“The open secret”

Blaise Pascal, Mathematician in Pensees (1660) “Now, what do we gain by hearing it said of a man that he has now thrown off the yoke, that he does not believe there is a God who watches our actions, that he considers himself the sole master of his conduct, and that he thinks he is accountable for it only to himself.? Does he think that he has thus brought us to have henceforth complete confidence in him and to look to him for consolation, advice, and help in every need of life? Do they profess to have delighted us by telling us that they hold our soul to be only a little wind and smoke, especially by telling us this in a haughty and self-satisfied tone of voice? Is this a thing to say gaily? Is it not, on the contrary, a thing to say sadly, as the saddest thing in the world?”
Luke 17:20 “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, “Here it is”, or “There it is”, because the kingdom of God is within you.”

Hearts and flowers?

The romantic life of a missionary… Today we spent the morning in a queue in the immigrations office, only to be sent to collect some more bits of paper from another office across town, who then sent us to get our original bits of paper translated again because our translations done in England don’t count, despite being stamped as legal by the Argentinian consulate in England. This afternoon found me piecing together in chronological order the phone calls and emails which occurred between ourselves and our insurance company prior to Martin’s operation. I guess it’s all part of the experience. Sometimes it’s kind of hard to see how any of this stuff relates to the kingdom of God, certainly feels way removed from the “boldly going” of Hudson Taylor and the others that they taught us about at college.

Prehistoric Legend

This weekend I made a monumental discovery. There are huge turtles in the duck-pond in the park. To understand the size of this discovery, you have to picture the scene a little…. This is a city the size of Birmingham. In this city, there is one smallish park shared between all these people. In the smallish park, there is a smallish man-made duck-pond, which also serves as a boating lake. It is filthy, it can be located by smell. And yet on Sunday morning, I saw five or six huge turtles like floating casserole dishes, covered in green slime, sunning themselves just under the surface of the soup-like water. It’s hard to believe anything could survive in that environment. I guess a creature hardy enough to weather the last ice age shrugs its shoulders at rusty bicycles and the odd shopping trolley.

The workman cometh

Fixing our bed is a bonding experience. Unfortunately the bed itself is lacking certain elements in the way of bonding, but “fixing the bed” has resulted in a succession of people from church making their way to our house. We have got through gallons of juice, coke, coffee, “mate” (indescribable Argentinian herbal infusion), and bucket loads of biscuits all in the name of “fixing the bed”.
On Sunday afternoon Josecito, wife Silvia, and two of their kids came round. He started the job, but unfortunately he didn’t have any tools. It is possible to do quite a lot with a bit of wire in Argentina, but fixing the bed proved to be beyond the limit. Josecito works three hours out of town in the week, and when he left, he managed to take some of the bolts from the bed with him.

On Wednesday morning, Ana and Chiquito came round with a bag of tools. But they weren’t fixing the bed, they were just leaving the tools for someone else to come later. But Josecito had taken the bolts from the bed, and he’s not back in town till Saturday. So I had to go and buy some new bolts ready for when Oscar came round to fix the bed.

On Wednesday evening Oscar came round. He drilled some holes, and chiseled out some grooves, and prepared all the pieces. When we tried to put it together, the middle bit, i.e the base, dropped out through the side pieces, limiting its usefulness as a means of suspending the mattress. So we took it all apart again, and left it against the wall so that he could come back tomorrow.

On Thursday evening, Oscar came round again. He drilled some more holes, and put a patch over one of the bits that he’d chiseled out yesterday, and fitted some dowling plugs between some of the pieces. And then it went together. It’s a little precarious, he has promised he’ll come back and re-inforce a couple of the slats, but we did sleep on it without incident last night.

On Saturday and on Sunday, they do no work at all,
So it was on a Monday morning that the gas-man came to call.

We haven’t dared tell anyone that the cold tap in the kitchen has stopped working…

And of course, if we weren’t such English plebs, we would just roll our sleeves up and get on with applying a bit of wire like everyone else.

