fortunately of the 30+ patients, some were sent to a provincial hospital, others to Naivasha, and after 10 patients the flow stopped.
Talking about mass casualties is fascinating to me. A mess of confusion becoming clear, pain relieved, death averted. An encouraging, interesting study in lack of resources, a certain amount of pride in our hospital’s ability to cope. A semi-detached post-game analysis of what worked and what didn’t, how we can do better next time.
What’s harder is talking about one casualty. As I sat down to my computer on Saturday morning, I opened email to download some pictures, and instead found an email from our dear friend Julian – supporter, encourager, pray-er. Julian and Heather are the kind of people who every day bless us with remembering us, advocating for us, reminding people in our church of who, where and why we are. Who love on us with unexpected packages by mail and thoughtful gestures.
And the email told us that his wife Heather had died. Suddenly, without a clear explanation. That morning.
With this one casualty, time stops.
My heart breaks for him, for his young adult daughters. For his infant grandchildren, who will not get to know their grandmother. Her passing leaves a huge hole – for her family, her friends, her community.
I hear news like this, and intermingled with grief and shock and sorrow is gratitude. Again I am so grateful for this life, for every day of being and doing and living and loving. I am aware again of each day’s transience. I am reminded again of the big questions that we mostly don’t ask – except on days like this.
What is the point?
I know that Heather was convinced there was a point. I know she loved intentionally, poured herself out for others. I know that she thought things mattered – that every relationship, every cent given to help someone in need, every thoughtful gesture, had a significance that can never be fully understood in the present moment. I know that she would have wanted longer – longer as a grandma, as a friend, as a mother, as a wife. But I also know that she knew there was more than this minute – that somehow, in eternity, in this incomprehensible universe that a loving God has said – this life is a gift, but it isn’t all there is.
I don’t think that Heather is literally walking on streets of gold with a harp and a halo right now. But I know that while we mourn, that there is a next step that Heather is now a part of. I wish I knew more about how it looked – I sometimes wish the Bible was more of a recipe book than a poetic allegorical whisper of our place in an eternal universe in which ultimately God is victorious. But within the mystery I know that there is more, and that Heather is a part of the more-ness in a different way now. And that she is a part of a still unfolding story that will end ultimately with life and health and peace and joy.
God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
– Rev 21:3-4
We grieve, we love. We mourn, we remember. We weep, we rejoice. We pause, we treasure. We ponder, we hope, we go on.
We found out today that Julian has asked that in Heather’s honour that funeral contributions in her name be contributed to the Needy Children’s Fund at Kijabe Hospital. I am astounded at his capacity to consider these kids in the midst of his pain – while at the same time I am so grateful to be a part of Heather’s continuing story here in Kenya. I know that she is part of a crowd of witnesses loving and cheering as out of the ashes of this loss for her family, another family of a child who has survived impossible odds over here will not be burdened with a hospital bill, but can walk away with a new chance at life. Julian, Emma and Jen – we love you, we grieve with you, and please know that these gifts in the name of your wife and mum will have more of an impact than you could ever know.