The story in this post reflects one of those moments when we really get a sense of who we truly are. Do we have the courage to be the Body of Christ?
(Note: These folks are friends living and working alongside Hindus in predominantly Nepalese villages in the mountain Northern India. Ryan gave me permission to post this story here. Read more about them -and support them!- at smoothpath.org.
Tuesday 5:30 p.m. It is raining and I’m prepared to escape. My frustrations and annoyances have been growing for weeks. Hearing that the men from the village are planning to travel to work on the dangerous, inhospitable road leading over the Natu La to Tibet is the last straw. Most of the last year of my life was devoted to seeing that the men from our village didn’t have to engage in deadly work. The famine last year drove the men into a position where they would have to work on Natu La to ensure their family’s survival. I stopped them from going with a promise to help. First came the Dairy Co-op and then the Rice Program. People began to earn a living and had food to feed their families in the midst of the famine. Then came May 2008, a good pea harvest and June, a good potato harvest. The villagers are in the best financial position they have ever been in. Despite this, in late June they decide again to go to Natu La to make even more money. This would mean working in a constant downpour at 13,000ft on the side of cliffs with no rain gear or safety equipment.
After talking with Prakash, I sling Asher onto my back and head towards home. My thoughts spin. Amal Sir abandons the church. Dinesh dallies on our translation project. Parents refuse to carry firewood for the feeding program and it is temporarily shut down. Dirty local politics slander our work. Prakash decides to go to Natu La while the church is in shambles. Tekke decides to go to Natu La even though we planned to plant winter peas, wheat and beans together on the school land. It was to be his final step out of poverty. Tilak says to me ”I’ve had it helping the poor. They are poor in their minds and won’t ever change.”
Tues. 6:00 p.m. I decide to go home and tell Amanda, Ian, Elizabeth and Cameron that I’m worn out. I decide to tell them I’m done with Daragaon, that I give up and am going home. As I carry Asher, a text message buzzes my mobile… but I don’t read it. For around six weeks I’ve been depressed. All the love I have tried to fill Daragaon with seems to have miscarried. All I can see is death and waste.
Tues. 6:15 p.m. I reach home, open the door and see Amanda’s face. For several days she has been experiencing benign spotting. The doctors and midwives we called reassured us that bed rest is usually enough to prevent losing a baby. But when I see Amanda’s face I know that something is going wrong. The text message I didn’t read was from Amanda saying that she was having severe cramps. I call the others into the room and we pray. As we pray, I look down and see some embroidery work which Amanda has been working on. It is of a snake coiled around an apple. It seems that the bite in the apple is still fresh and poison is still in the fangs of the serpent… Amanda begins to miscarry. Pain in childbirth, the curse. She labors and tries to clear her womb. I monitor, take blood pressure and vitals, give medicine. But the second hour passes, the 500th ml of blood passes and yet the conceptus is not passed.
My phone will not let me call the Philippines to ask Vicki (the director of Mercy in Action) for advice. An internet chat program on my phone (which I had been trying to get working for months) miraculously starts working on the day I need it most. Vicki just happens to be online and we talk out our options. Amanda is stable but not delivering. The blood loss is getting very heavy… over 750ml.
8:30 p.m. I call for an evacuation. Ian and Cameron run for the stretcher. Tilak calls the village men as carriers. Elizabeth packs bags. I sit with Amanda and she is in good spirits despite the pain. BP normal. Pulse normal. But her blood loss hits 1000ml, 4 pints. I give her a shot of methergine to ratchet down her uterus and slow the blood loss.
Everything is ready for the evac but I need to set an IV line to prevent shock. Right as I begin to set the needle Amanda loses consciousness and begins to projectile vomit. Her BP drops to 60/30. Shock. She regains consciousness. I am trying to set the IV but her veins are collapsed. I say to myself, ” No, no! I’ve done this so many times for others, why can’t I do it for my wife.”
Elizabeth sees me deteriorating mentally and tells me repeatedly, ”Ryan you have to pull yourself together. You are the only one who can do this.”
This only makes me shake harder. Her arms are completely vein less; I’ve never seen anything like it. Attempting a small vein on each hand, they infiltrate. ”Amanda is going to die… there is nothing I can do.”
In Indiana Amanda’s Grandma is having special mass said for us. In the Philippines Vicki is awake in the middle of the night praying for Amanda. Across America the message is spreading and the faithful are folding their hands.
A faint memory from Boise, Idaho comes into my mind. ”Amanda I can’t get an IV drip going. I’m going to have to rig a rectal fluid replacement line. Some one get me some tubing and a bottle!”
Even in her stupor the midwife shines, ”Just yank the needle off the pipe and insert the tubing from the IV.”
