Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Gal 6:7
For it is by Grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. Eph. 2:8-9
A few months ago, I attended a dinner in Soddo in honor of a visitor from the US embassy. I was in Soddo to help cover call for a few days for Paul Gray who has been the only general surgeon there since we left in August. The dinner was sponsored and organized by an American professor who had been in Soddo for a few months teaching graduate students at Wolaitta Soddo University. He was a visiting professor in Soddo and had worked at a university in the southwest US. The dinner was pleasant enough and Paul mentioned to me that he had operated on this man for a diabetic foot infection a week or so earlier and hadn’t seen him back yet. “Huh” I thought, “Those can get out of hand pretty quick. He needs to get back to see Paul.” I assumed that would be the end of it.
A few weeks later, we visited Soddo again as a family during the girls’ Christmas break. It was a very nice break and it was great to see everyone again. While we were there, Paul told me that he was having a hard time with this patient. His foot was not getting better, and in fact it was getting worse. Paul was trying to get him to get back to the States for a vascular surgery evaluation and better care. For some reason, he couldn’t convince this patient to go home and get the care that he needed. Paul told me he was worried that it was going to get out of hand and he would end up with an amputation. The patient had finally gotten tickets to fly back to the states, but wo days later, he showed up at MCM with a severely infected foot. My partner here, Chi Chung, took him to the OR and debrided all of the dead tissue and strongly advised him that he have an amputation. He refused. Chi left town for a few days and I was reunited with my dinner host from several weeks before. We talked for a long time and he filled me in on his story. He had grown up in a West African country and as a young man had been a member of parliament and had risen to the position of cabinet minister before civil war broke out and he was forced out of the country. He ended up in the US where he had political asylum and eventually gained citizenship. He earned several master’s degrees and a doctorate and had been teaching graduate students before coming to Ethiopia. He told me about his daughter who was a surgeon in the US Army in Afghanistan and a son also in the US Army, who was stationed in the Middle East. We talked about his medical situation and I strongly advised him that he needed an amputation. He continued to refuse. I took him back to the OR and debrided more of the foot. At this point the infection was moving up the foot to the ankle and I was concerned that it would spread up his leg.
I spent many hours talking with him about his situation and finally after another couple of weeks, he was convinced to have an amputation. I decided to do it in a couple of steps to make sure all of the infection was gone before the definitive amputation. Several times he nearly left the hospital to go back to Soddo to teach before we could get him through the operation. Immediately after I did the operation he said that he was leaving. I had been working the whole time to make arrangements to get back to the states and had been trying to get ahold of one of his kids to help me make the case for getting home as soon as possible. I was in contact with the US embassy and working on flights and arrangements and he was still, very irrationally, insisting on going back to Soddo. I explained to him that I had lived in Soddo and it is not an easy place to get around for anyone, let alone an elderly, diabetic, amputee. Still he insisted and 4 days after I performed an amputation on him, he left the hospital against my strong advice.
Two days later, Paul called me from Soddo saying that my patient was not doing well. He had been unable to take care of himself, as expected, and appeared to have had a massive stroke, paralyzing the left side of his body. Slowly, over the course of the next couple of days the web of lies that we were told came to light. By hunting through his computer, Paul was able to find contact information for his daughter. It turned out that she was not a surgeon in the military, she was a hospice nurse in the States and had not seen him in 25 years. He had other children in Europe and Africa, but had abandoned them all to pursue his degrees and career. Even his career had been a farce. His attachment to the university in the states was as a part-time adjunct faculty member, not a full professor. His daughter had recently gotten married and begged him to come to her wedding, but he refused because he was preparing to come to Ethiopia. He had no other close family or friends. He was alone in the world and had neglected everything…his family, friendships and his health in pursuit of his own ego. Even as his foot was rotting off, his pride prevented him from telling us the truth of his circumstance.
He made it back to MCM and his daughter made arrangements to fly to Addis to see him. The patient continued to insist that someone from the UN or US Embassy was coming to get him and fly him out to the US. His daughter made it to see him about a week after his stroke. When she walked into his room, she didn’t even know what he looked like, because she hadn’t seen him for so long. They talked for a long time and she learned more about her father then than she had known for her whole life. He was clearly remorseful and broken by seeing that he had wasted his life in pursuit of his own ambitions and ego and the obvious emotional toll this took on his only daughter. Through tears he apologized and begged for her forgiveness and she forgave him. Later she and I discussed the options for his ongoing care. We made tentative plans and she returned to the states. The patient had other plans though. Having reconciled with his daughter and having nothing else to live for, he simply chose to give up on life. He rapidly began to deteriorate and his wound broke down and bed sores sprung up and quickly became out of control. Less than two weeks after reconciling with his daughter, he passed away.
This patient’s story illustrates many biblical principles. In Proverbs it says that pride goes before a man’s fall. In Galatians, Paul says that a man reaps what he sows. This patient certainly did. He pursued his own interests at the expense of everyone else. If not for his daughter’s persistence and concern for the father who abandoned her, he would have died completely alone. There is also another important biblical lesson that his life and death illustrates. Nothing puts us out of God’s reach or disqualifies us from God’s love. In Romans Paul says that nothing, not “death or life, neither angles nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation [like abandoning family to pursue one’s own interests], will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Throughout his hospital stay, we continually shared the good news of God’s love with him and very last words on earth were a prayer asking for God’s forgiveness and reconciling with Him through the work of Christ on the cross.
It is easy to be cynical about deathbed conversions. Isn’t it unfair that he lived such a selfish life and still gets to go to heaven without living for God more that a few hours? Yes, it is unfair, but not to those of us who follow Jesus. It is not unfair that we should have to follow God and others get a free pass at the end of their life. It is a great joy to part of the family of God and to know Him and experience his love and forgiveness. It is unfair to God who is Holy and sent Jesus “who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Cor. 5:21).