Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A Glimpse of Hope...

This is the infamous paper that can change your life forever. One simple word, stamped in blood red, signifies a long, rough road ahead.

For the last few weeks, I have been working at an AIDS clinic called Partners In Hope (PIH).

PIH was started by a missionary doctor from California, when he began to realize that you cannot practice medicine in any form in Malawi while turning a blind eye to the reality of HIV/AIDS.

While working there, I was exposed to things that I never would have dreamed I would see in my life. It wasn't until this experience that I began to understand the depth of the AIDS Crisis a little better.

While sitting in exam rooms with a doctor, watching patient after patient sit before me, I realized how many people are really infected with HIV. Many people, because of the scale up of Antiretroviral (ARV) Therapy, looked rather healthy. If I were to see them walking around town, I probably wouldn't guess that they were HIV+. However, I saw countless people that did not look so good.

On my first day, a man that was about 30+ years old walked in. He was wearing rather baggy clothes, but he didn't look too horrible. His CD4 count was really low... meaning, he is extremely susceptible to other infections. But, when he lifted up his pants leg, I nearly fell out of my chair. He literally had close to no muscle around the bones on his leg. They were eaten up with Kaposi Sarcoma (a skin cancer caused by AIDS). Then, he lifted up his baggy shirt. The skin on his torso was sucked back under his rib-cage as if he were in a 5 year famine. Because of the lack of resources and ability to take care of himself, it was obvious that he would not be with us much longer.

A few days later, a mother walked into the exam room, carrying her 3 year old daughter, and a slip of paper that looked identical to the one at the top of this post. The little girl was wearing a nice white dress, and she was rather oblivious to what was going on.

Immediately, I just tuned out.

I just stared at this little girl.

I had a million things running through my mind during those few minutes while she was sitting in front of me.

Did she realize that for the rest of her life, she would be on very powerful drugs just to keep from dying?

I wonder how long those drugs will give her? Will she ever become a teenager?

What's going to happen when her friends realize she is HIV+... are they going to stop playing with her?

It was rather difficult for me.

I just sat there staring at her, and began to pray to God that He would watch after her. That He would grant this innocent girl grace.

The reality is... there are thousands of people that are just like this.

They walk for miles to get to a clinic... pick up one of these numbers... and sit in line. Waiting for a drug that will supposedly extend their life.

The great thing is... within the last 2 years, ARVs have been made free for everyone who qualifies to be on them. Before this, prognosis was simply death.

But even still... something is missing. There has to be something more than a pill that we can offer to people that have just been told they have a terminal illness. I know that when I look at a young mother that is holding on to her beautiful daughter, she is not just looking for that magic pill. She desperately wants more.

That's where the Hope factor comes in to play.

I believe it is so vital here in Malawi.

One of the Malawian guys that works at PIH had this sign in his office.

It is so true... In the West, we have very strict definitions of "poverty". To us, it's just a dollar sign. People here don't really see themselves as "impoverished". To them, poverty has little to do with money. But, when you loose hope... you are truly impoverished.

It has been an amazing thing to be working in a clinic that offers more than just a cold, scientific encounter with their patients. They are looking people in the eye and smiling. Letting them know that AIDS does not have to be the end.

The staff at PIH has also blessed and challenged me in many ways.

I see among them the leaders of this country. They are bright... optimistic... and committed to serving their neighbors.

This is one of the Clinical Officers...

I spent the majority of my time hanging out with these guys though...

They train peer educators that go out to the local schools and teach kids about HIV and Christ. They are a great bunch of people!

One day... I was out with the guy to my left. I asked him why he chose to be involved in this field. He went on to tell me about his story...

His uncle died of AIDS several years back. He lived in a rural village that had no clue about the disease. So... his uncle did not receive any treatment for HIV, and it wasn't long before he was gone. He saw what it put his family through. He said that he knew right then that he wanted to educate his fellow countrymen about the disease. He also felt that as a Christian, he needed to be serving those that were suffering around him.

He has such a great heart... and was really challenging towards me!

So... I leave here with a whole new perspective on things. A new understanding of what people are actually going through when they get this slip of paper.

I pray that the things I have seen will stick with me for the rest of my life. I pray that they will motivate me to keep going when things get hard. I pray that they would leave me with no other option than to thank God for every single blessing that He showers on me.


Cryton said...

Hi Ryan! I sat in a treatment room for almost 10 years in Malawi seeing people in their lowest point and the level of suffering for my people completely blows my mind :(. I always think the suffering is unparallel anywhere in the world. God help us.

SaraEaker said...

I can't imagine seeing what you see every day. My prayer has constantly been that you would have God's eyes in all of this. I am pretty sure the only way to have hope is to see things the way God sees them. I really liked the sign that guy had. I think there is a lot of truth to that. Thank you for giving us a window into what you see every day!