Only One Life, Yes Only One

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Our clinic has closed to prenatal care, and with just 2 announcements, the word has gotten out because I've been on call the last 2 days and have had no one come looking for me! This has meant that I have spent the last day and a half reading-something i NEVER do.

When I was in my last week of my 17th year, my mom and dad took me to Thailand to do childcare for my dad's organization's regional meetings. I met a couple, Ryan and Amanda Phillips. They were in their early 20s, and lived in a small house on the mountainside of the Himalayas of North India. They became my role models.

I've been thinking hard these last two days trying to remember what it was that intrigued me about them. I was surrounded by two dozen other missionaries, so why did this couple stand out to me? Was Amanda's beautiful long brown hair and simple presence something I longed for even as a teenager?

I followed their blog and stories over the next few years, and always dreamed of visiting them.

Ryan has published his blog and newsletters in to a book. It's so interesting to see how these stories I read as a teenager and in my early 20's inspired me and pushed me along the road I was walking. Now I read these stories of such intimacy with a village; becoming a coroner, declaring a grandpa dead, diagnosing TB, holding the hand of the miscarrying mom, running down the mountain with the dying. They don't inspire me anymore, they terrify me.

It's interesting to meditate and recollect the different words people have spoken over us. I remember in one season where I felt directionless, and that my ambitions to be a missionary in a foreign land so far from achievable, my mom saying to me, "Whitney, you have seen the world, you have walked with the poor, you will never be satisfied to live an ordinary life. In fact it would be unfair if you did, because you need to do something with all you have seen." [those weren't her exact words, but that's what i remember it as]

I see so many healthcare workers and missionaries tired and exhausted; unable to invest, disciple and pass on what they have learned and received over the years. I think its very sad. So, to overcompensate, I feel like I have tried so hard to not become tired and exhausted; but to walk in balance.

"You are the salt of the earth. If salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? Matthew 5:13 (NIV)

Caravans of yaks have carried salt across the Himalayas since before recorded history. Salt was used as currency to buy tools, tea and fabric. Without salt, the incredible curries laden with handfuls of spice would have remained bland and unpalatable. For a long time, salt was the only antiseptic to clean wounds in these mountain villages. Even now, when villagers get a second degree burn, salt is rubbed on it to suck the moisture out of the blisters.

Two ways the human body can give off salt is through tear ducts and sweat glands. When modernity strives to develop a world where we don’t have to cry or sweat, I wonder of what it is robbed of. Maybe we are losing a currency through which we can buy things of true value. Maybe we are cursing that which brings flavor and balance to life. Maybe we are throwing out the salve to clean our wounds. Maybe we are laying aside a great weapon against evil in this world. We seek out climate control, antidepressants, labor saving gadgets, privacy, security, and then wonder why our lives are void of flavor, life, value, healing and potency.

I have learned that the word compassion means “to suffer with.” I once figured that compassion was solely for the benefit of the sufferer and was a burden that must be carried on behalf of the compassionate. As Amanda and I have fumbled about, trying to live compassionate lives here in India, it seems more and more that sweat and tears have more to offer than we thought. Now that we’ve gotten a little taste, we realize they are the seasoning which flavors life."

There are a few things I have learned since working in the clinic; 1. How much I fear failure which leads to infection and death. 2. How much I fear death for others.

Whenever a woman goes in to preterm labor due to an infection, or malaria; I look through her prenatal book wanting to pinpoint who was responsible for missing the symptoms. I'm so hard on myself, and the reality is, sometimes, no one is to blame. And so quite honestly I don't want to delve deeper into the medical world because of my fear of failure. I am afraid to prescribe antibiotics because I am afraid to be wrong, and for the body to build antibodies against the antibiotics (or whatever it is that happens when one is given too many antibiotics).

As I read through Ryan and Amanada's stories, my heart is just writhing. It is full of such fear. The reason I have been reading for hours in this book is to find the story that is attached below. I remember reading it on the dusty old computer of STN in foster village with shock in 2008. I wanted to read it again with fresh eyes and a midwifery perspective.

As I read the story and come to the end, my gut is wrenched. I feel the same way. Although I don't have my Daragaon to return to; I have been exposed, I have been called, there is a community of desperate women out there in need of the skills I have and continue to gain. There are so many freakin villages in the world with no access to healthcare and people are dieing of diarrhea.

I've been meditating a lot on "how I got here". I have been thinking about the fire I had as a young 20 some year old, and the natural progression to my 30's and longing more for balance. My dad recently shared this poem with me.

Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgement seat;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, the still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave,
And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfill,
living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

When this bright world would tempt me sore,
When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way,
Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Give me Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e’er the strife,
Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Oh let my love with fervor burn,
And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone,
Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, “twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say,”Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last. "

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
And when I am dying, how happy I’ll be,
If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee

C.T. Studd

So, today, this week, I am challenged; to not grow old and weary, even though I am only 30, to live a simple and ordinary life; but to always strive for the extraordinary, no matter what that might be. May we not settle for what is comfortable but to allow sweat and tears to flow, to add salt to our lives.

