(Originally posted on October 30, 2012)
It was one of our nannies who asked me to see her friend. She told me she was waiting outside the gate and that she had a problem with her te te, Kreyol for breast. The gate guards often protect me from having to say ‘no’ (there is plenty of work within our own gates) but if someone asks me for help, my nurse’s heart has only one response: ‘yes’.
Outside the gate I found an older woman sitting on the ground, leaning against the wall on which I had painted Children of the Promise with a group of friends almost three years ago. My handprint is there but I can’t remember which one it is. There are three people with her. A moto driver who may be a relative but could just as well be a stranger and two younger girls, perhaps nieces or daughters. They helped her up to stand and she nearly collapsed. The man carried her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes until one of the women corrected this insensitive position so that he was cradling her in his arms, one arm behind her back and the other under her knees.
Once inside the pharmacy, we made more formal introductions and got down to business. I was not prepared, nor could I have been, I think, for what I was about to face. I have never really seen, let alone diagnosed breast cancer, but I had the undeniable feeling that what I was assessing was exactly that. My mind was processing a thousand things at once but I felt a sense of peace and clarity. I remembered friends from the states whose mothers, aunts, and grandmothers were diagnosed with breast cancer. Devastating? Yes, but there were always treatment options, always hope. This family has no money, the reason they waited two months after the woman was unable to walk to find medical care at an infant care center. Even if there are doctors and facilities that could possibly treat her in Haiti (unlikely) and even if we had caught the cancer before it began spreading to the rest of her body (unlikely), her family would need to somehow come up with more money than any of them have known before (unlikely). Americans, forgive my generalizations, do not know this feeling of utter hopelessness.
The truth, though difficult, I hoped would be a gift to this woman and her family. I told them that she was gravely ill, that I could not heal her, and that I didn’t know if any doctor could either. I could however, offer her two things. The first was comfort. A bottle of Vicodin that a friend from home had sent back with me the last time I visited. I didn’t know when I’d need it, but now I hoped it would help ease her pain and suffering. The second, petitioning the great God who calls us His sons and daughters, who did not intend for His beloved to suffer like that. Elizabeth, a visiting nurse who was with me at the time, prayed in English and I prayed in Kreyol. My Kreyol prayers still sound a little funny to me, but this woman needed to hear it, to understand it, in her own language. We prayed for her family, for her pain, for her healing, and for her heart.
When we finished praying, I felt prompted to say a little more. What often happens is that families scrounge up all the money they can, borrowing from friends and neighbors, to pay for medical bills (in Haiti you have to pay Before you receive the test/medicine/etc.) only to come up short before finishing treatment. For instance, a father came to me recently and had used up all his resources getting the testing done that showed his daughter needed heart surgery. He would not be able to pay for the actual operation. The truth was, barring a miracle, this woman in front of me was going to die. I encouraged them to think of the family, the kids, the future, when determining whether to pour all they had into something that in all likelihood would be futile. That did not mean the situation was hopeless, however. The truth is that when I cannot do anything, when the doctors cannot do anything, OUR GOD CAN DO ANYTHING. He is our hope, and we give this all to Him, trusting Him as much as we can in our own brokenness. I started crying, they started crying, everyone hugged, and within a few minutes they left the pharmacy and left COTP.
Once they left, I cried more. I cried for the woman. I cried for Haiti. I cried for me.
On my way out of the pharmacy, one of our own little boys was calling my name. He ran into my arms for a quick cuddle and a kiss, full of smiles, energy, life, and I felt Jesus, wrapped in little brown arms around my neck.