I’m sorry, I can’t do anything for you.

For the next several days, I’ll be posting about how I spent my last six weeks. Hope you enjoy a taste of my time in Samoa. You can find more information here

It was our third mission clinic, and the village we ended up in was large. Our trucks and busses pulled in at 9am, and, per usual, there were already thirty people waiting to see us. By the time we got triage unloaded and set up, we’d been told to open three times, by three separate team leaders. Two blood pressure cuffs had broken and we couldn’t find a fourth translator. Everything was a little scrambled when the first patient sat down in the rickety metal chairs we’d scrounged from a local hall and that meant everything was perfectly normal. As soon as triage was running smoothly, I got pulled back to the “exam rooms,” which are really just spaces partitioned off by lengths of hanging fabric. We were short on physicians, so I would be working with the doctors, helping to speed up the visits.

The first patients I saw were easy – back pains, ear infections, headaches. Then I saw Elsebet. She entered the room, eyes downcast, narrow face tight with pain. I recognised her – she’d been in the hospital the week before. But in a single day at the hospital, I rounded on 42 patients, assisted with three to six surgeries, witnessed four or five deliveries and saw 35 or 40 patients in clinic. As she was sitting before me, I racked my brain, trying to remember her chart. I knew her name, and I knew I’d seen her in clinic, but I couldn’t remember her problems.

That was humbling. I’m usually good with people; I’m great with trivia. I can remember what color someone was wearing two weeks ago or the name of a patient’s sister’s puppy. But I couldn’t remember why Elsebet had come in. Even worse, I knew she had come in for a female problem and I was working with a male interpreter.

She had been bleeding for months and even at the hospital, we were unable to determine why. In desperation,  she had come to our traveling clinic. In the hospital, we had done exams and run tests and sent bloodwork and taken imaging and snapped pictures. We had done sophisticated investigations and been completely unable to help.

Now we were sitting in a fale, on three mismatched chairs and I had no fancy equipment, no lab and no ultrasound. I couldn’t do anything new for her – I couldn’t even repeat anything we had done before. I had to tell her, for the second time in two weeks, “I’m sorry, I can’t do anything for you.” That’s never something you want to say, when people come to you for healing.

“I’m sorry, I can’t do anything for you.”

But you went to school for how many years? You’ve memorized how many facts? You’ve read how many textbooks?

“I’m sorry, I can’t do anything for you.”

But I’m paying you how much? You’ve got the fancy equipment and tests and things? Where else can I go? Who else can I see?

“I’m sorry, I can’t do anything for you.”

 I was helpless and lost, desperately wishing to ease the lines on her face and give her some answers. Not only could I not help her today, I was the same one who had seen her the week before, and been unable to help then. I felt awful that she had wasted her time, just to see me again.

Elsebet and I sat with our interpreter and she cried and I tried not to cry and we prayed. Usually, prayer happens when the patients are finished with the medical side of things, safely tucked away in the prayer room, but she and I and our interpreter sat in our room and ignored the thirteen patients waiting to be seen. We held hands and prayed and when she got up to leave, she turned to me, and said, “I am so glad I saw you outside the hospital. Your prayer today did more for me than anything you did physically.”

And then she left, and I did cry.

Matthew 9: 20-22 “Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.” Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment.”

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