I wrote this letter to one of our long term patients, Tahina, a few weeks ago. I thought about asking one of our translators to help me write it in Malagasy for her but I ended up just keeping it for myself because I didn’t know if she would understand. I did tell her some of these things in person, but sometimes all she wanted was a friend to hold onto or a smile that didn’t need translating.
I know that I have never had a long conversation with you. It’s hard when we don’t speak the same language. I think you already know, but I want to tell you that I love you. I’ve never actually been your nurse, just your cheerleader and friend, but I feel like I know you. You might not remember me but I was on D ward the day you were first admitted as a patient. None of us knew just how long you would stay with us or what your journey would look like. I brushed past you, busy taking care of other patients and touched your shoulder to let you know that I was passing you. I remember vividly the way you cringed and shrank away from my touch and scurried back to your bed to hide under your blankets where no one could look at you. Or touch you. I thought about you many times that first day and my heart ached a little bit.
I don’t know what your life has been like really. I can imagine things but all I really know are the facts in your chart about how you were so young when Noma ate away part of your face and changed forever what the course of your life would look like. I think about the stares and cringes and ridicule and loneliness and pain that has been part of every day for you. I only know you from here, D ward on the Africa Mercy, and your journey through these past 3 large operations you have been through. You have had to trust us with your life and your future every time you go back to that OR. I know you are tired some days, or frustrated with us for making you drink another can of formula, or just simply in a lot of pain because of your multiple incision sites. I know some days you just want to get back under those blankets just like you did that first day.
But please keep fighting. Please be brave and strong. You are ALREADY beautiful. I know it matters a lot to you what your face looks like on the outside right now, and right now you are still disappointed. Your face won’t be perfect but honestly, when I look at you, I see your eyes when they crinkle up in a smile, your cute little chin, and your big cuddly hugs, even when you surprise attack me with them. I love that you don’t wear a scarf over your face anymore and even have dance parties with me in the hallway if I’ll play some Taylor Swift for you.
I wish I could convince you of how precious you are. Like so you actually believed it. You are worth something that is much greater than you can imagine, not because of how your face looks or where you live or anything you have done, but because you are made in God’s image and you have a beautiful soul that will live forever.
I’m so glad we are friends, Tahina. You may not know it, but you have changed me too. If you were the only patient I had met or taken care of here in Madagascar I would have happily come because you are so worth it. You are loved, Tahina. Not only by me but by so many others here on this ship. I hope you know and feel and believe that now and for the rest of your life. Keep being brave and beautiful, dear. I love you!