‘What seems to be the trouble?’ is the question doctors all over the world ask the patients in their consulting rooms.
It is no different in Mandritsara, and I asked the Malagasy equivalent question of a 44-year-old lady in my consulting room. ‘I’m breathless’, came the reply (I could see that!), ‘and my abdomen is a bit swollen’. ‘And I died and came back to life again’.
Now there are many standard complaints that patients present with, but I don’t ever remember someone saying quite that to me. And it is not the sort of thing you are likely to forget!
But, although the lady’s Malagasy was simple and completely clear, I assumed at first that I had misunderstood. ‘I beg your pardon’, I said. ‘You died and came back to life again?’ ‘Yes, the next day’, she said, almost matter-of-fact.
Then I did what I always did, whenever I was having some difficulty in communicating in Malagasy. I asked the patient to follow me to the hospital pharmacy, just a short step away from my consulting room.
Colette, the pharmacist, was usually there to help. However she was not there at that particular moment. But Marcel, one of the nurses, was there. At my request, the lady recounted her story again.
Three of her relatives who had come with her were crowding round the door to support the story. ‘We had already sent out messages to the people in the neighbouring villages to come the next day for the funeral’, they said, ‘but she came back to life’.
Well there was no doubting that, though she was breathless with a very rapid heartbeat and in early heart failure, she was certainly alive!
Then a great thing happened. While I was thinking, ‘Is she mad and did she feign death? Or did she go into some kind of coma? Or what could be the explanation?’Marcel opened his mouth.
‘That’s amazing,’ he said. ‘It means one thing. God still has something very important to say to you in this life. And so he has sent you here to the Good News Hospital to learn about the way of salvation through Jesus. So, as soon as you have finished the tests the doctor is ordering [X-ray, ECG, blood tests] and are safely tucked up in bed, I will come and talk to you about God’s message in the Bible’.
Thank you Marcel for reminding us that God is the sovereign God and our great task is to proclaim his gospel!
Patients arrive at the hospital with all kinds of physical needs. Some have straightforward medical conditions, but others are drunk, have had an abortion, are dying from an incurable disease, or sometimes have nothing really wrong with them.
And our natural reaction, depending on the situation, may be anger, irritation, amusement or puzzlement; or discouragement that we feel we have nothing to offer.
But, as Marcel so aptly demonstrated, our reaction should be to thank the Lord for sending the person to us (believing indeed that this is the ultimate reason the patient has come), and ask the Lord to help us now to present the good news of Jesus to them.
We are glad to report that the lady did well as far as her heart disease goes, and she and the family, who were caught up in spirit worship (they believed she had a tromba or evil spirit that troubled her), expressed their desire to leave all that and follow the Lord.
They returned to their distant village and we committed them to the Lord’s keeping. We subsequently heard that she and her son were attending the church in their village.
The author is recently retired from medical missionary work in Mandritsara