My wife is a nurse. One day I was near the hospital where she works, and I called her on the phone and she said, “Come over to such and such a room, there’s someone I’d like you to meet.”
I walked over to the hospital and entered the room she had directed me to, and as I walked in her back was turned to me, and I said “Hi” and looked over her shoulder to see the person whom she was attending. He was lying on the bed and she was working on his face; she moved slightly aside and my eyes came into contact with a big, gaping hole in the place where someone’s face should have been.
I was completely caught off-guard and, thoroughly shaken, I staggered into an adjacent waiting room and sank into a chair. My brain went blank, my stomach became one tight, frigid ball and my whole body visibly shook as I struggled to digest what I had seen. It was not possible that the ‘person’ I had just seen lying there was alive!
From the adjoining room I heard my wife making the introductions. “There’s your brother-in-law”, I heard her say to the man lying on the bed. Then she raised her voice to me, “This is Haji, Bwana! He is the brother I was telling you about…”
Haji was a patient whom she began attending while I was away on one of my trips. Although she had intimated to me the seriousness of his condition nothing had prepared me for what I had just seen. Had I known I would see what I saw that day I most likely would not have agreed to make that visit.
Haji has cancer of the face. One side of his face is completely eaten off, and the entire half, from his scalp down to the upper jawbone, is simply a raw, messy gaping hole. That was all I saw in that one chance glance. I knew I could never look upon that face again on my own volition.
Believe me, I had seen cancer cases before and, in fact, I had visited cancer patients at the main cancer hospital in Dar es Salaam, but I had never seen anything like this.
I listened in as Flo patiently attended to Haji. Once in a while I would hear him cry out in pain. All the while she was speaking comforting words to him.
But there was something else. My wife had informed me that she had shared with Haji about the gospel, and he had given his life to Jesus. That was why she wanted me to meet him…
As I sat trembling in the waiting room, every once in a while I would call out, “Are you closing him up now?” Nothing, in heaven or on earth would take me back into that operating room before she closed up Haji’s wound.
At last she was done, and as she cleaned up she invited me to have a word with Haji. I entered in ever so cautiously, my gaze intent only on his face, ready to bolt lest my wife was playing a trick on me and had left that face uncovered. My stomach muscles loosened slightly when I saw his face bandaged up. He greeted me cheerfully, although I could see he was in a lot of pain. I could see that the cancer was eating into the rest of his face and despite Flo’s careful attempts to cover him there were some areas where the massing of the cancerous flesh was clearly visible.
I was so off balance that it took me quite a while to get my spiritual bearings. In fact, had I seen someone shot to death right before my very eyes I doubt I would have been more shaken.
At last I found the right words and I talked to him about the hope of salvation. We talked on until his regular 3-wheeled ‘cab’ came to pick him up.
Afterwards my wife and I went out to have a cup of tea. She said simply: “I called you because I wanted you to see Haji’s face.” She knew the effect it would have on me. Then she told me something very chilling. All the nurses at the hospital, she said, had refused to attend to Haji. Not because they did not love him, but because, as one of them said, “I could faint while attending a patient, which is unprofessional”. Their nerves, though trained, could simply not stand up to his condition. Not even the hospital’s matron would make them.
It appeared even other hospitals had given up on him.
“So we make appointments by phone, me and him, and he comes in only when I am on duty”, Flo said. “I am the only one who can attend him, and he cannot stand the fact of my being away from the hospital for any considerable amount of time”.
I looked at my wife and told her frankly: “Flo, from what I saw today, you are a truly exceptional woman!”