Salima, Malawi … It is often small, unexpected things that lodge in your memory, only to resurface and overwhelm you with emotion just when you least expect it. It can be a word spoken, a smell, a taste, a gesture, or a view. Because I am not a medical professional, every time I enter a Malawi government hospital I must prepare myself for the overwhelming impact I will experience. To say the least, the horrendous conditions, and tragic suffering that goes with a 3rd world hospital, are difficult, if not nearly impossible, for me to handle. Many who have traveled with us over the years leave well before the tour is complete, unable to process what they are seeing. Every time I do it again I must hold back the tears, struggle with the raw emotion that claws at my heart, and remind myself it would be worse if we were not here. Every time I walk the halls I plead for the answer as to why there is so much injustice in the world? Why must they suffer so? Why not more supplies donated? Why does the world not care enough to do something? Why does the suffering go on, and on, and on?
Now I am again faced with the pain of seeing the lack of resources as we enter the dark, dingy halls and wards of an African hospital. It is the first hospital on this trip, and we are showing members of our board of directors, and guests from Mobility Worldwide, the conditions in a government hospital in eastern Malawi.
Getting Prepared for the Scene
I thought I was prepared. After all, I had seen it many times before. Because I had tried to prepare myself as we exited the vehicles, it did not hit when I wadded into the flood of humanity crowding the halls, waiting for care. It did not strike as I looked into the overflowing patient rooms, where dozens of people were crammed into the space where only six or eight should have been. Nor did it impact my emotions as I looked out a window at a large group of family caretakers clustered together on the hospital grounds I knew they would be there. They are always there, and I already factored in the expressions of exhaustion I knew would be on their faces as they sat on beaten down grass, waiting to prepare the next meal. I am ready, as painful as it is, to see children laying on the hard concrete floor, some asleep, some in pain, some no more than three or four years old, many too sick to raise their heads at our passing.
Again, I expect this. These scenes have been too evident for too many years.
Catching Me Unexpectedly
This time it is something else. It catches my attention, pulls at my heart, and chokes me with emotion. Like I said at the beginning, it is often something unanticipated, something unexpected, something that makes you choke back the tears, because you are unprepared for its ambush on your senses.
Turning a corner I am face to face with the image that impacts me so unexpectedly. It is the shattered glass panels in the doors leading to the men’s ward. Somehow this scene becomes symbolic of the broken system, the shattered lives, and the mountain that is almost too big to climb. Somehow it reflects everything we have seen, and are seeing, in this shattered, broken hospital. It so vividly reminds me of the lack of patient care, too few resources, and not enough medical staff in every ward, down every hall, looking back at us from every room.
It is not a place where the staff is ready and waiting to help, cabinets are full of supplies, and rooms are sterile, clean and welcoming. On the contrary it is where drugs, supplies and equipment are unavailable, inadequate, and broken. It is seen in the doors of broken panels.
It is the view of those two panes of broken glass that imprint their image on my heart on this trip inside a Malawi hospital.