We step over a large pile of burnt trash and walk by some people sitting on pieces of concrete blocks under a mango tree as my friend and I enter the “hospital” to see his father. This building in the “hospital” compound has obviously been constructed with western money as its walls are painted and there is tile on the floor. As we enter the room where my friend’s father lays on a circa 1960 hospital bed I am surprised at how large, and how empty, the room is. There are a few other makeshift beds, a small table, two plastic chairs, two old stools, and my friend’s mother and another Diola woman. I glance at my friends watch and it says 3:45.
As I look at his father lying on the bed it seems obvious to me that his father is dying.
His mother asks me about my family, our recent trip to
and what we think about the heat. She asks me how Maimouna (Hosanna’s
Senegalese name) is and when she is coming to see her. We smile and exchange these
pleasantries as if to ignore the fact that there is a dying man in our presence.
My friend pulls a bottle of water from his sack along with a bowl of food wrapped in a piece of cloth. They are for his father, but I struggle to imagine that his father is capable of eating. At the request of his mother we pull his father up into a somewhat sitting position and they begin trying the make him drink. The water enters his mouth and then quickly runs out onto his face, over his chest, then onto the bed. The other woman suggests that when they pour the water in his mouth that someone rubs his throat to make him swallow. This is done and it only causes him to gag and begin to choke. Silently, I begin to pray.
After several minutes and over a quart of spilled water, this insane endeavor is abandoned and we lay my friend’s father back onto the bed. His mother asks me if I will pray for him and I move my stool beside him as I lightly rest my hand on his shoulder. I pray for a miracle and ask God to give the family hope that can only come from Jesus. It is Good Friday and as I pray I am reminded of how God can bring amazing blessing out of great darkness and tragedy.
No “doctor” has seen my friend’s father though he has been at the “hospital” now for two days. I suddenly feel guilty that I have ever complained about medical care back home in the States. His mother seems very confused because, with the exception of an IV that is dripping, unregulated, into her husband's arm, the hospital experience is just an old bed in a large, hot room.
We sit silently staring at the sick and dying man for what must be an hour.
A woman wearing a surgical mask knocks and then pokes her head in the door and says something in Wolof. She enters and I realize that she is not a nurse but a janitor. She is wearing the surgical mask to protect her from the dust that she plans to make as she sweeps the dirty room with a straw broom. The dust is thick in the hot air and my friend motions for us to leave until she finishes.
We sit outside on a wooden bench under a mango tree for what must be another thirty minutes. I glance again at my friend’s watch; it still reads 3:45 and I realize that his watch does not work.
Sitting outside my friend sees someone that looks like a “doctor.” They too are wearing a surgical mask and I wonder to myself if it is for medical reasons or to avoid the dust as well. The man is maybe in his early thirties and is wearing “street clothes,” though they are fairly new and well kept. My friend speaks with him for several minutes before he rejoins me under the mango tree. He tells me that the man is a “nurse” and that he is going to go speak to the “doctor” and ask him to come see his father. We return to the room to wait.
Another at least forty-five minutes pass. I do not take the time to look at my friend’s watch. Every few minutes another guest comes in to see the sick man. They look at him, shake their head, and make a familiar “clucking” sound that is common here when something is disappointing. After some time, I count the people in the room and we are now over fifteen.
Finally the doctor enters the room. He is maybe thirty-five years old, but it is hard to tell. He is wearing medical scrubs and leather shoes. I am pretty sure that the scrubs have the name of a hospital written on them in German. He greets the family in Wolof and then in Diola and then stands beside my friend’s bedridden father. He feels his arms, his neck, and his abdomen, and then stares at the IV that is dripping into his arm. He takes his blood pressure twice and feels his neck again.
At this moment the doctor has the look of a junior high school student who has been dropped in the middle of a calculus class and suddenly called to the board to solve a problem. It is clear that he has no idea what is going on with my friend’s father. He nods at the family and then abruptly leaves the room.
After a few moments the “nurse” with the nicer-than-normal street clothes enters and says that the doctor has ordered everyone to leave except the man’s wife and my friend. I tell my friend’s mother that we will continue to pray for her husband and for her family and then I leave the room along with the others. My friend, as is the custom here, walks me out to the road as a sign of saying that he was pleased with my visit and thankful that I came. I again promise our prayers, shake his hand, and walk away.
I walk the mile-and-a-half home thinking about my friend, his father, and the struggles of living in an ambiguous land such as this where you never really know what is going on. I wonder what is really happening with my friend’s father, if it is something simple that, were we in our culture, could be easily treated, and if he will ever get better. And I pray. I pray feeling totally inadequate to help, but trusting in the God of all grace to intervene. And I think about how most days the only thing that you can do is pray.