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In all the years we’ve been traveling to Central America, only once have I had to go to a hospital.
Our daughter had developed an unusual rash on her arms and I needed to make sure that it wasn’t serious.
We wouldn’t be back in the states for another month, so I warily proceeded to the local emergency room.
It was dismal, to say the least. It was similar to what I imagine U.S. hospitals were like in the 1930s, only not so clean. The sounds reminded me of old, scary movies set in asylums.
I couldn’t help but wonder what was happening to the small child agonizingly screaming for his mother to make them stop. Or what illness plagued the elderly man loudly moaning in a room somewhere down the dark hallway.
Five years have passed since that ER visit, and I still cringe every time I think of it.
Yesterday, I received a call that the young daughter of a friend was having surgery in the same hospital.
We dearly love this little family and the phone call stayed on my mind all day.
We happen to be in the area this week and I wanted to visit her, but I tried to justify waiting until she got home.
Hubby came in from work and said, “We need to go see her.”
I hemmed and hawed. I said I didn’t want to unnecessarily expose our kids to illness. I said I thought it would be acceptable if he went for both of us.
I reminded him that I’ve felt a tendency toward being a recluse lately, and that this was way out of my comfort zone. I told him that I couldn’t bear to see the sights, smell the odors, and hear the sounds again. I told him flat out, “I will not go!”
He went without me.
He returned with the heavy sadness and burden that I personally was fighting so hard to avoid.
He described the bleak state of the children’s ward. The subpar equipment, the dirty mattresses, the stifling heat, the open windows letting in mosquitoes and smoke from nearby brush fires.
And most shockingly, our sweet girl’s incision was not bandaged.
Five hours after surgery, her mother had still not seen a doctor for a post-op discussion or been given any instructions for her care.
“You need to go,” he said.
“I can’t do it,” I replied.
About that time our 4-year-old son fell and hit his head on the hard tile floor.
Hubby scooped him up and said, “God’s going to see that you go to the hospital one way or the other, Jonah!”
“Nope! I’m going to the Laundromat!” And I left.
I got in the car and argued with God.
“This is not a big deal! I don’t need to go to the hospital. My heart can’t handle it tonight, God. The burden of sick, hurting children is too much for me right now.”
And God responded in a nearly audible voice, “IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU!”
I drove through the chain-link fence, and surveyed the run down, low-rise building. It was dark, except for a few scattered fluorescent bulbs. I walked past the ER entrance and tried to ignore the painful sounds coming from inside.
Last year, a young boy was choking on a bean, and instead of using basic life-saving procedures, the doctor had ordered an x-ray. The little boy died in his mother’s arms while they were waiting.
There didn’t seem to be anyone else in the hospital. I didn’t see doctors or nurses. No one at the cashier’s desk or reception area.
I walked down the long, dark hallway, trying to focus on the seafoam green paint peeling from the concrete walls. I shuddered when I saw the hand-painted sign pointing the way to the “OB-GYN and AIDS testing.”
“Stay focused,” I admonished myself when a small lizard ran across the ceiling just above my head. Finally, I found a janitor with an old string mop and a bucket of brown water. He pointed in the direction of the children’s ward, and I pressed onward.
I tried to channel my dad who is an expert at hospital visitations. He’s so good at it because he has always known, “It’s not about you!”
Finally, I made my way to the tiny little girl I had come to see. I wished I could scoop her up and take her to the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis, but of course that was impossible.
Instead, I knelt by her bedside and prayed. I prayed that her pain would be minimal, and that she would recover quickly and without infection.
And I thanked God for reminding me that sometimes, most of the time, it’s not about me.