The Snake in the Kitchen Incident

Well that’s kind of it really. A snake in our kitchen. Only a little one, more worm than snake sized, but undisputedly a snake. With a little snakey head. Took me by surprise, I didn’t even know there were snakes in the city of Cordoba. I mean I suppose I knew technically that there might be, even the UK has snakes, but snakes in the UK don’t normally go around disturbing innocent folk at lunch. I tried to put it outside with a dustpan, but it didn’t seem to like that idea very much, because it hid in the skirting board. And it’s still there as far as I know. I looked it up on the internet, and I don’t know what it is really. Probability suggests that it’s not harmful, but I’m still hoping it finds its way outside before it does too much growing.
The dog helpfully made herself scarce. And Martin’s been asleep most of the day. We were out with some friends at a BBQ last night to celebrate his resurrection from the Hospital Privado, which was good fun at the time, but probably falls into the category of running before walking if we’re honest, so today he’s been perfecting his ability to remain in a horizontal position.

Honourable Discharge

Monday 9th October… Not only were Dr Campos and his friend obliging enough to come and find us downstairs in the cafe this morning, but we even had our consultation there around the table, holding up our x-rays to the light from the window while we sipped coffee.
They showed us the x-rays which we’d had taken yesterday, they are very impressive, showing the operation site with the bone-graft, and titanium plate. We weren’t really sure how it all fitted together, but now we can see the bone graft where his vertibrae used to be, and the titanium plate about 8cms long, running over the top of everything down the front of his neck, held in by three screws like medical mecano (cousin of Frankenstein…)

The medics are very pleased with how it has gone, looking at him as an artist might admire their own work. Apparently this is a bigger version of the operation that they normally carry out as it involved replacing three vertibrae where it would usually only be one. They also said that they have never come across anyone who had the nerve to the larynx on the wrong side before. Someone else has already suggested that this might be Martin’s IT wiring.

Martin’s walking is much better, a sort of stiff legged waddle. The hip is causing him the most pain where they took the bone graft. Dr Campos said “we’ll leave him with a sore hip that as a reminder to look both ways before he crosses the road”. Makes us think of Jacob in the book of Genesis (32:25 if you want to look it up.)

And with that, they let us go. We had to go and sign out in admissions, where we were kissed and hugged by the office staff there (only in Argentina… we love it!)

So here we are at home, where the dog was delighted to see Martin. We have to go back to outpatients on Friday to have the stitches removed from the neck and hip, and he will be wearing the neck-brace for the next three or four months while it all solidifies. The next job is to get the bed fixed, we’re currently in “mattress on the floor” mode, after our orange-box bed collapsed a few weeks ago. Someone was going to come and fix it over the weekend, but timing is often kind of fluid around here. MaƱana…..

Saturday in the Hospital Privado

“A few years ago, I had a scary encounter with a masked man, wielding a knife. I remember him with gratitude though, since he was an orthopaedic surgeon to whom I paid thousands of dollars to correct some problems with my left foot.” Philip Yancey in “Rumours of another world”
Skills and aptitudes can be used in many ways, depending on circumstance, context and opportunity. While we were waiting for Martin to come out of surgery on Thursday, our friend Ana said that a kid from a villa (shanty town) who proves to be good with a knife might be sent out to hold people up at cash-machines, while the same kid if his parents could afford to wait while they learn a trade might become a butcher, and the same kid if the family could afford to see them through years and years of studying might have to opportunity to make it as a surgeon.

Today I arrived at the hospital to find Martin raring to get out and see the world. So we asked the junior doctor if we could go down to the coffee bar, she said “it’s probably best if you don’t tell anyone”. So down we went. His walking is improving, at the moment it’s a sort of sideways shuffle, a cross between Quasimodo, and a crab with bunions.

Sometime later, Dr Campos and the posse arrived in Martin’s room, and found us missing, so the junior doctor told them where we were, and came to fetch us. We headed up in the lift back to the ward, at the same time as Dr Campos et al were heading down in the other lift to the cafe, c.f. Hoffnung “half way down, I met the barrel coming up…” Unlike Hoffnung’s barrel though, we missed each other completely.

When the medics eventually caught up with us, we were surprised to see them dressed in mufti. Apparently they do a brief round of their own in-patients at weekends unless there’s an emergency, so they called in to see how the walking etc was going, and then they were off for a game of tennis.

Diary from the Hospital Privado

This is a little diary of our experiences over the last couple of days at the Hospital Privado…
Wednesday 4th October

Wednesday afternoon Martin was safely (sanely?) admitted to the Hospital Privado. In the end this was mainly due to good will on the part of the hospital, as the insurance company, a bunch of muppets who shall henceforth be known as “lets go find another insurance provider”, were still messing around until lunch-time today.