Elizabeth helps me roll her over and I insert it up her rectum. She is laid on the stretcher and feet elevated. The first bottle of Ringer’s Lactate finishes quickly and a second is attached for transport. Her BP climbs to 75/40.
10:00 p.m. It has been raining all day… but now the rain chooses to stop. Scarf tied around her head, which is lying on a pillow from her bed, heaps of blankets, a double sheet used to lash her to the stretcher and a lungee around her waist. She could be Suk Maya. She could be Ratna. She is transformed into a village women before my eyes.
The village men, which I had given up on only 4 hours earlier, break social convention and pick up a younger women who is bleeding. They run down the paths of stone we’ve built together. Suren is sweating; I delivered his baby last year. Naren is grunting; I pronounced his mother dead after an aneurysm. Tekke holds the stretcher; I’ve fed his malnourished kids. Prakash runs; I helped frame his house. Ram Lal strains under the load; we teach his children. Amal, the pastor who has forsaken his wife and church trails along beside praying constantly. Bena relieves a tired bearer. Tilak and Binod grab hold of the rear. D.N. Sir lights the way with a Molotov cocktail. Sujeta calls a taxi. Deepa comes as a comforter. Elizabeth and Ian stay back with a sleeping Asher.
The trail is muddy from a day of monsoon. Men throw off their chappals and go barefoot for better traction. Their toes are stubbed on rocks, ankles grate against stone, their heels slip on gravel. They bleed for my wife as she bleeds out her 1500th ml. Their feet bleed for me as my hands have bled for them so many times. We run down trails our hands built together. We are led by a large smoking flame in the night. We are bound by blood and love.
A stethoscope is around my neck and BP cuff in my pocket. My torn work clothes are speckled and stained. I have them set Amanda down to check her vitals yet again. ”Ryan, I didn’t get to say good bye to Asher. What if I don’t see him again?”
We are in the bottom of the dark valley beside the Siri Khola bridge. The image of that snake and apple flash in my heart, but a messiah who is bleeding along with us raises his heel and smashes the serpents head. ”No, Amanda. There was no need to say good bye. You’ll see him again soon.”
Again and again I tell myself, “Her story is not finished yet. It is not finished yet.”
We climb the steep trail out of the dark pit. Atop the stretcher a faint voice says, ”Something big just came out. I think I delivered.”
11:30 p.m. We reach the road and our waiting vehicle. I turn to D.N. Sir, Bena, Teke, Ram Lal, Don Kumar, Ratan, Lalit, Prakash, Binod, Tilak, Amal, Naren and Suren and tell the tired sweaty men, ”The word dhanyabad is not enough.”
The door slams and the vehicle races over the rough stone road towards the hospital. Amanda’s bleeding approaches two liters (eight times a blood donation) and the rectal line is finished. Weakened, she cannot hold the retention enema any longer. We are both soaked in blood, sweat and waste. It seems like an eternity before we reach the Lodhoma PHC, but we’ve called ahead so that the doctors, instruments and room are ready.
Wednesday Morning 1:30 a.m. Annoyingly, the PHC is set at the top of a hundred plus stairs with no road access. It is the middle of the night and there is no one to carry the other side of a stretcher which we don’t even have with us. It is raining again. I put Amanda’s limp body on me piggyback and cover her with a blanket to keep off the precipitation. Like a strong man in some insane challenge, I race up the flights heavily laden. The lights are out, doors are locked… nothing is ready at the hospital. I scream curses into the black wet air. Deepa and Sujeta run to the doctor’s quarters and bring back the sleepy unprepared staff a while later. Rooms are slowly unlocked, lights are turned on and the doctor finally stumbles in. Amanda is led to a cold metal bed which is filthy and smattered with blood. I throw down one of our own blankets (which we carried all the way from Daragaon) to cover up their negligence. After helping Amanda out of her clothes and onto the bed I find our child in the folds of cloth. It is the smallest, most broken human being I have ever seen… my daughter. I lay her into an old bucket that looks as if it has not been cleaned in years.
In my heart I name her ‘Leaf Anjali Phillips’. In South Asia an anjali is an offering to God. A leaf is something transient, something which wilts in the sun, something which turns to dust, something which is blown away by the wind. For so many years I have been trying to cover my nakedness before God with a fig leaf. For so many years I have been trying to undue the fall with my diligence, my earnestness, my good works and my sacrifice. My daughter only existed for 14 weeks but in that short time she came and stole my fig leaf away. She is on her way to lay that leaf at the feet of God… an anjali on my behalf.