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.



72: Born Again Daragaon, West Bengal, India July 5, 2008
Taken from The Univited Guest: A story of seeking and finding in the Himalayas by Ryan Edward Phillips

Tuesday, 5:30 p.m.

It is raining and I’m prepared to escape. My frustrations and annoyances have been growing for weeks. Hearing that the men from the village are planning to travel to work on the dangerous, inhospitable road leading over the Nathu La into Tibet is the last straw. Most of the last year of my life was devoted to seeing that the men from our village didn’t have to engage in deadly work. The famine last year drove the men into a position where they would have to work on Nathu La to ensure their family’s survival. I stopped them from going with a promise to help. First, came the Dairy Co-op and then the Rice program. People began to earn a living. They had food to feed their families in the midst of the famine. Then came May 2008, a good pea harvest, and June, a good potato harvest. The villagers are in the best financial position they have ever experienced. Despite this, in late June, they decided again to go to Nathu La to make more money. This would mean working in a constant downpour at thirteen thousand feet, on the side of cliffs with no rain gear or safety equipment.

After talking with Prakash, I sling Asher onto my back and head toward home. My thoughts spin. Amal Sir abandons the church. Dinesh dallies on our translation project. The feeding program is temporarily shut down because parents refuse to carry firewood. Dirty, local politicians slander our work. Prakash decides to go to Nathu La while the church is in shambles. Tekke decides to go to Nathu La even though we planned to plant winter peas, wheat and beans together on the school land. It was to be his final step out of poverty. Tilak says to me, “I’ve had it helping the poor. They are poor in their minds and won’t ever change.”

6:00 p.m.

I decide to go home and tell Amanda, Ian, Elizabeth and Cameron that I’m worn out. I decide to tell them I’m done with Daragaon; that I give up and am going home. As I carry Asher, a text message buzzes my mobile but I don’t read it. For around six weeks I’ve been depressed. All the love I have tried to fill Daragaon with seems to have miscarried. All I can see is death and waste.

6:15 p.m.

I reach home, open the door and see Amanda’s face. For several days, she has been experiencing benign spotting. The doctors and midwives we called reassured us that bed rest is usually enough to prevent losing a baby. But when I see Amanda’s face, I know that something is going wrong. The text message I didn’t read was from Amanda saying that she was having severe cramps. I call the others into the room and we pray. As we pray, I look down and see some embroidery work that Amanda has been working on. It is of a snake coiled around an apple. It seems that the bite in the apple is still fresh and poison is still in the fangs of the serpent. Amanda begins to miscarry. She labors and tries to clear her womb. I monitor, take blood pressure and vitals, and give her medicine. But the second hour passes, the first half-liter of blood passes and yet the conceptus has not passed.

My phone will not let me call the Philippines to ask Vicki (the director of Mercy in Action) for advice. An Internet chat program on my phone, which I had been trying to get working for months, miraculously starts working on the day I need it most. Vicki just happens to be online and we talk out our options. Amanda is stable but not delivering. The blood loss is getting very heavy, over 750 ml.

8:30 p.m.

I call for an evacuation. Ian and Cameron run for the stretcher. Tilak calls the village men as carriers. Elizabeth packs bags. I sit with Amanda and she is in good spirits despite the pain. BP normal. Pulse normal. But her blood loss hits one-thousand milliliters, four pints. I give her a shot of methergine to ratchet down her uterus and slow the blood loss.

Everything is ready for the evacuation, but I need to set an IV line to prevent shock. Right as I begin to set the needle, Amanda loses consciousness and begins to projectile vomit. Her BP drops to 60/30. Shock. She regains consciousness. I am trying to set the IV but her veins are collapsed. I say to myself, “No, no! I’ve done this so many times for others, why can’t I do it for my wife?”

Elizabeth sees me deteriorating mentally and tells me repeatedly, “Ryan, you have to pull yourself together. You are the only one who can do this.”

This only makes me shake harder. Amanda’s arms are completely vein-less; I’ve never seen anything like it. Attempting a small vein on each hand, they infiltrate. Amanda is going to die; there is nothing I can do.

In Indiana, Amanda’s Grandma is having special mass said for us. In the Philippines, Vicki is awake in the middle of the night praying for Amanda. Across America the message is spreading and the faithful are folding their hands.

A faint memory from Boise, Idaho, comes into my mind and I shout, “Amanda, I can’t get an IV drip going. I’m going to have to rig a rectal fluid replacement line. Someone get me some tubing and a bottle!”

Even in her stupor the midwife shines, “Just yank the needle off the pipe and insert the tubing from the IV.”

