"You have to know your limitations, we are not God." my teammate said. My eyes were red, from too many sleepless nights by being on call. They were getting redder and a bit moist. Yes, I knew, but he was dying, right in front of us. His eyes were rolling upwards and saliva was drooling from the corner of his mouth. His left leg seemed to be exploding in proportion of his tiny body from the remarkable swelling since the deadly snakebite. The venom was paralyzing him and soon he would stop breathing. I injected him with painkiller. No, we could not save his life - there was no anti-venom in the whole region. We could only alleviate his pain. A three-year-old boy failed his four-day battle against the poisonous snake venom in his body. His family chose to go to a traditional healer who tied his ankle with a tight string, further jeopardizing the blood circulation. By the time they realized it did not work and brought him to us it was already too late. I stood there while the memory of the eight-day old baby dying from the painful seizures of neonatal tetanus one night before was still haunting me. The images of the death of painful seizures versus the death of paralysis were fighting for their spaces in my brain. The moments of frustrations. Tears dropped down on my face as I walked out the ward. I admitted I had underestimated the stress of being the only doctor in a faraway region. It was painful to face the suffering of another human being, but it was a very different kind of pain when you felt that you were responsible to stop it but you could not- the overwhelming feeling of being defeated and helpless. Doubts as well - self doubts- the patient is not getting better, there must be something you have done wrong, or you have not done, or maybe you have done too late or not enough... My nurse teammate, one of the strongest girls I have ever met, reassured me, "Bea, please stop thinking too much. Don't shoulder things you should not. No one could have saved this child." My field coordinator padded my shoulder and put his fist on my chest, "Be strong, we are with you." I was always blessed with people who gave me courage in moments of weaknesses. This was my second mission with MSF and I was serving in a refugee camp at the border area of Sudan and South Sudan – the newest nation in the world. The conflict and tension between the two sides did not die with the birth of the nation. Families fled from the daily bombings in Sudan to seek for safety in the camp situated not faraway from the border. We were there to set up a 15-bed hospital and I was the only doctor for a population of approximately 20,000. Painful memories are the best to learn from as human tend to run them many times in their minds trying to figure out what really happened and what could have been the alternatives. Before I finished my mission, pregnant women were receiving anti-tetanus toxoid which is the most effective way to prevent neonatal tetanus. We had also acquired anti-tetanus immunoglobulin and were waiting for the anti-snake venom we ordered in the preparation for the next patients we possibly would encounter. Although these diseases remain fatal when delayed, we are ready to offer our best in the midst of limitations. We believe not merely in magic but in making changes with actions.

Usana and her family.
Photo source: Bea LAU

And we did. I remember looking at the ward: Usana, a malnourished three-month-old baby girl who arrived very sick was waking up from her 3-day coma. When Usana tried to hold hand with her handsome twin brother Asun, he giggled. Her loving mother was glimmering with pleasure when she embraced and breastfed her now healthy babies. She herself was recovering from a painful breast abscess after our surgical treatment and was also regaining energy after many nights of worries and fears. Her other four-year-old daughter was running around laughing with her right leg burn wound nicely taken care of. The father of the family however was absent as he was busy being a soldier in the frontline and had sent the family away from the war-torn homeland as refugees in this camp. The mother and the children were struggling to survive with the atrocities and had arrived in our facility heavily burdened with sicknesses. We could not end the conflict but we pledge to heal the sick. “I shall have as a major focus in my life the promoting of a better world in which to live. I shall strive to take a comprehensive approach to understanding all aspects of life. To become the Healer I wish to be, I must expand my thinking and practice from a system of episodic care to one of a preventive approach to the problems of mankind, including the social ills of malnutrition and poverty that plague the world in which we live. I am not a God and I cannot perform miracles. I am simply a person who has been given the rights and responsibilities to be a Healer. I pledge to myself and all who can hear me that this is what I shall become.” - from The Oath of the Healer by Louis WEINSTEIN

Comments (4)

  • anon

    It is a great sharing.Thanks!!Be strong and support all the doctors in MSF always!!!I will try my best to spread the LOVE message to heal the world.

    Feb 14, 2012
  • anon

    You've already done a great job, nevertherless, we need to face the cruel and painful reality. Doctors are human, too.

    Feb 15, 2012
  • anon

    Hi bea, very touching story! I`m so proud of you , hope you are well! Like to remember the work we did together in Bijapur!

    Feb 19, 2012
  • anon

    Hi Bea, It's Friday afternoon after a heavy week in the office, and I just read your blog. Somehow you made me feel a little bit better: there are more pressing issues than my day to day concerns. So you healed me a bit too. Keep going. Cheers, Dxxx

    Feb 25, 2012

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