This morning I was reflecting on our time last year in Burundi, and remembered a particular moment that I am not sure I ever shared in a blog post. It was an afternoon during Reanimation (critical care) rounds, and I was seeing patients with my 6 medical students. There was a patient, a middle aged man, who was very sick with tuberculosis. We were seeing him together in the "isolation" ward. I put "isolation" in quotation marks because if you have ever been in an isolation ward in an American hospital, this is nothing like that, but is rather a building separate from the rest of the hospital, with open windows to facilitate good ventilation.
The man we were seeing was sitting up in his bed gasping for air. There was no oxygen in the hospital that week to give to him. After discussion with the internal medicine team, it was thought that he might have a pericardial effusion (a collection of fluid compressing his heart) as a result of his tuberculosis. It seemed to me that if we could do an echocardiogram with our ultrasound machine, we could decide if this was part of his problem and potentially remove some of this fluid. This MIGHT help his breathing. However, in order to do this test, I would need him to lie down. He said if he was to lie down, he could not breath at all. I told the students that if we could at least get him into a reclining position (maybe 45 degrees) I could do the exam. However, the beds in Kibuye are not adjustable. You are either sitting up or you are lying down. I could not think of a solution to this problem, and so I looked at my group of students. One of them had come up with a solution.
He took off his white coat. He climbed into bed and seated himself behind the patient, then put his arms around this man's waist and gently leaned him back against his chest, so that I could do the echocardiogram. It was hard for me to not let myself cry as I watched him do this. This patient was sweating, he had likely not had a shower for weeks, he was HIGHLY infectious with tuberculosis. And this student made himself into a human pillow, so that we could do the exam we thought needed to be done.
As I think about this afternoon, two thoughts keep churning in my head.
What this student did was so beautiful to me, because I saw in it a picture of the Gospel. I saw in what he did a reflection of the work of Jesus Christ, who took off His kingly robe, and embraced those who would believe in Him. He ate with sinners, he washed the filth covered feet of His disciples, He invited dirty little kids to come and sit on His lap. He humbled Himself out of love and compassion for His people.
The second thought is this. We are moving to Burundi to teach, train and disciple African medical students. And as much as I like to think that one of things I am going there to teach is compassion, oftentimes, it is they who are teaching me compassion. To be honest, I would not have done what this student did. I am far too selfish and too concerned with my own health and my own cleanness. I am grateful for the example he was to me. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with students like this, who are bright and compassionate, students who are, in my eyes, heroic.