Elizabeth helps me roll her over and I insert the tube into her rectum. She is laid on the stretcher with her feet elevated. The first bottle of Ringer’s Lactate empties quickly and a second is attached for transport. Her BP climbs to 75/40.

10:00 p.m.

It has been raining all day, but now the rain chooses to stop. Scarf tied around her head, which is lying on a pillow from her bed, heaps of blankets, a double sheet used to lash her to the stretcher and a lungi around her waist. She could be Dhanmaya. She could be Ratna. She is transformed into a village woman before my eyes.

The village men whom I had given up on only four hours earlier break social convention and pick up a younger woman who is bleeding. They run down the paths of stone we’ve built together. Karan is sweating; I delivered his baby last year. Naren is grunting; I pronounced his mother dead after an aneurysm. Tekke holds the stretcher; I’ve fed his malnourished kids. Prakash runs; I helped frame his house. Ram Lal strains under the load; we teach his children. Amal, the pastor who has forsaken his wife and church, trails along beside us praying constantly. Bhena relieves a tired bearer. Tilak and Binod grab hold of the rear. D.N. Sir lights the way with a flaming bottle of kerosene. Sujeta calls a taxi. Deepa comes as a comforter. Elizabeth and Ian stay back with a sleeping Asher.

The trail is muddy from a day of monsoon. Men throw off their chappals and go barefoot for better traction. Their toes are stubbed on rocks. Their ankles grate against the stones. Their heels slip on gravel. They bleed for my wife as she bleeds out her fifteen hundredth millimeter. Their feet bleed for me as my hands have bled for them so many times. We run down trails our hands built together. We are led by a large smoking flame in the night. We are bound by blood and love.

A stethoscope is around my neck and BP cuff in my pocket. My torn work clothes are speckled and stained. I have Amanda set down so I can check her vitals yet again. We are in the bottom of the dark valley beside the Sri Khola bridge.

”Ryan, I didn’t get to say goodbye to Asher. What if I don’t see him again?”

The image of that snake and apple flash in my heart, but a messiah who is bleeding along with us raises his heel and smashes the serpent’s head.

“No, Amanda. There was no need to say goodbye. You’ll see him again soon.”

Again and again I tell myself; her story is not finished yet. It is not finished yet. We climb the steep trail out of the dark pit. Atop the stretcher, a faint voice says, “Something big just came out. I think I delivered.”

11:30 p.m.

We reach the road and our waiting vehicle. I turn to D.N. Sir, Bhena, Tekke, Ram Lal, Don Kumar, Ratan, Lalit, Prakash, Binod, Tilak, Amal, Naren, and Karan and tell the tired, sweaty men, “The word dhanyabad is not enough.”

After laying Amanda down inside, Deepa, Sujeta and I get in the vehicle. The door slams and the vehicle races over the rough stone road toward the hospital. Amanda’s bleeding approaches two liters (eight times that of a blood donation) and the rectal line is finished. Weakened, she cannot hold the retention enema any longer. We are both soaked in blood, sweat and waste. It seems like an eternity before we reach the Lodhoma Primary Health Center (PHC), but we’ve called ahead so that the doctors, instruments and room are ready.

Wednesday, 1:30 a.m.

Annoyingly, the PHC is set at the top of a hundred-plus stairs with no road access. It is the middle of the night and it is raining again. I put Amanda’s limp body onto my back and cover her with a blanket to keep off the precipitation. Like a strongman in some insane challenge, I race up the flights of stairs to the PHC.

The lights are out, doors are locked, and nothing is ready at the hospital. I scream curses into the black wet air. Deepa and Sujeta run to the doctor’s quarters and bring back the sleepy unprepared staff a while later. Rooms are slowly unlocked, lights are turned on, and the doctor finally stumbles in. Amanda is led to a cold metal bed which is filthy and smattered with blood. I throw down one of our own blankets which we carried all the way from Daragaon to cover up their negligence. After helping Amanda out of her clothes and onto the bed, I find our child in the folds of cloth. It is the smallest, most broken human being I have ever seen, my daughter. I lay her into an old bucket that looks as if it has not been cleaned in years.

In my heart I name her. Leaf Anjali Phillips. In South Asia, an anjali is an offering to God. A leaf is something transient, something that wilts in the sun, something that turns to dust, something that is blown away by the wind. For so many years, I have been trying to cover my nakedness before God with a fig leaf. For so many years, I have been trying to undo the Fall with my diligence, my earnestness, my good works and my sacrifice. My daughter only existed for fourteen weeks, but in that short time she came and stole my fig leaf away. She is on her way to lay that leaf at the feet of God: an anjali on my behalf.

