A letter from Jodi McGill in Malawi
Someone recently asked us to write about a situation where we saw God at work. I (Jodi) couldn’t give a response. I thought about that a lot. Then I realized I was thinking to be able to illustrate God at work, we needed to describe some very profound, almost mystical moment that we had experienced or witnessed. However, it is through our daily experiences that we most often appreciate God’s presence.
You know that feeling of frustration that comes when the little, and not so little, things we need to take care of daily life or to manage small crises aren’t available, and they should be? For example, you start to take a shower and aagh – there is no soap, or maybe shampoo, or maybe no towel is in the bathroom. Or you have a flat tire and the jack or the tire iron, the one that is ALWAYS in the back of the trunk, isn’t there. Well, imagine most of your day, nearly every day, encountering those frustrations. It can generate creativity, flexibility, innovativeness, and a realization that maybe that item you thought was so essential really isn’t. On the other hand, sometimes you can feel like giving up and start feeling your efforts are futile and useless. In my case, I can go through both, sometimes within minutes of each other.
One of my responsibilities as a clinical instructor is to assess the clinical competency of students. The initial critical assessment for the first year students is Total Patient Care. They are responsible for one patient for the equivalent of two workdays. It involves all aspects of care for the patient and the full complement of nursing plans, interventions and documentation. Two of several aspects of the assessment are a head-to-toe physical examination and a bed bath under my supervision. The students are required to have at the bedside at least a blood pressure cuff, stethoscope, thermometer, gloves, clean linens, and water. They are to obtain from the patient, if available, soap, towel, washcloth, and toothbrush and toothpaste.
A not untypical assessment goes something like this: “Sister Jodi I am supposed to take the patient’s temperature but the thermometer is broken/has no battery/has been borrowed by…”, “I am supposed to put to on clean sheets but the hospital doesn’t provide any sheets at all, and the family washed the cloth they brought to use as a sheet, and it has been raining so it is still wet so I will put the patient’s dress under them instead.” “I am supposed to give a bed bath today but there is no water.” “I am supposed to…”.
I mark the student both on what he/she actually did and on their ability to list what they would have done and how they would have done it, if they had had what they needed. This is when I go from frustration to awe and begin to appreciate God’s hand. The students and the hospital nursing staff are able to improvise for everything – even down to tying an IV cannula onto a patient’s arm because there is no tape to hold it in place. Not having what you need to do your job can wear your enthusiasm and your expectations down and make you less caring, both of the quality of the tasks and people for whom you do them. It can also bring out aspects of your skills and your heart that you had no idea you even possessed.
Sometimes, it is not supplies that are missing but actual physical human beings. At the hospitals here and in other places, patients must have a guardian who can stay with them throughout their hospitalization; someone to cook for them, as the hospitals generally do not provide food, and if the hospital does provide food, it is minimal. Someone to help them get to the toilet, to wash whatever bed linens are available, to call for the nurse when the IV fluid bag is empty or the patient has a problem.
A patient that one of the students was caring for was coming from a bleak and violent home situation. She had moved to this area with her husband, and her home village was a considerable distance away. She was very ill, and the only person she had as a guardian was her 9-year-old daughter. It was a sad and difficult situation, yet with the help of the hospital staff who provided some of their own lunch, and the other guardians who helped with the physical tasks too heavy or challenging for the daughter, the patient managed to receive the care she needed. Someone even helped the girl with her times tables for a few days during their admission, since she was missing school to care for her mother.
God provides the ability to persevere during bleak or seemingly futile times. Our ability to be innovators, to make do, to be able to create comes from the Creator. God gives the love to continue caring about doing the best you can, and has provided us the example of giving the best you have for others.
As we approach Advent, we think of the Christ’s earthly family. They improvised and were able, through God’s provision, to use a stable, manger and rough cloth as a first home for Jesus. We pray that you, your family, your church, and your community may all experience the Messiah’s presence, strength, fortitude, and joy, and that you may be able to utilize His gifts to you, whatever form they take, to serve others.
Thank you for your prayers, emails, care packages, and financial support. You can read more about our work and see other newsletters as well as give towards our support at www.pcusa.org/mcgill-james-and-jodi/
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