Halima (The previous star of blog posts Looking for you and Yourself again) came back last week for a scheduled outpatient appointment. Her face is filling out nicely, and the place where there was once a huge tumor is marked only with a small white dressing. She was feeling fine, blowing kisses through lopsided lips and hugging everyone in sight. The marketing team had arranged a small photo shoot with Halima, introducing her to some of the many crew members whose blood she now calls her own.
It's come full circle now, from the streets and crowds of her hometown village, and blood tests that I ran on a 6-inch square of clean floor mat in the back of a land rover, to hugs and Pular lessons after surgery on the dock in Conakry.
Every field service there are the patients that stay in my heart long after the ship sails away with us into the open sea. My feet remember the VVF ladies whose names I don't know but who greet me and walk with me down the hallway to work in the mornings. My arms remember the small weight of babies once struggling for breath, now fat and grinning the triumphant whiskered grin of a newly repaired cleft lip. My eyes remember the moments of wonder when bandages are taken off for the first time to reveal the new face beneath. I watch news reports on the CBS website and I can pick out each patient and each moment I spent with them...and for a few minutes I am in the ICU with Rudy content to sit in my lap and pat my face as he calls me auntie. For a few minutes I am dancing again with Maurice in my arms, teaching wound care or praying with a patient before surgery.
There must be a limit to the spaces I can find to tuck away one more story and one more face to remember. But there is no limit. Always there is room for another to be wrapped in sunset reflection and tucked away; always room for another drool spot on my scrubs, another walk down the hallway, another life touching mine. One of the lasting life lessons I am learning from Africa: there is always room for one more.