Amanda is also stripped naked before God. The doctor does not check vitals, manage her shock or pay much attention to her at all. The nurses are unable to set an IV, but the doctor somehow manages. Bugs fly in through the open windows, attracted to the light. All the staff leaves to sterilize the instruments for a dilation and curettage. I am alone with my wife for the first time in hours. She turns to me and says in a cool, calm loving voice, “You know Ryan this is my worst nightmare. The entire time I worked in the Darjeeling hospital, it was my greatest fear to be up on one of these tables. I know what is about to happen to me, I’ve seen it. But I was reading this week about compassion. I was reading, and it said that we must enter into the pain of others to truly love them. Now I know what it means to be a village woman and now I know why I must get back to them.”

I stand speechless before my bride. Finally, I muster the strength to say, “I guess once you have lived through your worst nightmare, what else could you possibly have to fear?”

2:30 a.m.

They drug her with IV anesthetic. It is as if she is tied down. They make me leave the room even though I refuse. They begin to clean her womb and I can hear her screams from the other side of the building. I run to the door and peek through a crack. Amanda is mumbling in Nepali because of the drugs. The doctor works aggressively with his instrument; there is no gentleness. The procedure lasts forever. Her screams last forever. Dr. M. comes and says, “OK, it’s finished.”

“Doesn’t she need a transfusion?” “We can’t do one.” “I’ve got the same blood type. I’ll give her my blood.” “She’s eighty percent better already.” “No she’s not. She could go into shock any moment.” “Don’t worry. Don’t worry. You can replace up to twenty percent of your blood with saline and be fine.” “How many liters of blood are in the human body?” “Five.” “She’s lost two liters . . . THAT’S FORTY PERCENT!”

Amanda has no shoes; she is shivering on the table, unattended by staff. I go into the room. I dress her in clean, dry garments. I feel as if I’m dressing my wife after she has been raped, standardized medicinal rape with sterilized cold metal.

“How are you feeling?”

“I’m OK. I jolted back out of the anesthesia after they started. Lalit’s wife is going to deliver very soon. I need to get back to the village so that no one has to come here. I need to get back to my ladies.”

I stand speechless again, this time not just before my bride, but the bride, the Bride of Christ. I manage to arrange a bed in the hospital, a bed stained with blood and dirt. The pharmacist hands me a handful of odds-and-ends medications and says, “Here give her these. And again, don’t worry. She’s eighty percent better already!”

He gives no doses for the medications; good thing I know for myself. The doors are locked and lights shut off. Everyone goes home to their beds and leaves the patient unattended. I hold vigil all night, checking her vitals and making her drink warm water.

In the morning the local church comes to get us. My bloody, soiled clothes are exchanged for clean garments. They give us a place to stay and feed us beef soup and pork broth, eggs and vegetables. Amanda’s pressure vacillates wildly. Since there are no transfusions available, I stabilize her with feet elevations and salty soups. We talk about the past and the future. We enjoy each other’s presence as we have not in a very long time. Ways to improve the birth room and Swastya Kendra are discussed. New paths for living our lives together are built. A new foundation is laid to build a place to house our love for each other and our community. The love that I had for Daragaon, which I thought had miscarried, is renewed. The church that we are so often at odds with nurses us back to health and shows its true face.

A child is the product of love filling a womb. Most people view a miscarriage as a destruction of that love, but it is not so. Faith, hope and love are never destroyed, only reconstituted. It is much like energy which is never destroyed, only reallocated. Everything true and beautiful in my daughter ascended directly to the divine. In three short months she touched me more than almost anyone else I’ve met. All of her that was earthly, fleshly, weak and broken was discarded in a bin along with rags, needles, waste, and old IV line. God spared her from having to endure this blink of an eye, which seems so long to us. The beautiful thing about a miscarriage is that again you are gifted with a womb to fill with love. There is no emptiness, only newness. Kinetic energy is recycled into potential energy.

It will take Amanda several months to fully recover her strength. Yesterday, she finally stabilized. My promise was fulfilled. Asher ran into her room and gave her a hug and kiss. Instead of saying, “Goodbye, Sweetie,” Amanda found herself saying, “Hey there, Sweetie.” It is her wish to be carried back to Daragaon on that same stretcher as soon as possible. We will leave our cabin and live in the Swastya Kendra so that Amanda doesn’t have to walk. I will wash her feet every day, feed her nutritious foods, take her hemoglobin count, and give her vitamins. The women of Daragaon will come to her in their labor pains. They will not be treated with cold, sterile instruments and standardized care. They will be taken into the womb that I built for my own child. They will find hands of true, undiluted compassion. Their pains will be met with Amanda’s weakness, and love will be born. Love will be born again; love is always born again. Life will be born again; life is always born again."

I pray for those of you who who's heart is churning and burning for greater purpose than where you are at, that in the right time God would lead you to your Daragaon.

I love you dearly,
Whitney Ann Willettt