This past week, I've joined the Inpatient Medicine team and am working with a handful of Kenyan physicians to take care of around 50 patients.
Many of the patients seeking care are very ill by the time they decide to come in. Like my 90 year old grandfather, they won't go in to the hospital unless it is absolutely necessary. Many of the elderly patients have illnesses you would find in the US: heart disease, hypertension, pneumonia, COPD, etc. Most of the younger patients face illness more common in third world countries: tuberculosis, diarrheal illnesses, meningitis, dehydration, malaria. But perhaps more representative of Africa, several of the patients are affected by HIV.
One profound observation I've had while I'm here is that life here seems so much more "real." To me it seems that life in the US is full of our society's attempt to hide reality from us. Food in grocery stores is often in a completely different form than it originally appeared. We watch movies and television that portray life in fictional and often unrealistic programs. One of the most striking even as a medical student is the way our society hides the reality of death.
Here at Tenwek, death is a very real potential. In my experience in the US I saw two deaths in my two years in clinical rotations. Just in the past 24 hours, I've already lost 2 patients. And the week before today, I've seen at least 10 people pass away.
In this hospital, we can hide death. We can't hide reality like we're so accustomed to at home. Life is very fragile and each of us has a significant piece to share.
While death is real, community support is equally as evident. Every patient has a host of visitors coming each day to wish them well, to comfort them, to tell them about life at home, and often time to pray with them for healing. If only that kind of community support had been present for one of my patients in the US who had attempted suicide and was afraid of the lonely silence he would continue to face in the hospital.
We have so much in the US, but have we all forgotten that simply sharing an experience with another human being, sharing in their joy or pain, is so much more valuable than all the money and toys our world has to offer.
My point is this: your life is real and it is really special. You have real incredible worth.
Jesus said something similar in one of his most famous messages, the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6:26 he says, "Look at the birds of the sky: They don't sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren't you worth more than they?"