Fragility and Resilience: Azreen’s story

Several months ago my son Tom asked me to visit Azreen*, a nearby teenage TB patient, whose course of medications had been interrupted.  I took along our intern, and found that despite being extremely thin and weak, Azreen was communicative and fairly cheerful.  We prayed for her briefly and arranged that I would go with her and her aunty Tahseen* to the hospital the following day, hoping to get her admitted.

I arrived early at the TB hospital to register Azreen to see the respiratory doctor.  Soon enough Azreen arrived, physically supported by Tahseen in order to walk the 20 metre distance from the hospital gate to the waiting room.  Tahseen had TB herself when she was much younger, and she is determined to fight for Azreen’s life, by getting her admitted at the hospital and back on TB treatment.  Weighing in at only 21.5 kg, Azreen was very weak, and the doctor was easily convinced to admit her for treatment and careful observation.  Her mother Sayiba* also arrived and stayed with her in the hospital.

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Thakurganj TB Hospital gate

For two weeks, she tottered on the edge of disaster, with soaring fevers, racking body aches and no appetite – an opportunistic hospital acquired infection had broken through her weakened immune system.  I received numerous panicked phone calls from Sayiba, with vivid descriptions of her daughter’s breathlessness, closed eyes, and extreme fevers.  Sayiba is completely uneducated, and seems to me prone to anxiety – how should I respond to each phone call?  I tried to counsel and calm her, while advising her to get help from the nurse on duty.

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Thakurganj TB hospital ward

I visited Azreen every few days, trying to be there at the time I knew the doctor would be on rounds in the ward, to help them ask their questions, and get as much information as I could from the doctor. 

One day when I visited Azreen I took along Cassie and Elisha, relatives visiting from Australia.  Elisha is a school student, about Azreen’s age, and her mother Cassie is a nurse who has experience in the TB ward in Darwin.  The contrast is stark, between the facilities and infection control measures in Darwin, and in this very basic open-windows hospital with many patients and few staff.  Cassie had useful tips about how to arrange pillows and blankets to make Azreen more comfortable and sat with her praying fervently for her healing.  She was also distressed by the language gap, so wanting to connect and comfort, but unable to communicate easily.

Once Azreen’s condition stabilised, she was discharged and went home with Sayiba to their make-shift hut. It’s on the side of a major road, quite a distance from the area where her aunty Tahseen lives, close to us.  The hut is off-grid and uses a small solar panel to charge a light and their mobile phone during the day.  They have sporadic income from an uncle who also lives there.  Azreen’s parents are separated, and when she previously lived with her father her TB treatment was discontinued.  Other than the medical dangers of TB and being dangerously thin, Azreen faces many housing, economic, and family challenges too.

Other visitors in December included a Kiwi doctor friend, Kaaren, who came with me to visit Azreen at her home.  She helped us sort through a plastic bag full of medicines, to work out which ones she should still be taking, how many and when.  Again, we prayed together with and for Azreen.

During January, Azreen grew stronger day by day, and gradually was able to do normal daily activities.  It was such a joy for me to see her beaming smile, as she reported that she was feeling much better.  If I had met Azreen for the first time then, I would have been very concerned about how thin she is. But having seen how much she has already improved, I pray with hopeful confidence for her full recovery.

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Thank you gift from Azreen

Now, after a few more weeks, Azreen is weighing in at 28kg, so her medicine doses have been increased.  Unfortunately, that has also increased the side-effects she experiences, yet she is faithfully taking the medicines and slowly improving.  On Tuesday she waited hours at the public hospital to see the doctor, who was particularly grumpy but also gave helpful advice.  After the appointment I was so happy to see her walking more comfortably and confidently towards the hospital gate.  We paused and prayed together with thanks and asking again for her continued and complete healing.

As I reflect on the time I’ve spent helping Azreen, I’m very thankful for God’s grace in bringing her through the worst of her sickness, and now slowly restoring her to health and wholeness.  I’m amazed at how God has created our bodies – so fragile and also resilient – that Azreen’s body could be reduced to a living skeleton, and then slowly rebuild. 

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At home, feeling blessed
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Recent flower gift from Azreen

I’m grateful that other friends and family have also met Azreen, prayed with her, and glimpsed something of my life these days, as I attempt to love and serve TB patients.  I pray Azreen and her family also glimpse something of Jesus, who inspires and guides me on this journey.

* names changed

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