Monday, April 4, 2011

Parents are the same around the world

It was the day after Christmas in 2000, just over 10 years ago, when my very pregnant wife called and told me that she thinks her water has broken. (Thinks? How can you not know? But that’s a story for another time.) I dashed home to pick her up and off we rode to the hospital, where my heroic wife delivered a healthy boy, our first born. We had our normal three-day stay in the hospital and went home to learn the ropes of first-time parents.

Fast forward four months after our first born's birth and halfway around the globe to a little village called Londiani in Kenya. I was there on a mission trip to help the people in this beautiful town figure out how to finance and install a water treatment plant. Back then, everyone drank from the same dirty river. Every day the women and children of Londiani would tote what looked like gas cans to the river, fill them up for cooking and drinking and washing, then lug them back home. Amazing what we take for granted in the U.S.!

It was in this little village that I met John and Elizabeth. They were Kenyans, born and raised –and interestingly enough, they came from two different tribes, well known locally for not getting along. But they had a wonderful marriage. That too, is topic for another blog post. If memory serves, Elizabeth was the only nurse working at the only health clinic for miles around. A couple of times a year, the Londiani clinic would receive a visit from a doctor, but the majority of healthcare for an entire county-sized area fell onto Elizabeth’s capable shoulders.

She was an amazing woman, and I was blessed enough to hear her speak to a men’s conference on HIV/AIDS, a serious problem everywhere, but a topic that hits home in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Elizabeth and John were expecting another child. They were terrific, responsible parents who loved and cared for their children. With my experience as a new dad, I talked at some length with Elizabeth. How do the patients arrive at the clinic? How long do they stay? What about complications? And so on.

Her answers made me feel like such a wuss. When it’s time, the pregnant women of the surrounding villages walk – WALK to the clinic and give birth there with Elizabeth’s help. Assuming all goes well, an hour or so after delivery, the baby is swaddled and the mother again WALKS home. No overnight stay, no hospital, no doctors or nursing consultants. No custom, magnetic, photo birth announcements or flowers or phone calls. Just a few painful pushes, a couple hours of recovery and a walk home. That’s just how they roll.

African women – at least of the sort you find in Londiani – are crazy strong. I don’t just mean muscle-strong. I mean they have a will to live and love that I’ve never seen before or since.

So here I am exactly ten years later, on the verge of heading to the hospital, so my wonderful, heroic wife can give birth to what we think will be our second son. We’ll stay in the hospital for at least two nights, maybe three. We’ll have the best medical care our insurance can afford. We’ll be seen by at least three different doctors and somewhere close to half a dozen nurses, not to mention the scores of support staff.

It’s amazing how much different our health care system is to that of a relatively developed African nation – admittedly I was in a very rural area there. But one thing remains the same. We all love our children and will walk from here to eternity for them. No matter what kind of care we receive when we get there.

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