"She Didn't Even Have a Name"

March 28, 2016 • Cameroon
Dr. Ethan Helm, Mbingo Baptist Hospital, Cameroon

My first patient in Cameroon leaves me focusing on Christ

Dr. Ethan Helm began serving at Mbingo Hospital in Cameroon in January with his wife, Elizabeth, through the World Medical Mission Post-Residency Program.

We were at Papa Palmer and Nana Nancy’s house when the phone rang. We had just finished eating a delicious meal and were talking about Mbingo and theology interchangeably. After answering the call in the other room, the veteran missionary physician returned to report.

“It’s a four-day-old.”

Dr. Ethan Helm, Mbingo Hospital, Cameroon

Ethan with his wife, Elizabeth, and their two children in Cameroon

“You should go, Ethan,” Elizabeth said, voicing my thoughts.

So Dr. Palmer, an internist, escorted me to see my first patient, a baby girl in respiratory distress. When we arrived, the baby was dusky, blue, and struggling to breathe despite high flow oxygen. A resident presented the case. The beautiful little girl was a 41-week-gestational-age infant. The mother’s water had broken 48 hours prior to delivery, increasing both her and her baby’s risk for infection. Extraction of the baby had been difficult. All in all, it wasn’t a good set-up for arrival in the world.

At the time of our evaluation, the infant was already receiving all the treatment we had to offer. We went outside to speak to the resident, asking about his differential diagnosis, getting more information, and teaching a bit about sepsis. While he spoke, I racked my brain to find something, anything, that could save this child. But I knew only one thing could save this baby: a miracle.

I approached the mother and apologized for my attire. Having not anticipated this trip to the hospital, I was wearing an Arkansas Razorbacks T-shirt and flip-flops. I told her that her child was very sick. We were doing what we could do, and I asked her if I could pray for her and her child. We held hands and went to our Father in prayer.

The next morning while I was running errands at the hospital, I went back to the baby’s bedside. She was gone. My heart started racing. I spoke to Esther, the unit’s financial worker, who confirmed what I feared. The little girl was dead. She had not yet even received a name.

Dr. Ethan Helm, Mbingo Hospital, Cameroon

Dr. Helm visits with a patient

But God knew her. He loved her. He loved her more than I loved her. In fact, He loved her more than I have ever loved anyone.

“‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:54d-55, NKJV).

Facing my first patient death as an attending physician, I didn’t feel as if death had lost its sting. The tears that ran from my eyes didn’t seem victorious.

Death is the enemy. It originated in the Garden. The sting of death is sin, and from sin, death originated. There aren’t many things that Christians should hate. Death is one of them. I hate it. I hate that death robbed this young, first-time mother of a lifetime with her daughter. I hate that here in Cameroon the death of babies is common.

I’m here because I hate death. I hate sin. And I know the One who has overcome both death and sin through Jesus Christ our Lord. Death is the enemy. Jesus Christ has overcome, and, through Him, I have overcome as well. He is my hope. He is my rest.

Dr. Ethan Helm, Mbingo Hospital, Cameroon

Mbingo Hospital

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning,” (Psalm 30:5c, NKJV).

I will see many children die here. I imagine I will see more die in my first month of working in Cameroon than I saw in my entire medical training to this point. How do I mourn without being paralyzed? How do I prevent my heart from scarring over? I don’t know.

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4, NKJV).

I rest in the fact that my hope is greater than any tribulation. My Lord is greater than sin and death. His Kingdom is the pearl of great price. Jesus is abundance. He is good. He loves me. So today, my tears are dried. I pray that God enables me to mourn well for those who die and to rejoice well that Jesus is alive.