I always tell my friends that I could deliver their babies because I have watched so many medical shows and feel as though I could easily find my way around a delivery room. Medical things don’t seem to bother me, and I actually in a weird way enjoy the craziness surrounding ER shows. Now I clearly know that watching medical shows and actually doing medical stuff doesn’t translate, but my point is that I’m not scared of this type of stuff. Bring it on, and I will take on the task like a champ.
Yesterday we witnessed SOLE HOPE welcoming in a handful of new children and adults to their outreach house and we knew that the next day we would be around when they went through the removal process. There is no way that I could have imagined what I would see today. No medical show, and no time in Haiti had ever prepared me for today.
As they were asking who wanted to shadow a person that was removing jiggers, so that they could do this the next day, my hand immediately shot up. I wanted to be a part of the removal. I wanted to get my hands dirty and remove some jiggers. I needed to be hands on during this time, or I wasn’t sure how I would handle it. Somehow I believed that if I was busy, then my heart wouldn’t hurt. I had no idea what to prepare for, but I thought surely my heart might hurt a little during this time.
The job that worked for me as I shadowed was to be a note taker. This job meant that I sat closely to the person that was removing the jiggers and noted everywhere that they removed a jigger. Every. Single. One.
What I didn’t expect was the sheer pain that these kids would be subjected to. The jiggers are under the skin, and so these workers are using safety pins and razor blades to remove them. They have tried other devices in the past 2 years and this is the way that seems to work the best. Each jigger is picked at and prodded out until it is removed. Each egg sac is picked at and prodded at until it is removed. I would relate this to getting a mole removed and having no pain medicine, no numbing medicine; strictly just cutting it out.
Sarah worked diligently on our patient, Pati, as she removed jiggers from both of his feet and one of his hands. His demeanor was so sweet and joyful. We handed him a “sweetie” (sucker) at the beginning and he refused to eat it, but yet just held on to it as if it was his prize waiting for him at the finish line. Maybe he needed something to look forward to, or maybe he couldn’t whimper in pain if he had a sucker in his mouth. Either way, it was his sucker and he could do whatever he wanted with it.
As Sarah was working on Pati for over 90 minutes I barely saw any tears come from his eye. This kid was tough and he was determined to be strong, either for himself, or his sweet younger brother sitting next to him who was releasing the flood of tears as the same procedure was happening to him.
A few times after Sarah removed an egg sac from his feet he smiled at her and said “thank you” in his native language. I began to sense his gratitude and when she was done with one foot, he told her that he would sleep much better tonight without the itching. Through all the pain, Pati knew that the benefits would far outweigh the pain. He was way stronger than I would have ever been. I have a sense that Pati doesn’t have an easy life, and that this was just another day for him.
A few spots down from me were two of the worst sights I have ever laid eyes on. A mother sat and held her three month old as the same procedure was done to their little toes and feet. You see, the baby had jiggers that had to be removed and as the mom held the child, they wailed and wailed unaware of the danger of the jiggers, but fully aware of the pain they were in at the moment. The mom sat stoic the entire time holding her baby without hardly making a move. I could tell her life has been hard and watching her baby scream in pain might not be the worst thing she’s seen in her young lifetime.
Next to the mom and child sat her son also brutally scramming and crying throughout his procedure. He too knew the pain that was being forced on him, but there was no way of explaining to him why this pain was necessary. Jiggers were destroying his feet, and the only way to rid him of them is through pain.
Justin held him as he let out all the tears he could muster over the most pain he might ever endure in his young lifetime. Screaming. Tears. The kind of crying from a child that actually hurts your gut. It makes you feel as though you have let this child down and can not save him and make him feel safe. Helplessness overcomes you and your soul feels as though it is might not make it through the next hour.
As I sat there taking notes for Sarah the emotions were too much for me to contain. My eyes became overwhelmed with tears and my body began a small shake as I tried desperately to keep in the tears. To hold myself together enough to continue on with my job. I wanted to do my job well, and I for sure didn’t want to get replaced because I couldn’t stop crying.
I continued to wipe the tears away, note the jiggers being removed, and my soul cried out to God for them. To hold them, protect them, and for them to feel Jesus near to them. Jesus too understands their pain, way more than I ever could, and so I began to beg God to be near to them in their struggle. Isn’t that what Jesus promises us; to never leave us nor forsake us. To comfort us in our weakness. To be our strength in our struggles. My prayer for those kids was to be comforted not only by human hands, but by the hands of their creator. The one that knit them together in their mothers wombs.
As a momma I hurt for these kids. The older boys hardly made a sound as the tears streamed down their faces. The silent cry sometimes hurts me more than the whaling. The cry that says “I want to be tough, but dammit this hurts”. Their cheeks were left stained with tears by the time the ordeal was over. Their whole body surely ached with pain, and I’m certain that they were out of tears towards the end of the removal. Their bodies were weak from the whole process.
After each kid around us finished we cheered for them, for they had just been through hell and now they were done. Medicine was placed on their feet, fresh clean socks, and brand new shoes from SOLE HOPE placed on their feet. Most of them having just endured so much pain, were actually smiling as we placed the shoes on their feet. For some of them, their first pair of shoes ever. Most days my kids can only find one of their favorite pair of shoes and so they cry because they have to wear their 2nd favorite. And if those were missing we could go on to their 3rd and 4th favorites, and these kids just received their first pair of shoes.
My emotions were rocked today and honestly I’m not sure if I’m ready to actually talk out loud about this. Typing these words brought the lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. To say the out loud would bring on the ugly cry, and who wants to see that.
I can't undo what I saw today. The sadness and the joy. It's the ultimate example of “it must get worst before it gets better”. These children's feet were in dire need of intervention and help, and today their jiggers were removed. It was painful, but it was so exciting to them as well. They will now sleep better tonight and every night here on after because now their feet are jigger free.
I wrote the above account the night after witnessing my first jigger removal clinic. Three weeks later, the emotions are still there when I recount what I saw and heard that day. The grossness of the jiggers, and the wails of their cries are still real to me. What else is real to me is the compassion that the people removing them had for them. What else is real to me are the smiles and laughters just minutes after they are given clean socks and shoes. What else is real to me is how YOU can be a part of this solution.
Here are a few ways you can get involved:
1. Share this post so others will know about the problem and the hope that SOLE HOPE is providing the people of Uganda. Click the share buttons at the bottom of this post to send to your FB and Twitter.
2. Go follow SOLE HOPE on all their social media outlets, (FB, Instagram & Twitter) and sign up for their newsletter. This way you will know every new thing that happens with them! You don't want to miss that!
3. Host a shoe cutting party. I hosted one before I left (Read about it HERE) and it was one of the easiest hands on ways I have ever helped an organization before. *Also, if you are in the Austin area email me and I'd love to stop by your party, share my experience, and help you out!
4. Finally they need money. Every organization does, and SOLE HOPE needs your help because they are embarking on big changes and opportunities ahead of them. I was blessed to see the new land they recently bought and this purchase and move is going to allow them to change generations of people in their community. Would you consider donating. $25, $50, $100, or even more. Every dollar matters.