Dan, Heather, Jeremiah, Tory, Emma, Tye, Claire, Levi, Josie, Jane and Ethan

Sunday, July 21, 2013

“Is it worth it?”

After several weeks of intense preparation and (literally) thousands of practice questions, I finally took the written exam for the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery last Thursday (for the second time).   Having already passed this exam directly after finishing residency in 2008, I remained “board-eligible” for the past five years while we continued our work as orthopedic medical missionaries at Tenwek hospital in Kenya.  However, since I have not been able to work in the U.S. for the required two full years in order to sit for the second half of this exam (to become “board-certified”), my eligibility expired; hence, the reason for the distinct pleasure of taking this brutal exam for a second time.  Round three will come in another five years if we continue our work in Kenya, and the Board maintains its policy regarding the requirements for “step two.” 

Post-test celebrations where cut painfully short, as I had to begin collecting all the documentation required for my next certifying exam, which I am scheduled to take in six weeks.  In September, Dr. Kiprono (my Kenyan partner) and I will sit for the written fellowship exam for the College of Surgeons of East, Central and South Africa (COSECSA), in preparations for the new orthopedic residency program set to start at Tenwek early next year.  As part of the “collection process” for this exam, I was required to catalogue all the cases I have done at Tenwek into a master “log book."  As I reviewed each of these procedures individually (1700 in total), I was struck with the severity of the injuries of so many of these poor patients (multiple open fractures, etc.), and sighed at the thought of the workload that awaits me when I return.   Contemplating the recently-re-completed ABOS exam, the upcoming exam in Kenya, and the prospect of returning to significant difficult work, the thought went through my mind, “Dan, is all this worth it?”  

The following day, I received an email from Dr. Shawn O’Driscoll (a good friend and colleague from the Mayo Clinic who had visited Tenwek last November), which reset my perspective.  He had just received a phone call from a patient in Kenya whom we cared for during his visit.  This patient, named Helen, called to let him know that she had fulfilled the promise that she made to him last year after her injury: She would dance at her daughter’s wedding in July 2013.   Helen called just after the wedding, and told Dr. Shawn that she was dancing with all her might, praising the name of the LORD right from the middle of the dance floor!

Helen was one of several women who arrived at Tenwek simultaneously, all from the same matatu (bus) crash.  She and two other women sitting in the second row behind the driver were pleading with him to “slow down,” because his driving was so reckless and they feared for their lives.  The driver rebuked them harshly.  Literally a few seconds later, while trying to pass a semi, the matatu was forced off the road by on oncoming SUV, and crashed into a ditch.  The second row seat (where the three women sat) was not appropriately attached to the floor and was driven by decelerated momentum into the back of their legs, creating six tibia (shin bone) fractures, five of which were severely open (compound), with bone protruding out the front of their legs.  The driver escaped somehow unscathed, and the women pleaded with him again, this time for his help, as they were pinning to the floor by the faulty seat.  But the driver ignored their cries (and all the others who were injured), grabbed his coat, and walked away from the scene of the accident. 

Several hours later, Helen and the other victims arrived at Tenwek (including a patient with a broken and dislocated cervical spine which required surgery).  After several operations, including using local muscle flaps and skin grafts to cover exposed bone, Helen was on the mend, and always upbeat on morning rounds.  Dr. Shawn and Helen formed a strong spiritual bond, and we prayed with her (by her request) daily while she was in the hospital.  It was during this time that she made her promise…she would dance at her daughter’s wedding in July. 

I was blown away (yet again) at God’s patience with me, even in my unbelief at asking myself the “worth it” question.  He provided what I needed (Helen’s story), at the right time (in a valley of doubt), to keep me focused on who matters most (Jesus), reminding me to “run with perseverance the race marked out for me” (Hebrews 12:1-2).   But even so, this is a valid question to ask ourselves, as Jesus himself encourages us all (who would call ourselves His disciples) to consider the cost of following Him (Luke 14:25ff).  And following Jesus can be hard, uncomfortable, lonely, exhausting, alienating, sacrificing, requiring constant faith, and perseverance. But the joy comes in realizing that what we “give up” (i.e. stuff) can’t even be compared to what we receive (i.e. Jesus, freedom, eternal life).  As Jim Elliot (missionary-martyr to South America) was quoted, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”  So, is following Jesus worth it?   Easy?...not always.  Worth it?...absolutely!

All I have it Christ by Jordin Kauflin
(Click to view on You Tube)

I once was lost in darkest night
Yet thought I knew the way
The sin that promised joy and life
Had led me to the grave
I had no hope that you would own
A rebel to Your will
And if You had not loved me first
I would refuse you still
But as I ran my hell-bound race
Indifferent to the cost
You looked upon my helpless state
And led me to the cross
And I beheld God’s love displayed:
You suffered in my place
You bore the wrath reserved for me
Now all I know is grace

CHORUS Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life

Now, Lord, I would be Yours alone
And live so all might see
The strength to follow Your commands
Could never come from me
O Father, use my ransomed life
In any way You choose
And let my song forever be
“My only boast is You”