There are two men I’ve seen, in the halls of the hospital ward downstairs, that each have a very large, benign tumor growing out of the right side of their neck and face. Today, and every day, they tie hankies over them, to keep others from being too shocked and horrified at their appearance. But still, seeing their right eye grossly misshapen, and pushed up to the side, a good 6 inches away from where they should be, is shocking.
I had prepared myself today, with a smile on my face, ready to look them in the eyes and offer what I hoped would be solidarity, courage, understanding, empathy. But, as I walked around the corner and saw Abu (not really his name–I can’t spell it, and would like to give him some anonymity to share his story when and if he chooses), our eyes locked, and I’m ashamed to say, I recoiled. Hopefully it was only inside, and that my smile stayed in place on the outside. And then I looked at his mamma, sitting, tired and scared, by his side. And my heart broke for her. And I smiled, deeply. Warmly. With empathy and understanding. Because being a mamma, with a hurting child, whom others look at strangely, wondering what all is wrong, is something I understand. I recognized in her eyes the look of exhaustion, tinged with hope, of someone who has prayed and begged and bargained for the life of her son, while sitting by helplessly as he suffered.
I bet his mamma was thinking about this Wednesday. Abu is no longer the emaciated 64Kilo/103lb man that arrived onboard. He has gained over 10Kilos/22lbs. I’ve wondered what on earth is in those IV’s: Guinness? Ensure? Whatever it is, it’s working. Abut is now strong enough for surgery.
Abu used to be strong, and handsome, representing Guinea as one of their elite football/soccer players. Think tall, dark, David Beckham. But five years ago, a small lump began to grow on the right side of his neck. And for the last two years, he’s been unable to eat solid food. He had a few weeks left to live.
You’d think my vanity would stop me from admitting this, but injustice drives me to do some crazy stuff…A few days before leaving on our epic year of adventure, a mole on my neck got red. I called my doc and was irritated at the two-day wait to get an appointment. But, as soon as she had a look at my mole (which until then, had been quite cute, but if I’m totally honest, may have been camouflaging a zit), she cut it off. Without even asking. Now how is that fair? Why is it that I received the pinnacle of science and medical care? And Abu has lived FIVE years with a tumor that is killing him? I’m not sure who to be angry at…but I am angry. Abu was, is, dying. And his mamma’s heart is broken.
His surgery on Wednesday offers hope. Without it, he will die. Soon. But, the surgery is not a guarantee that he will live. In addition to the usual risks of general anesthesia, Abu’s tumor has grown through the vital nerves and arteries in the back of his neck.
Because of the tumor and his misshapen face, Abu is hard to understand. But, he, and his mamma, have talked with several people about the risks. About the risk of death. Or a stroke. And you know what Abu said?
“This isn’t living.”
“I want to take the risk.”
If Abu and his mamma have the courage to take the risk, what about me? What about you? Where are we letting fear stop us from living?
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, you better believe I will be praying for Abu. For the doctors. For his mamma. For his life.
I know that life isn’t fair. And I know that Abu may not live beyond Wednesday, and that he didn’t receive medical care that would have prevented this crossroads. And on Wednesday I will go and visit Abu’s mamma, and sit with her during his surgery.
But, I am also going to use this opportunity (that I wouldn’t wish on any mamma or daddy or elite soccer player or any person, in the world) to examine my life to see how I can make a difference in the wellbeing of other people’s lives, and in what areas I am not living. Where I need to take a risk.
Will you make the same choice as Abu? And please pray for him too?