The last two weeks have been frustrating as I've made phone calls, paid visits, and sent emails and text messages to multiple people and agencies on Lamin's behalf. Each time I've gotten discouraged, though, God has sent along some hope.
On Monday, Lamin's social worker at the rehab facility messaged me that he'd been taken to Our Lady of the Lake with chest pains on Friday. Deciding to use my lunch break to investigate, I headed to the hospital. Finding Lamin's room was relatively easy, and when I walked through the door he exclaimed with a smile, "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!" We had not seen each other in 12 days.
"I told you I would see you," I said as I took his hand and kissed it. "I found you."
I settled onto the edge of Lamin's bed, and he told me he would have "a surgery" at 3:00 that afternoon. The papers he pulled from his bedside table described and illustrated exactly what would happen during the procedure--a heart cath. He grew very excited as he told me how they forced him into the hospital to look at his heart even though he insisted nothing was wrong with it. Eventually, however, they convinced him that the "burning from the front allllllll the way to the back" needed to be investigated. So now he waited, counting down the hours, but assuring me that he was not nervous.
"I will let them look at my heart because I need to be healthy."
"I am staying with you today," I wrote on the whiteboard the hospital had given him to facilitate communication. The marker was shot.
Procuring another took a bit of stern persuasion--smiling sweetly while conveying that I would not relent until someone coughed up a marker--but Lamin and I finally set about filling in the gaps of his story. And what a story!
Lamin was born in Sierra Leone, Africa on New Year's Day 1965. With a big grin he said, "The whole world was celebrating when I was born." Some problems arose because his father was a citizen of neighboring Liberia, and the family had to relocate there. When he was nine years old, Lamin contracted yellow fever and was sick for three months before recovering. He remembered his mother thought he was joking when he told her he couldn't hear. This was the beginning of life without his sense of hearing.
In 2004, fleeing a 14 years of civil war in Liberia, Lamin's family sought refuge in the United States in hopes of a better life. "We came here--17 total in my family. 17 Kabbas came to New Orleans." Now his family has grown to 24 and live in multiple states, including New Jersey, Texas, Georgia, New York, and Washington.
This was as far as we got before it was time for Lamin's heart cath. He had asked me to pray with him before he went in for the procedure, and I wrote "Okay, Lamin. I am going to pray now. What religion are you?"
"I am Christian," he said with great seriousness. "I believe in God the Father and Christ Jesus."
"Me, too," I spoke as he read my lips. "Now we will pray."
I took his hands as we bowed our heads. My words were lost on his deaf ears, but not on his heart. As I prayed aloud, I heard Lamin whispering his own prayer, and when I was done I squeezed his hands and opened my eyes. A few seconds later he opened his, too. "Father God will be with me."
"Yes, He will."
Nurses came to take him to surgery, and while Lamin took one last trip to the bathroom they chatted with me in the hall. "Who are you with?"--a question I'd been asked several times since I first met Lamin. When people looked at us they saw an unkempt alcoholic with dark chocolate skin and a polished professional the color of almond seeds. How could I possibly be anything more than a case worker?
"Jesus," I replied. "I'm with Jesus. I met this man less than two weeks ago, and God burdened my heart for him. Lamin asked me to help him, so I am helping him. He has no one--no friends or family--and I am sticking with him because that's what Jesus calls us to do."
"God is surely going to bless you," the young woman responded. "You're doing such a good thing."
"I am already blessed--it's a blessing for me to know Lamin and to help him. I'm no saint. Believe me, I walked by this man and did not stop because he was dirty and smelled. I kept walking, but God stopped me dead in my tracks and told me to go back and pray with him. I didn't want to, but I did. And now my life is richer for it."
I registered with the desk attendant in the waiting area. She updated me when the heart cath began and then called for me when it was over. "I'll take you to consult now so the doctor can talk to you. Does the rest of the family need to come?"
I hesitated a moment. Was this conversation for family only? Was I allowed to go back? "It's just me."
As I waited in the small, but comfortable room I imagined the doctor coming in, taking one look at me, and declaring he must be in the wrong room. I rehearsed what I would say if they asked if I was family. In the end, however, Dr. Khan came in, shook my hand, and whipped out a dry-erase marker (oh, the irony!).
Lamin has two full blockages and another 90% blockage in two different arteries. His heart has somehow found a way to bypass them because there is some blood flow getting through. In two other arteries, he has slight buildup. Dr. Khan told me the arteries near the blockages were too small to put in a stent or to do bypass surgery. So they will treat Lamin with medication for now so that his other arteries remain clear.
By this time, my husband Mike had arrived, so he joined me in the post-op room, where Lamin was smiling and trying to convince his aide, Diedra, to let him sit up. All he could think about was food, insisting that he was going to starve to death, and when his dinner finally arrived he had the aide shove the piece of chicken in the roll and ate it in three bites!
"Slow down!" I fussed at him. He ate every bite on his plate (except the green salad, which Diedra hid after she and I both agreed it would only be a choking hazard to a man eating lying down) and asked for more.
It was nearly 7:00 p.m. when Mike and I left the hospital, confident he was in good hands. I promised I'd be back the next morning before work.