Monday, February 22, 2010


I've had my first experience with gangrene. Everything you've ever heard about it is true. It's horrible.

We know a man here who has been paralyzed for about 15 months, after a bamboo tree fell on him in the jungle.

We've helped him off and on over the last year. Treated bed sores, treated various infections. We took him to the hospital for a check up and therapy.

Two weeks ago, his sister-in-law told me that we wasn't doing well, so Josh and I stopped by. Even before we got up onto the porch, we could smell the gangrene. I asked him to uncover his legs, and one glance told me this man was in bad shape.

So, for a week I went to his house every day. Sometimes twice a day. Some of my co-workers came with me to help dress his wounds. It was so bleak. This poor man, covered in sores. Some the size of a grapefruit. Black, oozing, reeking.

And yet, what made me cry almost every day was the hopelessness. His family has given up on him. He can't do anything to help himself. He was thankful for the medical help, but it's when we would wash his face for him, or pat his head that he would burst into tears.

Eventually, I had to tell him, 'Manong (older brother), you will die if you don't go to the hospital. I am out of medicine, and I'm not a doctor. Even if I came every day for a year, this wound probably wouldn't heal. When I come back in the morning, you need to tell me what you and your family have decided. Will you go to the hospital? It's free, and we'll pay for you to get there.'

In the morning, he told me, 'I can't go. My family won't agree to it.'

So, he will die.

Now, I stop by about once or twice a week. Sometimes with potatoes, or a bit of rice. Last time with my friend, Mrs. Pems, who brought toys for the kids. But, we don't clean his wounds. We just show that we care.

And the smell is back. So is the swelling. Last time I visited, his nephew was waving a plastic bag over his legs to keep the flies away.

I suppose I'll be attending a burial soon.

I've certainly learned a lot, though. I've learned that I have limits. I'm not a doctor, and I can only do so much. I've also learned that I can't force people to make the right decision. I can help, I can make suggestions, I can encourage, but I can't force. I've learned that life on earth is smelly and painful and full of tears and helplessness, but that there is a hope and future for those who are willing to receive it. I've learned that I long for heaven more than I'm even aware of on a daily basis. I've learned that there is still purpose in treating an untreatable sickness. That even if the wound doesn't heal, the care soothes the soul.

That's what gangrene has taught me.