On Saturday, after 24 hours, I was sure, Elmer, his family called him “Boy”, would die. He was hardly conscious. He wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t drink. I was sure his lungs were full of fluid. After every coughing fit, I would hold my breath to see if he kept on breathing.
I called for his family to come. Two sisters arrived and sat on stools on the other side of the room. They didn’t call to him, didn’t talk, and the saddest of all, didn’t touch him. It was worse having them there and I told them they could leave. I would sit with him and inform them later when he died.
Alone in the room, I knelt beside his bed and talked. I asked many questions not expecting any answers. I told him of Jesus’ love, of the mansions in glory. I prayed over him and for him. I asked God for mercy.
It was a few hours later, I had left the room, when one of the boys told me he was eating.
That happened several times over the next 12 hours… he asked for bread and warm milk. His stomach caused him so much pain and I tried so many times to give him medicine. He refused everything. All food… all medicine. He moaned and moaned. His arms hurt. His back. His stomach. His lungs. His heart.
Quietly, in the shadow of the lamplight, I rubbed his arm. Then his tummy. Then his back. There was a sense of waiting, really, for him to die. He wanted food, then he didn’t. Water, then no. He wanted to go home. Then couldn’t get out of bed. He was in agony. Finally, I decided it was time to force him to take some pain relievers.
He knocked the pills out of my hand and swore at me. I raised my eyebrows. Obviously the bread had helped him rally. This happened a few times and I had been cursed plenty. I was okay until the cold cup of water went all over me. That was the last straw.
Leaning over the counter, I started to pray. I didn’t know what to do. “You’re just trying to kill me,” he growled hoarsely. I can’t explain it, but something reared up inside of me. I whirled around much to everyone’s surprise. My eyes were flashing. “You want to fight? All right! We’re gonna fight, Elmer!”
I looked at the young helpers that surrounded me; Five 20-year old short-term volunteers from North America, and my 3 most solid DAVID Boys. Unanimously, they wanted to try to save him, whatever the consequences.
He looked surprised as I barked a few orders to the girls who up until that point had been standing very soberly around his bed. I dug in my medicine cupboard for the Tuberculosis meds I knew I had. I found a syringe and loaded it with the meds we use in conjunction with oral TB medication.
Suddenly Elmer was on the floor begging. “Please, no shots! I can’t take it! There’s nothing left of me. Please. You’re going to kill me!”
Oral meds. He spit them at me. I got more and he clenched his jaw shut. Little did he know my expertise at force feeding. I forced his head back against his pillow and pried his lips open. Wide-eyed, he had no choice but to swallow. He swore at me again. I gently tried to once more get him to drink. He knocked the glass to the floor, more cursing that brought on another coughing fit.
We held him down and I gave the injection in the tiny bit of muscle that remained on his arm. He screamed and cried.
It was done. The room silent. Then we prayed for the medicine to make a difference, to make Elmer better.
He collapsed against me, his breathing frighteningly shallow. I put my arms around him and steadied him. His body shuddered as he sobbed. “Oh, ma’am, I just can’t do this.”
“Yes you can, and yes you will,” I said, with force. I knelt down on the floor in front of him, his face in my hands.
Where was his mother? His 7 siblings… it’s not like he had no family. They just didn’t care whether he lived or died. He was a hopeless drug addict that was unloved. No one believed anything could be any different.
I held his eyes. “Elmer, please. I’m fighting for you. I believe God can heal you. Please fight with me. Don’t give up.”
Tears burned my cheeks. I put my arms around him as he sat frozen; his head down, his frail arms grasping his bony knees.He lifted his head slowly, painfully. I was embarrassed of my tears. He stared at me, his own cheeks wet and for the first time he really looked at me. “Please, Ma’am, help me. Please.”
I lifted him back onto the pillows. I turned on the oxygen and tucked his blankets around him. He laid his head back, exhausted. His attention, once again turned to simply breathing. Quietly I stroked his head until he seemed to be settled. My heart was heavy. God forgive me. I have been waiting for him to die. I don’t have the right to decide when to fight for life and when to simply wait for death. I never prayed. I never asked. Lord, this is your child. I will love him and do my best to help him. Not my will, O God, but yours.
I left the room unsure of what tomorrow would bring but knowing God was now in control and whatever happened, it would be all right.