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  • Nanci

Whitewashed Lives and Real Blood

Updated: Mar 27, 2020

The slums of Calcutta were like nothing I have experienced before. It had rained quite a bit before we got there, and the mud and slime that coated everything contributed to the dreary, oppressed atmosphere. Finding a place to set up a temporary medical clinic is difficult when all the “houses” are stacked row after row after row with only three feet separating each row. Each of the homes in the slums are 10 by 10 structures made from plywood, sheet metal, or tarp. The national workers helping us finally found a space large enough for the clinic—it was available only because a trash dump rather than a building occupied it. The workers dug out trash for three days. Out of this space they “whitewashed” everything with bright and beautiful orange and white nylon cloth. They built a wood frame for the sides, top, and bottom. Then they completely covered the area—even the floor had canvas on it. From the inside of the clinic you had no way of knowing you were in the middle of a very muddy slum. It was quite surreal. Just on the other side of my physical therapy room was a sweatshop where seamstresses sewed twelve hours a day on foot-powered machines. A peek through a hole in our nylon wall revealed a very gloomy work area with hard-working Dalits cranking out cheap clothing products for Americans.

Many other conditions in the slums were also “white washed.” I treated patients all day long with much deeper problems than they at first appeared to have. There was a boy who had narrowly escaped a fire in his home and had somehow jammed a nail through his fingernail in the process. His finger was inflamed and swollen. It didn’t look terrible, but I knew we needed to get below the surface to see what was really going on. After numbing the pain with an injection I started to peel off layers of his skin and even took off the entire fingernail. The tissue below the surface was infected and dying, and if gone untreated could easily have killed him. It took a lot to clean off the top layer of dead and useless skin and get down to the real tissue. I had to cut and cut until the tissue bled—the sign that I had finally reached healthy tissue.

We saw another man whose daughter asked us to visit him in his home because he was very ill. The house was 10 square feet holding his 8 foot platform bed. This man could no longer walk, his abdomen was quite swollen, and he had constant spasms that caused great pain to shoot through his body. We worked hard to figure out the history of his condition and what could possibly be wrong. We probably spent an hour discussing all his symptoms. It was so difficult because he desperately wanted us to help him and we couldn’t. We prayed for him and finally left, telling him we would help pay for some investigative tests. Minutes later the man's brother showed up at the clinic with a host of tests that had already been done. He told us his brother actually had end stage cancer and that neither he nor the rest of his family knew about it.


Covering up the pain.

Not being truthful with what is really going on inside,

Death is waiting at the door and no one is facing it.

I guess that is the way to survive in such bleak circumstances. I guess it makes it easier to deal with deep pain when you can cover it up with something “prettier.” I think we all do that to some extent. Hiding here in our beautiful homes with pretty outsides while often we are dying inside and refusing to face the pain. We have what looks like “healthy” skin on the outside while the tissue underneath is cancerous and dead. I think God calls us to a healthier life. He wants us to strip away that fake exterior and scrape off the dying tissue until we can bleed, exposing the tissue below that wants to live.

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