Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Easing the Pain

I often start my day with thoughts about our friends in Mulenga. Today is no different although it was this article that brought tears of relief but sadness to me. I'm not sure exactly what this will mean for those who suffer so much in communities like the ones we work in, but I do know that it is a step in the right direction.

Resolution to end global pain and suffering -

As I read this, I began to cry, thinking of this gentleman in Nairobi, but more so how he reminded me of a really beautiful story of Banda in Mulenga.  I'm not sure that Banda would qualify his own story as having been beautiful and in the short time that we had with him, it certainly wasn't.  He lived in a small addition to the cement block home of a woman named Joyce. He was in his late 60's or early 70's and his wife and Joyce's grandmother had been friends years before, though both women had since passed away. His little room was small, not tall enough to stand in, but that didn't matter for Banda couldn't stand anyway. He laid or sat on a small mattress the first time we went to visit him, our family of four plus Blessings and another volunteer. We filled the small space, no larger than a regular sized closet. I sat directly across from Banda and his greeted all of us with an openness that I thought was a contrast to what I would feel in his situation. He and Blessings spoke for a few minutes and then Blessings told us his story. Banda had been diagnosed with cancer in his leg and was having trouble walking and caring for himself. He was taken in by Joyce, the granddaughter or his late wife's friend, who built the small addition to her own home in order for him to have a place to stay. At some point, after being diagnosed with the cancer, the doctor decided that Banda should have his leg amputated below the knee to stop the spread of the cancer and ultimately, to save his life. Sadly though, in the conditions that Banda lived in and that the health care system was in, this only served to make Banda's life even more difficult. When we visited him, several months after his operation, when in our country, you would probably still be under the doctor's care, his amputation had gone terribly wrong. The skin around the bone had pulled away, there was an large piece of bone exposed, and there was infection covering the wound. When he showed it to us, I was acutely aware of what my boys were seeing and at the same time, not even sure I was taking it in. Despite the "care" of the doctor, Banda's life was now limited to being dependent on the care workers like Blessings who would come and care for him as well as on Joyce, his landlord and caregiver, who fed, bathed, clothed him several times a day, despite not having much of her own to give from.

Banda passed away not long after we visited with him but I remember him smiling through his tears with gratitude for the way that Joyce was caring for him. I remember too thinking how horrific his wound was and how something that was supposed to prolong his life, only made his life more difficult and painful.

As I was reading the article about the World Health Association's resolution to end global pain and suffering with pain killers and hospice care, I do think it's a step in the right direction. But ultimately, having someone like Joyce, who stepped in to care for, love, and provide for Banda in his pain and suffering? That is what is going to alleviate the pain and suffering across the world. Not only in impoverished countries, but right here at home, where yes, we have access to hospice and drugs and pain medications...but what we need is someone to stand up for us, sit beside us and love us when it's hard to even be in the room.  We don't need to be qualified or certified to care for one another. We are all made to love and be in relationships. We just need to train ourselves to look for those that could use it the most and then care for them, the way Joyce did.
Joyce and her son, Winter, at home in Mulenga.

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