Mama Sara has been paralysed for 17 years
By Dr Francesca Elloway, medical adviser for the Diocese of Aru
I thought I was prepared for anything. As health adviser to the diocese of Aru, I visit many people who are very sick.
But even though my colleague Reverend Madhira had informed me about Sara’s situation, when I went to visit her I was completely taken aback.
Mama Sara is a widow in her 50s or 60s. Seventeen years ago an accident left her paralysed in both legs. So for 17 years she has been living on her own in a tiny mud and thatch house that is literally falling down around her.
She spends her life, day in and day out, on the dirt floor. During the day she manages to drag herself to the door of her hut so she can look outside.
On the floor she has a little kerosene cooking stove and few pots and pans and that’s how she prepares food. She’s completely dependent on others to bring her food to cook.
Thinking about the fact that Sara had lived this way for almost two decades, through all kinds of weather and insecurity in the country, I was completely at a loss as to what to do.
On that first visit I felt completely inadequate. I started off in doctor mode, trying to see if there was anything medical I could do to improve her situation. There clearly wasn’t.
She has terrible contractures in her legs and is unable to sit, so a wheelchair would not be helpful.
I think the thing I found most incredible was Sara’s joy. She is so accepting of her situation and so strong in her faith. And she has a fantastic smile. I thought of 1 Timothy 5:6: "The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help." Sara embodies this verse.
Sara didn’t ask me for anything. She was full of praise for all the "good Samaritans who bring me food." Yet I felt like I had to help in some way.
We’ve been able to get her a better mattress and some clothes to keep her warm and dry in the rainy season and we’ve given her some money for food and organised people to help repair her house.
All of this seems to pale in comparison to how much Mama Sara has done for me. I confess, as a doctor who is used to being the one in charge and helping others, I don’t feel altogether comfortable about the role reversal.
But Sara’s joy is completely humbling; she is such an example and witness to others.
This is probably why so many people want to go visit her, including me. Every time Madhira and I go see her, I find myself really looking forward to it, knowing that she will brighten up my day.
Please pray for Dr Francesca, who has, amongst several other things, been introducing palliative care (end of life care and relieving suffering) into the diocese. Give thanks that Francesca and her team have also been able to develop a new surgical unit at Mahagi hospital and that a new building is being constructed for outpatients and administration.
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