“Tuanane, Mutomo”: A Volunteer Says Farewell
Samantha Hodge just finished a year of service as a volunteer pediatric nurse at Mutomo Mission Hospital in Mutomo, Kenya. In this piece, she reflects on the lessons she learned during her time there and how her faith was challenged through it all.
“Please, madam. Help me.” A father looking at me and then looking back at his 30-year-old son struggling to take his last breaths.
“How many children do you have?” She responds “Two…now,” in between sobs.
“My breasts…they hurt.” A grieving mother after losing her breastfeeding toddler.
Dealing with death as a pediatric nurse is hard. Dealing with death in global health is different. At my hospital placement in rural Kenya, death is frequent. Due to its common occurrence, it is, unfortunately, more accepted. But it does not make it any easier.
Coming from the #1 ranked pediatric hospital in the U.S. to an extremely low-resource and under-funded hospital was extremely challenging. But a challenge I was glad to accept and an experience I was looking forward to. The learning curve was vast and sudden but so valuable. I learned how to save lives in impossible circumstances. I learned how to make bubble CPAP out of oxygen tubing, a tongue depressor, a plastic container, and scotch tape to help keep patients airways unobstructed. I learned how to supply four newborns with oxygen using IV tubing and one oxygen-concentrator. I learned the power of Kangaroo Mother Care (mothers carrying infants with skin-to-skin contact) when no incubators are available for premature babies.
But one of the greatest things I’ve learned throughout my time in Mutomo is that God is wide. I used to think that someone’s relationship with God is deep and subterranean. But the more time I spent in Mutomo, the more the people of this town showed me that God is vast and He is spread widely.
“But the more time I spent in Mutomo, the more the people of this town showed me that God is vast and He is spread widely.”
Throughout my medical mission, I struggled a lot with my faith. Especially in cases where we lost our patients. I could not find God during those times of struggle. I did not see God while I was pumping chests in CPR or breathing for a patient with an Ambu bag. I didn’t feel God while delivering the news to a mother that we had just lost her 2-week old baby through an interpreter. I didn’t feel his presence as the mother’s body tirelessly shook under the weight of the delivered news. With each deep sob, her chest painfully rattled and her body crumpled with realization.
But then I learned something. As I stood with the parents, defeated, wrapping the mother in her torn shawl, they told me that they felt God.
After their eyes have gone dry and there are no more tears, they wipe their faces and they take comfort in the fact that their child is “now with God.” And “they will be okay.” I realized then, that God was there the whole time. Why? Because it is as if these families have been comforted by invisible hands, held by invisible arms, and soothed by invisible words. Their level of composure after minutes is surreal and uncanny. Their strength is unyielding and their resilience and healing are unparalleled. And they attribute it all to God.
I guess God is all over the world and especially in a little town in Kitui District where material poverty is abundant but spiritual poverty is scarce. Now, that is one of the many life lessons the beautiful people of Mutomo have taught me.