Several weeks ago, a 7 year old girl came into the ER. She was in a coma with a high fever, her neck arched back and drooling. She had gotten sick a couple days prior, and fallen into this coma that morning.
We unfortunately see this kind of thing not uncommonly. Most of the cases are cerebral malaria. Some of them are bacterial meningitis. A few of them are TB meningitis, but they don't usually get sick that fast. Her malarial test was negative, but given the severity of her illness, she was started on both meningitis and malaria treatment.
Often these kids get better. Sometimes they don't. The next day this little girl still had a fever and looked no better. We tried to think of anything else we could do for her, but came up empty. Same thing the next day. We prayed often for her with her family.
Around day 4 in the hospital, she had a break-out of red lesions around her mouth. They looked like herpes. Now the ideas changed. Rarely, herpes (either the sexually-transmitted kind or the oral-transmitted "cold sore" kind) can develop into a brain infection. And this would explain what she wasn't getting any better.
Herpes can be treated with acyclovir. It's cheap, old, and effective. So much so that in the US, it is often replaced with a newer, more expensive, and slightly more effective (maybe) version.
But we don't have that. In fact, we have nothing at all to treat herpes. So we're just watching her. Praying. Giving her IV fluids, and oxygen after she got worse.
Day 6, I look at her pupils, and one is definitely bigger than the other and not responding to light. In short, this is a sign of impending brain death. You can't really get worse than this and still be alive.
Her mom knows she isn't getting better and wants to take her home. "To pray" she says, which I think means "to die", but who am I to question that? I tell her that we have been praying for her, and we will continue to pray for her, but I don't think that she will succeed in getting her home, and even if we cannot guarantee that she will make it, I don't think that going home is the right thing to do.
She assents and asks me to pray. So we pray. (Witnessing this conversation, about 5 other patients in the room ask me to pray with them prior to finishing rounds in that room.)
The next day, she is a bit better. Mom is satisfied. Each day, she is a bit better. She stops having trouble breathing. She is able to eat a bit. Mom never lets me pass her by without stopping to pray with her. Eventually she goes home.
Her pupil is still big. She doesn't talk. She can sit up only with great assistance. And there is a good chance that she will stay that way, but who knows? If we keep praying, what could be gained? I don't know what this girl was like before, but if I think of a young healthy Burundian girl, in the first couple years of walking to school with her friends, and compare her with the girl I now know, it's hard.
She's alive, and I thought she would die.
But she still needs so much healing.
And it's like that, a lot of the time.
In the hymn "Take the World, but Give me Jesus", there is a short phrase: The Fullness of Redemption.
This girl is alive, now, with her family, at home, and I expected her to die. That is redemption. It is goodness, and for it I and her mom are thankful.
But it's not "fullness of redemption". Not by a long shot. And my heart yearns for Fullness of Redemption. Sometimes we get to see it, in a particular place and time, but most of the time, it is something that falls short. The malnourished kid gets over the pneumonia, but the family still doesn't have enough food. Jason puts the femur back together, but the roads are just as dangerous as ever. A father survives a stroke, but he can't afford his blood pressure medicines, so there's likely another coming soon.
But there is a promise. A promise for fullness. For completion. Even for perfection, of a type that we probably won't have anticipated when it comes. Something that almost always seems out of reach, even of our imaginations. But it persists. A quiet, insistent, pulsing promise:
"I am making all things new."
Come, Lord Jesus.