Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The walls came down

Part of my ability to survive in PNG has been to put up walls to protect myself from taking each patient's illness, hurt, struggle, grief, etc. and carrying it myself.  Despite trying, I have realized that there is only so much that I can do as a doctor, only so many patients that my limited medical resources can help, and only so much that my heart can carry.  So in order to survive, I have learned to put up some walls, I have learned to not ask too many questions when the situation doesn't look good, I have learned not to spend too much time at a bedside when there is little hope.  Right or wrong, it is how I survive, but there are patients who break down that wall without much effort.

Kenduman is one of those patients.  He followed his dad into my exam room, a large scarf wrapped around his neck and shoulder.  I quickly scanned his book, seeing something about a growth on his shoulder, and asked him and his dad, what was wrong.  His dad unwrapped his neck and shoulder revealing a large tumor of his arm.  Instantly the wall came down, there is something about kids with cancer that gets to me every time.  Every time we have a kid with cancer, it goes bad, really really bad, and despite that, my heart opens up to these kids and their families.  I want to be able to help them, I want to be able to cure them - but our resources are so limited, that despite giving them all the meds we have, we don't succeed.  
Despite knowing there was little hope of helping this kid, despite knowing that it was probably too late, my heart was opened and I did what I could to try and help.  I made sure there wasn't any evidence of metastasis to his lungs or his liver, then I talked to our surgeons, to see if there might be a way to remove this tumor.  Unfortunately, as I suspected, the tumor was too big and surgery was no longer an option.  

These cases are the worst because they came too late.  As much as part of me wants to find out more, find out why they didn't come sooner, why they waited so long, I realize that none of that matters.  What I do know is that this dad is from the deep bush, the border between two provinces and not close to much of anything.  He did what he could for his son and what he thought was best, going to the closest health center they had, and when their treatment wasn't enough, they finally found their way to us.  

As we shared what was happening, the dad seemed to understand better than I expected that he was going to lose his son.  The son didn't understand Pidgin too much, and so it was hard to talk to him, but the dad definitely knew the true meaning of Christmas, knew of the love God had for each of us.  There was little more I could do, but pray for them and trust God to comfort them in ways that only He can, and to slowly rebuild the walls around my heart again, until next time.