Priscilla, Dany and I went with him to make sure he didn’t escape. He has his own room, 302 on the third floor. There was a little picture of a cherub on the wall. Priscilla said “he’s there to protect you”, Martin said “he seems a little immature for the task in hand”.

A succession of medics came and poked and prodded. This was followed by a visit from Dr Campos, who brought the rest of his team to meet us. Martin was delighted when Dr Campos said he was allowed dinner tonight, and fluids till midnight, poor guy had understood he was going on starvation.

Thursday 5th October

We arrived at the hospital at 0700. Priscilla went to give the outstanding unit of blood, I went up to see Martin. He was waiting to be unattached from his line so that he would go for his shower. They took him down to theatre at about 0815, and told us to come back in about four and a half hours.

We went and drank coffee, walked the dog, drank more coffee, and were back in the waiting area at 1230. Ana arrived at 1300. Nothing happened. We asked at the desk, but they didn’t know anything and they can’t communicate with the theatre. Time crawled slowly along. We drank more coffee and played guessing games in English about the other people in the waiting room.

Finally, at about 1645 Dr Campos appeared in his theatre greens. “He nearly killed me” he said “But it went really well, and he’s just been talking to me in Spanish”. “Martin talking spanish?” We said, “That’s not an operation, that’s a miracle”. Dr Campos told us that the operation took seven hours instead of the usual five because they found a nerve running somewhere where the anatomy books don’t, so they had to do the whole operation around it and under it without touching it, like one of those kids’ games. Martin’s never been one for following the rule book…

Despite the difficulties Dr Campos and the team seemed pleased with themselves. Martin was also rather euphoric, combination of the drugs and the sheer relief of finding all his bodily parts intact. They had orginally warned us that he might need some time in intensive care, but in the event, he went back to his room on the normal ward with his various tubes and drains attached, and by the evening he was eating jelly! He has some attractive bruising around his head and nose, where they’d clamped him into place, and his hip is sore where they took the bone graft, but so far at least the neck is not hurting him at all.

Friday 6th October

Today we’re both pretty tired, but things have gone really well. All the positive aspects of Martin’s natural stubborn-gittery have come into their own. This morning they sat him up, and took out most of his drains and attachments, so he’s just left with one line into his arm now, and he’s eating fine. Dr Campos and the guys came to see him this afternoon, they are definitely in self-congratulatory mode very pleased with how it’s gone and how he is doing. They stood him up and tried out some walking, and depending on how things go over the weekend, they’re hoping to be sending him out early next week. Priscilla and Dany came in this afternoon, and we have received so many emails and phone calls from family and friends on both sides of the pond, we feel very cared for indeed.

The dream of Sister Josefina

Hospital Rawson is one of the last places on earth that I would want to end my days. It is the public institution for long-term and terminal conditions here in the city of Cordoba. Hospice care has not yet taken off in Argentina, so many people with cancer, AIDS or cardio-pulmonery disease will spend their last few months in a hospital ward, even after treatment has been stopped. The government health system is strapped for cash, they spend as little as possible on “hopeless” cases, so in the Hospital Rawson it is normal not to be able to find a working wheelchair, or blankets and pillows.
Just across the road in the children’s hospital, churches and secular charities fall over each other to stock the playroom and put on shows for the kids, but at the Hospital Rawson volunteers are a rare commodity. Our church has had a programme of hospital visiting for a couple of years, which has not been particularly well supported, but Patricia and I have been going together to the Rawson once a week. Recently we had a campaign to encourage more church members to join the “team”, and it was thus that five of us met in the doorway of the hospital last Thursday.

As we were sitting on a bench giving our new members a brief introduction to the hospital, an elderly nun approached and asked what we were doing. When we told her, she said “my dream has been realised” and the tears poured down. What was her dream? This amazing lady has been walking these corridors on her own for more than twenty years, sitting with patients as they die, praying with people, befriending the families, helping to find basic resources like clothes and toiletries. She even used to live here, until she lost her sight and moved out to a convent, but she still walks these corridors. Her dream and her prayer is that there might be a team to take over her work when she has gone. I don’t think we could even begin to match her single-handed perseverance of the last two decades, but may God send workers and make us faithful to the tasks he has prepared for us.