- The Day I Touched Jesus
She deserved better. They all do.
I met her early on a morning that promised to be hot and wet, as Sudan tended to be at that time of year. Hot all the time. Hot and wet in the summers. I touched her for the briefest of moments, felt her leg move against my hand and caught a fleeting glimpse of a foot that was barely the size of my fingertip. I was there because a missionary asked me to come, told me stories of conditions in Sudan and convinced me that I could save lives. He was right.
Her twin brother was born eight hours earlier, sometime around midnight. The birth attendants managed the delivery as well as anyone could in the same situation. The last time I had attempted to manage such a problem delivery was almost twenty years earlier when I had been a Navy Lieutenant fresh out of my surgical internship on temporary assignment to a Marine Corps battle group in the Philippines. On that deployment, a corpsman brought me to a grass hut where a woman who looked barely more than a child herself labored against a breach delivery. I spent the day examining her while her family brought me things to eat that I do not believe should be eaten. After six hours of no progress, I radioed for a helicopter to take her to Clark Air Force base where they had operating rooms and obstetricians. In South Sudan, we had no such resources.
My oldest daughter, a premed student at the time who had worked with me in Sudan on other occasions, sat in the corner with her classmates and watched as I put my hand inside the mother. She was of the Dinka ethnic group and was a large, robust woman who sweated profusely and occasionally caught her breath, but otherwise seemed unmoved by her contractions. Fluids gushed over my gloved hand and the students gasped. I felt the baby's leg retract slightly as if she resented my intrusion.
I could not get past the baby's hip—she was wedged tightly in the uterus. I had some medicines that were used to hasten delivery and, not really knowing if it was the right thing to do, I gave the mother some through her IV. Still I could not dislodge the child. I told the students and birth attendants that we would give her one hour while I rounded on the other patients in our remote and poorly equipped clinic. If she did not deliver by that time we would take her to a facility run by a Catholic relief agency several hours drive from us—a drive that due to war, weather, or mechanical problems we could not always complete.
I saw the rest of the patients in a hurry while browsing through all of the medical texts and the few books we kept at the clinic. This child's only hope of surviving was for her mother to have a cesarean section, and as quickly as possible. After determining that none of our other patients were in imminent danger, we loaded the mother, the first-born twin, and the grandmother into our vehicle for the long ride. One of the medical students, who at the time of this writing was completing her residency in obstetrics and gynecology, asked me if I shouldn't pray for the woman while we drove. I felt guilty for not praying out loud without being prompted, so I reached back and placed my hand on the mother's abdomen and prayed while I drove. I felt a slight movement. It could have been the rough road or the mother shifting, but I believe to this [End Page 81] day that I felt the child move. I would not feel her again. I drove as fast as the rough, bomb-cratered dirt road allowed.
Mother and unborn child were doing well when we finally arrived three hours later. I knew the facility and many of the workers so I drove past the guard and directly to the obstetrics ward. Two nurses rushed out to meet us with...