What protects your heart? Is it stability in life, love and family? Is it confidence in the work place or the understanding that regardless of how bad your day may be, at the end there will always be a healthy dinner on your plate, a secure roof over your head and a warm bed calling your name? Is it the realization that healthy or sick an educated physician is merely a phone call away and medical attention is accessible day or night? Is it the knowledge that with the wealth of education you received options for employment and advancement are endless?
Take away stability. Remove confidence and understanding. Evaporate the table of food, well constructed roof and warm bed. Eliminate access to medical professionals, confiscate necessary medicine and delete the option for education.
Forget about viable transportation or a reliable income, for those never existed within your possession. Add a lifetime of suppression, depression and disappointment. Add a generation of deaths and diseases pillaging your community, your neighbors and your home.
Welcome to South Africa. Welcome to the everyday reality of the children my roommates teach and the patients I care for. Welcome to the life of Lindiwe, a patient of mine at the Hillcrest AIDS Respite Center and a dear friend.
Often Lindiwe slept the day away silently so I was surprised early one morning while giving her a bed bath when she asked me if she could have the cloth to wash her own face. Typically patients who can not make it through a traditional standing shower are bathed in their beds – head to toe. As I handed Lindiwe her washcloth I was silently thankful for her new found strength, a sign perhaps that she would be on the upswing.
Her bath was finished and her hair was braided. It was a slow morning at the Respite Centre so I had plenty of time to sit and talk with her. She told me that even though her body was not doing well her heart and her head were protected because of the love in her life. Love from her beautiful family and love from Jesus.
Mid sentence she paused.
She took one deep breath and she asked me to help her lay down saying she wasn’t feeling well. As she neared the pillow her eyes rolled into the back of her head. Her body grasping for air, her breaths shallow. As seven am turned to eight, eight to nine, and nine to ten I sat there. I held her hand and I prayed.
Lindiwe, age 40 passed away. She left behind a family who adored her including three beautiful young children.
I often leave the AIDS Centre at a crossroads of thoughts. As the unrest and cacophony of the day surround me I frequently find myself feeling heartbroken and discouraged. It is in those moments that I pause and think about what protects my heart.
Although the stability and confidence I have help, it’s not them. It’s not the food or shelter I am blessed with or my availability to medicine and knowledge. It’s the unspoken love that I am surrounded with during the beautiful days and most importantly during the harder days. It’s the deep faith and ever present strength in the eyes of my patients even when their pain is beyond intense and their bodies are giving up. It’s the loving support of my three roommates whose hands support mine in friendship, love and prayer at the start and end of each of my days.
My heart is protected by experiencing first hand how freely love flows in South Africa. It’s protected by witnessing the deep faith of my patients who, like Lindiwe have encouraged my strong belief in something bigger than myself.
South Africa 2010