Surgery

I woke up in the middle of the night and updated some pictures before feeling like I was going to toss cookies. I didn’t but went back to bed – still with a stomach ache, headache and now with alternating chills and sweats.

Must have fallen asleep at some point but woke up feeling awful again. Ambled downstairs to get some coffee before chapel and suddenly (really suddenly) started feeling better. Had another cup of coffee and within about 15 minutes felt pretty normal again.

“Hi, my name is Gregg,” said Gregg Brekke. “Hi Gregg,” said the gathered anonymous. “And I’m a coffee addict…,” Gregg continued, telling his story of hitting rock bottom one night in Mungeli, India. Heads nodding and compassion filled faces flashing knowing smiles, the anonymous welcomed Gregg onto the long road known as recovery.

To heck with that – give me coffee!

My “illness” was caffeine withdrawal. I had only drank a few cups of chai tea in the previous 72 hours and my body needed a hit of sweet caffeine. Yes, I’m an addict.

Illness solved, I joined the hospital staff for rounds. It is really amazing to see the progress patients make over time. I’ve done hospital visitation as a pastor, but normally within the limited view of one patient being treated. To see the dozens of patients at Christian Hospital, Mungeli each day is a unique treat and an encouragement of the work being done here.

Many have suffered horrible tragedies – amputations, burns, farm accidents, etc. – but with a hearty slap on the back and a little banter, Dr. Anil Henry puts them at ease and encourages them along with their recovery. Family members are usually at the bedside and he instructs them on care they can provide including food and other necessities.

When we arrived there were a few very serious injuries including a young girl who had been burned over much of her body, a woman with a cancerous jaw and an amputee. All have made good progress.

On the evening we were returning from Bissamcuttack, Anil received a call that a woman with HIV was refused admittance to the hospital because of fears of contamination. He made some calls and the woman was admitted – here is a photo of her and her beautiful daughter.

Smiles

Anil knows that training and education are great needs in the hospital. Procedure and education will overcome the fears that still exist for treating patients with certain conditions. The woman in this case had been turned away from every other hospital in the region and she desperately needed help with her delivery.

I am humbled to say that I saw the dedication of Drs. Anil and Teresa Henry in offering an “extravagant welcome” to everyone “no matter where they are on life’s journey.” Their resolve to be a rational and compassionate presence in the middle of a culture who still exhibits much fear of HIV, among other diseases, is one reason why their work is so important.

Following rounds, a quick trip to town and observing a surgery where a tumorous nasal blockage was removed from a young boy, I arrived at Rambo English School for “melee” – the annual school fair.

Three hours of games and food! I was glad my stomach was back to normal because the food stalls were awesome – personal specialties prepared by school teachers and nurses. A super-hot Chinese style dish, something like hush-puppies, potato cakes and a succulent desert of deep-fried bread, sweetened condensed milk, brown milk, coconut, almonds and raisins. Heavenly.

Dessert

I ate one of everything – and it was a good thing because there would be no time for dinner this Friday night. Back to the room for a quick shower and change before being called to observe more surgeries.

Now I’m no medical professional, but I consider myself pretty informed on anatomy and basic medical practices. I’m not grossed out by blood or body parts. Plus, I watch CSI a lot so I have that going for me.

Two surgeries are scheduled tonight that would test my resolve.

As a pastor, I am trained to personify those in need. Rather than see a condition, pastors are trained to see the person and tend to their spiritual, emotional and physical needs (not necessarily in that order.)

As a journalist, I am trained to objectify my subjects. Rather than getting involved with the personal, journalists are trained to seek the facts.

Melding these two is a challenge. My journalist side can look at almost any situation without an emotional response. True, the response may be latent and repressed, but while seeking the facts, it is a great skill to be able to “go Spock” for the purposes of keeping enough emotional distance so you can effectively gather information.

But no journalist – trained in pastoral care or not – can every fully separate themselves from the emotional pull of the human condition. I struggle with this balance, especially as a journalist for a denomination, every day.

First up was a patient with an ulcer in the small intestine, near the exit from the stomach. Dr. Samuel performed the surgery with assistance from the Danish students. It was a difficult to find ulcer, but being septic (fluid flowing in and out of the intestine) it was a needed surgery.

Hanna, one of the Danish medical students, laughed at me for wincing as Dr. Samuel tugged on part of the stomach to reveal and release the small intestine. I told her I was just glad it wasn’t me!

Dr. Samuel made quick work of repairing the ulcer and supervised the closure by the other student, Marie.

While the patient was being prepared for transfer to recovery, Dr. Anil Henry was scrubbing in for the second surgery – a mid-calf amputation of a gangrenous right foot. The patient had not received treatment for a foot injury and the infection had progressed rapidly.

Hmmm – hadn’t expect to see this!

Anil explained the surgery to those attending and me as the patient was given a spinal injection to numb his body. Prior to putting hand to scalpel, Anil placed his hands on the patient and prayed – not a long prayer but a prayer, for lack of other terms, that could be felt in the room like a gentle wave.

Working with medical student Hanna, Dr. Henry began the cuts that would leave skin below the bone cut to allow for a “stump” to be created for prosthetic placement. Cauterization, suturing veins and arteries, and cutting bone with a wire saw followed. Foot removed and bleeding stopped, Dr. Henry and Hanna wrapped the remaining leg to allow ensure there is no infection prior to suturing it closed.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention – Shane Robert’s 15 year-old daughter, Thea, was in the operating theater to assist! Those are experiences she’ll never forget.

Wheeling the patient up to recovery, we were informed that a patient had just been received who was assumed dead-on-arrival. Not the case! He had an advanced case of malaria and his vital signs were so weak they were barely detected.

One of the Indian intern doctors had figured out that he was barely alive and took him to intensive care to begin treatment with quinine and something to prevent seizures. When we arrived, he was still convulsing with eyes rolled up in his head. The patient’s throat had swollen so Dr. Henry placed a device in his mouth to clear his airway along with an NG tube for feeding.

It’s 10:30pm. Time for a game of “Betty Ford” charades with the rest of our group after a quick shower.

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