Mercy Ships patients are not the only ones who experience transformed lives. Crew members create treasured memories of heart-lifting and heart-breaking moments. Ward Nurse Heather Morehouse shares a special story:
When you first arrived on the ward, I saw your face … how your lip was pulled up and made your face look like you had a permanent scowl … how your left eye was missing, and your face was distorted … how you played, but were very aggressive, as if you’d spent your whole life fighting …
I found out that, when you were a week old, your mother left you at home with your older siblings so she could go to work to support you. When she came home, she found that you had been attacked by some animal!
It left a hole in your face that got infected, probably with a flesh-destroying bacteria called noma. It ate away your nose and ruined your eye. A local doctor sewed your eye shut and advised your mom to pour hot water on your eye every day for the next five years. Your mom didn’t know what else to do.
You came to us needing a new nose … but you are leaving with a new heart.
After your first surgery, I was your nurse. I think you hated me or feared me so much that you hated me. You left fingernail marks in my arm as you screamed while I did your breathing treatments – you were so afraid that you didn’t realize the treatments were actually painless.
I will never forget how strong you were as you fought. We had to restrain you while you screamed, “Marare, marare!” (“Pain, pain!”) over and over again throughout every treatment … every four hours … for countless shifts over five weeks.
I remember how your mom wept when Dr. Gary’s wife, Susan, looked into her eyes, saying, “You are a good mom … you are brave.” Your mom looked as if she’d never heard those words in her entire life. She’d spent five years caring for you, keeping you home so both of you wouldn’t have to endure disgusted looks and comments.
She wanted to protect you but had no support. Her eyes were so tired and defeated. She is the most patient, loving mother I have ever met. I remember my somewhat futile attempts to make you smile. Your whole head was bandaged, and you could barely see out of your one good eye. I read to you, placing your hands on the pictures.
You’d stare at the book, unimpressed, and pull your hands away. My heart hurt for you. I brought you crayons. You grabbed the box and dumped them all into your lap as if you were afraid that someone would steal them.
I was feeling defeated as the weeks were going by, and you were still as angry as ever. We nurses would pray over you frequently – for peace over your little mind … that you would come to trust us … that, through our love, the little girl inside would re-emerge.
Your mind was so tormented. You wouldn’t venture more than an arm’s length away from your mom. After treatments, you would throw yourself under your bed, sometimes for hours. You would swing your fist at me whenever I tried to say hello. You refused all medicine. You would spit it in my face, so I hid it in your food … which worked for about two days until you found out and refused to eat.
For your first dressing change, the doctor ordered an oral sedative. We brainstormed about how on earth we were going to get you to take the medicine. I asked you what your favorite food was, but you wouldn’t say.
I asked if you liked chocolate and you nodded. So I mixed the sedatives into Nutella and served it with a spoon and a smile. You took a small bite, and I rejoiced! But then you spat it out. You couldn’t be tricked. The only way was to give you an injection.
I prayed that the peace I saw while you slept would become the peace you’d have while you were awake … that whatever was tormenting you would be gone. But then you’d wake up and return to your angry self.
You still hate your treatments, and we don’t give you any medications by mouth because you refuse them, but you’re smiling now. A few days ago someone caught you singing, and another nurse taught you how to wink.
Today, more than five weeks from when you first walked through our door, I couldn’t keep the tears from my eyes as I watched you ride around the ward on your little scooter. As I felt you sneak up behind me, poke my side and then dart around the corner while you waited me for me to come chase you.
As I winked at you in your bed, and you winked back. Today I saw your heart heal a little. A heart that has spent its whole life fighting and not allowing anyone in … because no one had ever wanted in.
I cried because you are healing. Because this journey has been so difficult, remembering frustration when you’d thrashed around as I held you, quietly saying, “It’s okay,” but you never heard me through your screams. Because, as often as I wanted to request to not be your nurse, I didn’t – because I knew the Lord would be faithful in healing your body and mind and that He had the power to return your joy.
You are becoming a little girl again. Ever so slowly you are letting us love you. The torment that you’ve endured for the past five years is lifting. My heart has been broken for you. I often ask the Lord to break my heart for His people … and you are evidence that He has. I am honored to bear the burden of this broken heart, because it is worth it to love you.
You, Dear One, are why I am here.
By Heather Morehouse, AFM Ward Nurse, https://heathermorehouse.wordpress.com