Kirk and I are heading home from our third trip to Kurdistan, Iraq in 2016 and our fourth trip in thirteen months. I wasn’t supposed to go on this one. Our last three trips were to Duhok. We hadn’t been to Sulaymaniyah since early 2015 and our friend and pediatric cardiology colleague Dr. Aso requested we come. Kirk and Mary Porisch always say “yes” if they can. I had plans. I was going to San Antonio to work for a week and I had a family reunion to attend. I started trying to recruit another anesthesiologist in my stead. When I started to realize this was going to be difficult because of the late timing, I prayed “ok, Lord, if we can’t find someone, I’ll go.” My role is a necessary one. We’ve seen bad outcomes when a true pediatric cardiac anesthesiologist has not been present. I knew I would be devastated if my not going caused a child to be hurt. I confess though that when we exhausted all our options, I was truly disappointed. I didn’t want to disappoint my colleagues in San Antonio or my family that I had made promises to. Then my Maui work schedule came out. I had originally been off one week, but someone had asked me to switch to another. In the confusion, my first week vacation request hadn’t been deleted and I found myself off for two weeks. I offered to work that first week and no one in Maui took me up on that offer. So I offered to go to San Antonio a week early. That allowed me to spend shortened but still lovely time at the family reunion. 

Seven of our team of ten (Kirk, Mary, Tim Sanken, Amy Burkett, Ann Sugrue, Chris Pruitt, and Jacob Cokely) arrived in Iraq 24 hours ahead of me. They screened over 100 children at the hospital in Sulay and then at Fountain of Love in Chamchamal on Sunday. I met our nurses for the week, niece Tara and her husband Roy Asejo, in Istanbul and we arrived at three in the morning on Monday. We went to our hotel and slept a couple hours and then got up to start the work week. We only did two procedures that first day. We were supposed to do four but, contrary to a previous promise, were told we had to stop after two. We screened well over forty children that afternoon and then were hosted for dinner by one of our generous hosts: Noaman from Kurdistan Save the Children. We filled him in on our early day. He came to the hospital with the Minister of Health (and some TV reporters) the next day and made sure we had complete freedom to do as many procedures as we could. We did four then on Tuesday (and screened at least 20 more patients), six on Wednesday, and four on Thursday. God was gracious. All 16 children did well. Pediatric cardiologist Dr. Kamal came from Duhok for two days, which was an encouraging collaboration with Dr. Aso. Our initial rough start and its subsequent resolution resulted in the healing of what had been a difficult relationship. 

The week was a powerful lesson for me in the joy of obedience. Faithful readers of these updates know how I struggle with exhaustion on these trips. For years I prayed for another anesthesiologist to join me. The Lord answered with my faithful friend Dr. Maria (Mauri) Garcia. Despite her enthusiastic willingness, she couldn’t go this time. If you read my update of our last trip, you read that I didn’t want to write yet another story of my struggling with lack of enthusiasm to serve…but being glad I did. I’m always glad I go. I was just getting weary of my own bad attitude. I had a couple epiphanies on the last trip. Mauri is a good listening ear while we work together. I was wondering aloud to her why everyone else on our teams seems so enthusiastic to go, but I’m just obedient. She suggested that the Lord sent her to let me know I was not alone in my anesthesia role and to give me relief from the exhaustion. She truly is a gift to me. Then Kirk realized that I spend all my time taking care of the patients in the procedures, so I miss all the prayers with the patients before (I’m getting ready) and interactions with the families after (I’m waking the patient up and getting the patient to the recovery room, only to go back to the cath lab to start again). When he said he realized that I get all this work with very little of the emotional benefit, it made me cry…because I realized he was right and I was relieved to think maybe I wasn’t so hard-hearted after all. 

My telling Kirk that I was going to go on this trip actually shocked him. I hadn’t told him about my prayer. I was hoping the Lord would provide another anesthesiologist. He didn’t, but I went with such a different attitude this time. I felt truly called to go. And the Lord was so gracious. I had surrendered time in San Antonio and time at my family reunion…and He had given those back to me. Instead of going with a sense of dread, I went with a sense of excitement. Having a short day that first day was another gift, allowing me to get some rest before continuing with some longer days. It was genuinely a fun week. Our team of ten was filled with loving, helpful, enthusiastic, faith-filled, fun, sacrificial servants. What a delight to serve with them.

I got a horrible cold and lost my voice to laryngitis at the end of the week. This is another lesson. There is nothing formulaic about faith. Sometimes you surrender a desire to the Lord and you get it back…and sometimes you don’t. Always there is a blessing to surrender and obedience, but it is not always easy or without difficulty. God’s grace was sufficient for me until my last procedure was done…and then I felt sick and exhausted. The lesson was not that He had left me, but that He had carried me as long as I needed to be carried. 

I keep reflecting on the fact that I lost my voice. How utterly frustrating. The Lord has been using it as a reminder for those we go to serve. I’m sure they often feel as they have no voice. Who will speak for them, serve them, help them, love them, defend them, rescue them? “Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’ (Isaiah 6:8)” What a privilege to be sent and what a joy to obey.