Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Broken

Woman after woman comes into the exam room bringing her designated plastic sheet, folded neatly. She unfolds it, presses out the creases, and places it on the table. Then she follows the nurse’s instruction to sit atop the shiny plastic. The history takes a few minutes, telling her pattern of uncontrolled leaking. Sometimes stool, sometimes urine, sometimes both. Then the story takes fleshly, human form as we examine. By this point, often she is sitting in a pool of urine, it shifts and splatters on the plastic beneath her with every movement.

The line outside the door is filled with similar stories. One normal occurrence – getting pregnant and giving birth – and everything changed. Left life shattered, leaking, foul. Drip. Drip. Drip. Always cleaning but never able to be clean. Most have been left by husbands, rejected from society. The odor wafts strongly in and out with each patient. They knew that there was a problem, but never had the money to get it fixed. But thankfully, now they have heard of this opportunity for free treatment, and they have made the trip. Some from near, some from far. All ages – young, embarrassed teenagers with recent births sitting beside old, wrinkled women who have borne their shame for decades. Each with desperation, and each with hope.

Days later that hope is mixed with fear as she walks to the operating room door. Her longing for continence, for normalcy stirs within to overcome the anxiety as she lifts herself onto the operative bed. Spinal is placed for anesthesia, legs flexed back into the gynecology stirrups. And the repair is begun.

My surgery skills are enough for the easier ones. On those, I operate while an experienced fistula surgeon assists. But many are beyond me. Those are scarred, fibrotic fistulae, in difficult to reach places, with much higher risk for failure after the procedure. On these patients I assist while an extensively experienced surgeon operates. I watch their hands perform from the creativity of their imagination, combined with years of training and experience. For a moment, I occasionally am jealous, wishing that I had the same level of skill. But after a second passes I return to the reality that life doesn’t work that way. We all start novice, and time brings us expertise as our hair grays. I focus again to learn from the experts, watching their thoughts work themselves out with the throw of each stitch. Some time later, she rolls on the stretcher back to the fistula ward, with hopes of being a new woman, a restored woman.

The next morning we pass by to see each woman. “Dry” is translated by the nurse, though often the patient’s smile needs no translation. Sometimes there is disappointment, but most often cautious joy. Sometimes overwhelming, unrestrained joy. It is amazing to see the soul stirring in a woman whose body has been restored to what it was meant to be.

A picture of renewal. We all need renewal, restoration. We all need Something beyond us to make us who we were meant to be. For most of us, we hide behind our own strengths, masking our weaknesses, insecurities, and failures. We feign wholeness, pushing brokenness out of sight into the recesses of our minds and flesh. Sometimes we even buy into the idea that we are okay. We are good. We have forced self-discipline, we’ve grasped success, we’ve made something of ourselves. But all it takes is one phone call, one doctor’s visit, one screech of metal on metal, and our fragility is exposed fully, laid bare and open. A deep cut from the normal occurrences of life, and we are left hemorrhaging, empty. Suddenly our awareness of our lack of sufficiency becomes acute. Sometimes that is what it takes to break our fa├žade. To realize that our deepest needs are beyond our ability to supply. We all need restoration deeply in our souls. And thankfully, God offers us that. Through Christ, He has made a way to be renewed, made right. What we could not be with all our effort, He has made us – sufficient and whole.


These women, with brokenness unable to be hidden from the harsh eyes of the world, are finding healing. They have called out for help, and help has come. We delight to see their once known, then lost, now restored body with all its function. Theirs is easy to see. How I long for the rest of us to have eyes opened to know our brokenness, to realize our desperation, to call out for the One who offers help. The tears of the saints for generation after generation have been for restoration of the brokenness around us. A restoration better than intact flesh or function, rather one of the individual man to the God who made him. I praise Him for being a God who restores. And I am thankful that He allows us to be instruments of restoration in His hand. 

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