Amanda is also stripped naked before God. The doctor does not check vitals, manage her shock or pay much attention to her at all. The nurses are unable to set an IV, but the doctor somehow manages. Bugs fly in through the open windows attracted to the light. All the staff leaves to sterilize the instruments for a D & C procedure. I am alone with my wife for the first time in hours. She turns to me and says in a cool, calm, loving voice, “You know Ryan this is my worst nightmare. The entire time I worked in the Darjeeling hospital it was my greatest fear to be up on one of these tables. I know what is about to happen to me… I’ve seen it. But I was reading this week about compassion. I was reading and it said that we must enter into the pain of others to truly love them. Now I know what it means to be a village woman and now I know why I must get back to them.”
I stand speechless before my bride.
Finally, I muster the strength to say, “I guess once you have lived through your worst nightmare… what else could you possibly have to fear?”
Wednesday Morning 2:30 a.m. They drug her with IV anesthetic. It as if she is tied down. They make me leave the room even though I refuse. They begin to clean her womb and I can hear her screams from the other side of the building. I run to the door and peek through a crack. Amanda is mumbling in Nepali because of the drugs. The doctor works aggressively with his instrument, there is no gentleness. The procedure lasts forever. Her screams last forever. Dr. Mondal comes at and says, “Ok it’s finished.”
“Doesn’t she need a transfusion?”
“We can’t do one.”
“I’ve got the same blood type. I’ll give her my blood.”
“She’s 80% better already.”
“No she’s not. She could go into shock any moment.”
“Don’t worry. Don’t worry. You can replace up to 20% of your blood with saline and be fine.”
“How many liters of blood are in the human body?”
“She’s lost 2 liters…THAT’S 40%!”
A helper comes out and says, “Well, where are you going to sleep tonight?”
Looking out into the night with the monsoon rain pouring I say, “Well I thought here… at the hospital.”
Amanda has no shoes; she is shivering on the table unattended by staff. I go into the room. I dress her in clean dry garments. I feel as if I’m dressing my wife after she has been rape. A standardized medicinal rape with sterilized cold metal. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m OK. I jolted back out of the anesthesia after they started.”
“I know. I heard.”
“Lalit’s wife is going to deliver very soon. I need to get back to the village so that no one has to come here. I need to get back to my ladies.”
I stand speechless again… this time not just before my bride, but The Bride. The Bride of Christ.
I manage to arrange a bed in the hospital; a bed stained with blood and dirt. The pharmacist hands me a handful of odds and ends medications and says, “Here give her these. And again don’t worry. She’s 80% better already!” He gives no doses for the medications, good thing I know for myself. The doors are locked and lights shut off. Everyone goes home to their beds and leaves the patient unattended. I hold vigil all night checking her vitals and making her drink warm water.
In the morning the local church comes to get us. My bloody soiled clothes are exchanged for clean garments. They give us a place to stay and feed us beef soup and pork broth, eggs and vegetables. Amanda’s pressure vacillates wildly. Since there are no transfusions available, I stabilize her with feet elevations and salty soups. We talk about the past and the future. We enjoy each other’s presence as we have not in a very long time. Ways to improve the birth room and Swasta Kendra are discussed. New paths for living our lives together are built. A new foundation of stone is laid to build a place to house our love for each other and our community. The love that I had for Daragaon, which I thought had miscarried, is renewed. The church that we are so often at odds with nurses us back to health and shows its true face.
A child is the product of love filling a womb. Most people view a miscarriage as a destruction of that love… but it is not so. Faith, hope and love are never destroyed, only re-manifested. It is much like energy which is never destroyed only reallocated. Everything true and beautiful in my daughter ascended directly to the divine. In three short months she touched me more than almost anyone else I’ve met. All of her that was earthly, fleshly, weak and broken was discarded in a bin along with rags, needles, waste and old IV line. God spared her from having to endure this blink of an eye, which seems oh, so long to us. The beautiful thing about a miscarriage is that again you are gifted with a womb to fill with love. There is no emptiness, only newness. Kinetic energy is recycled into potential energy.
It will take Amanda several months to fully recover her strength. Yesterday, she finally stabilized. My promise was fulfilled… Asher ran into her room and gave her a hug and kiss. Instead of saying, “Good bye, sweetie” Amanda found herself saying, “Hey there sweetie.” It is her wish to be carried back to Daragaon on that same stretcher as soon as possible. We will leave our cabin and live in the Health Center so that Amanda doesn’t have to walk. I will wash her feet everyday, feed her nutritious foods, take her hemoglobin counts and give her vitamins. The women of Daragaon will come to her in their labor pains. They will not be treated with cold, sterile instruments and standardized care. They will be taken into the womb that I built for my own child. They will find hands of true, undiluted compassion. Their pains will be met with Amanda’s weakness, and love will be born. Love will be born again; love is always born again. Life will be born again; life is always born again.
Ryan, Amanda, Asher and Leaf Anjali Phillips