Fighting for Feeling (Five Month Update)

These past two weeks at the hospital are very difficult to put into words. I’ve seen new things, some I wish I hadn’t. My friends here who keep blogs have both already put some of those experiences into words, so I don’t feel the need to. Laura shares a bit about Esther, a patient of ours who passed away this week and the beauty of her final day on earth. Tanner shares honestly about the frustrations and stresses of working at the hospital. I really recommend you check them out, especially if you’re interested in seeing what cross-cultural missions or medical work is really like.

For my part, I’m grateful that these past two weeks are over.

Before you read too far, I want you to know that I’ve had trouble writing this post beacuse I know it’s not very encouraging. But I think it’s important that I share with you some of the honest struggles that I’ve come across living as a missionary cross-culturally. Also, as I share my struggles, I want to re-affirm to you that we all struggle. Following Jesus in the day to day is hard.

Anyways, I’ve been trying to take care with each day, living on purpose and learning to be fully in the moment that I’m in. You’ve probably heard the Jim Elliot quote “where ever you are, be all there.” It’s a lot harder than it sounds. Especially when you’re starting to daydream about hiking in the Adirondacks.

One experience that was very strange for me happened last week. Fair warning, it’s morbid. We had a full male ward with most of the patients battling terminal illnesses. We were in there making rounds when the nurses brought in a new patient. Dr. Joan looked over his file and his vitals, she told the family right then that he really wasn’t doing well. He died just a few hours later.

With the cramped spacing of the temporary male ward while the regular wards are being renovated, everything in the ward was forced to come to a stop. The man was officially declared dead and the family began to wail. Between the curtains, the gurney and the nurses there was literally no room to move or leave the ward.

With all the patients that have passed away in my time here, I have never seen the process for preparing a body for the morgue. But in that hour Laura and I were stuck with front row seats. With the family wailing outside it was a very somber and eerie experience. We never knew the man’s name.

Since that day three other patients from the male ward have passed away. A dear elderly lady named Esther who we’ve known for a few weeks passed away three days ago. Today another man from the male ward went to be with Jesus.

There’s a lyric to a song I was listening to that seemed to articulate the general sentiment of my reflection on the week. “It’s hard to be affected when it happens so often, to see a life unraveling… I’m sickened by compassion I’m stifled by my limitations, anesthetic apathy come take the pain away…”


It’s insidious. It sneaks in slow and creeps over the edges. A welcome numbness making it possible to get through the day.

Because it’s easier not to care. To not let your heart be impaled by what’s happening around you.

There was a visiting team here this week, about 20 first timers here to paint the male and female wards. Their interaction with patients was minimal, but they heard us talking a lot about the patients we were seeing that week and those we had lost.

It amazed me how impacted they were just by the stories. How moved they were by seeing the suffering of some of the kiddos in Peds. They spoke with tears about how it broke their hearts.

I was shocked even more at how far I’ve gotten from feeling the depth of those things… I was shocked by how numb I’ve become.

Apathy? Resignation to reality? Emotional overload? Probably.

It’s fitting in an ironic way that just as I’m trying to live Days on Purpose life gets intense to the point where it’s difficult to process everything that’s been happening.

It’s hard to get the most out of today when your thoughts are stuck in the past. How do you get un-stuck? I wish I knew.

I think it might have a lot to do with which direction we’re looking.

But for today, I’ll fight to focus on something bigger than myself, bigger than this past week and bigger than all the problems in Zimba.

For today, I’ll take a few steps back and breathe.

I’ll be thankful that I don’t have to know the answers and that it’s not my job to hold the world together.

Today I’ll look to Dr. Joan and the rest who keep fighting and let their example inspire me to do the same. They refuse to give into apathy, and so will I.

“No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.” Philippians 3:13


2 thoughts on “Fighting for Feeling (Five Month Update)

  1. Joann Palmer

    Dear Meg,
    Praying for you day by day that God will give you the strength and fortitude to be all that He wants you to be. You do continue to have the compassion you started with, yet you have needed to put the emotions aside in order to work with the sick and to do everything you have been called upon to do, to get you through these (I have so many words in my mind for these times, but not one is sufficient to add here) times. May the Lord give you strength to show His love through you for these folks, whom He loves.
    Just thinking of you and praying for you.


  2. Laura

    Meg, I worked beside you for 5 weeks and never saw a day of apathy. Not one. Your love and concern for the patients is so evident. I cried the entire flight from Livingstone to Joburg as if a wall had crumbled and I was allowed to fully feel the sadness of leaving and the heaviness of the things I’d seen and experienced. I started thinking about the numbness we talked about in Zimba and honestly, I think part of it is God’s grace for us to do the work that needs to be done. A huge part of our job is to love those who maybe haven’t been loved well in a while, laugh with those who maybe haven’t laughed in a while, provide hope to those who have probably felt the hope fade and can’t see past the weight of their condition, to remind Meester Bernerd that he still has a left lung, his blood cells are fine, and he has a second chance at life. I for one know I cannot do those things while at the same time feeling the height and depth of the daily heartbreaks. The patients looked to us for strength and encouragement and without the strength and grace of a mighty God, I would have been nothing but an emotional puddle everyday. God does not sway like our feelings so I see it less as a numbness and more of a protection from our own emotional instability. And now that I’m beyond Zimba, the floodgates are wide open and I’m thankful the feelings were dulled. Just thoughts 🙂 Keep on keeping on! Miss you sister!


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