Jeremy Statton

Living Better Stories

Why You Should Do the Work that is Hard

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Monday was my first full day at Tenwek Hospital, and the lessons came as quickly as the work.

Apparently motor vehicle accidents, especially motorcycles, maim people everywhere. Even in Africa.

We were treating a patient with a femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone) fractures sustained in a motorcycle accident. This man should do well. His prognosis is good. But I learned a truth about mission work.

It is really hard.

Lost in Translation

For the fractures we use a rod called a nail to stabilize the fracture and allow it to heal. I do not lack the experience of inserting the nails, at least not the ones we use in the United States.

At home the nails require the use of an intraoperative Xray machine  as well as power tools for their insertion, 2 items much of the world lacks.

Here at Tenwek we use a different version. Based on his experience during the Vietnam War, Dr. Lewis Zirkle founded a company called SIGN (Surgical Implant Generation Network), and designed a nail specifically to be used without the use of Xrays or power.

I learned quickly that even though the nails are designed to be put in without Xray, they are hard to put in if you aren’t used to doing it without Xray. The skills I had acquired after hundreds of this same type of procedures did not completely translate.

Me inserting the rod, before frustration set in

If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get out of the OR

What I thought would be a 1 1/2 procedure turned into 4 hours. I was tired. Hot. Sweaty. Thirsty. Frustrated.

I don’t like being any of those things whether in Kenya or in the United States. I wasn’t comfortable and I wasn’t happy. The work was hard and it didn’t make me feel like a hero. Instead I felt like an idiot.

When I finished the procedure, I had nothing left. I was exhausted. Out of energy and out of hope.

In times like this, easier days fill my frustrated mind. Why couldn’t I just use the better instruments I have at home? Why did this have to be so difficult? Why don’t they have air conditioning in the operating room?

Even worse, I was asking myself why bother? Why come here and do this work at all?

Two Words

When the surgery was finished, the patient was awakened and was able to look up at me. He did not know me at all. To him, I was a funny looking man with a scraggly beard and incredibly white skin, who spoke a strange language.

I was a foreigner. A stranger.

But as he lifted his head, he gazed into my eyes and said “Thank you.”

He couldn’t say it, but I know he meant, thank you for coming here. Thank you for giving up time at home with your family. Thank you for giving up many of the comforts you enjoy at home. Thank you for taking care of my leg so that I might walk again.

Thank you for loving me.

His statement didn’t make my sore back feel any better, but the pain was overshadowed by the joy that came with providing him the medical care he desperately needed and I could give.

The answer to the question of “why” became obvious.

Giving Everything

When we consider getting involved in missions, we are filled with romantic ideas of saving the world. We imagine victorious moments. Incredible feats of strength. The stuff of heroes.

The real work of missions is hard. We have to go places where nobody else is willing to go, and there are many good reasons people don’t go there. We have to find new ways of doing things that are much, much easier to do back home. We have to love people that can give us nothing in return.

It reminds me of Jesus. He gave up everything. He left his throne next to his father in heaven. He was the creator of all things, but he took on the limitations of a body.

And when it mattered most, he took on the pain of death, a death on the cross. All for us.

And if we could ask him why he would do all of this, his answer would be simple.

Jesus did all of this because he loves us.

If we are to follow him, we have to enter into the hard and difficult places. We have to say yes even when everything in us screams for us to say no.

We have to love and we have to do the hard work.


About Jeremy Statton

Jeremy is a writer and an orthopedic surgeon. When not ridding the world of pain, he helps you live a better story. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook or Google +.

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16 Replies

  1. It was worth every inconvenience of the trip.

  2. Lorna Faith

    Thanks for the inspiring post…totally awesome 🙂 Amazing to give and not expect anything in return…that doesn’t seem to happen a lot in our NA culture:) Thanks for the reminder of Jesus’ love…I know I need to say yes more often.

  3. It’s our nature to give with the expectation of receiving, which is why it can be good to force yourself to give to somebody who can’t. Thanks, Lorna

  4. Unbelievable. Jeremy, seriously this is unbelievable. Thank you for sharing this with us all. Thank you for doing what you are doing, even though it might be BEYOND frustrating, challenging, tiring and irritating at times. 

  5. Jeremy, I’m in awe of this post and the work that you do! You are changing people’s lives this side of eternity, while changing their hearts for the other side of eternity.

  6. Thanks, Tor. There is really nothing to be in awe of. I just bought a plane ticket and showed up. The real work is done by Jesus.

  7. Charitysburke

    Amazing story Dr. Statton!  I am going to Nicaragua in two weeks for a peds hand trip with health volunteers overseas.  I am so excited and petrified at the same time.  I heard amazing things about Tenwek at the global health mission conference.  If you are looking for a hand surgeon for a trip in the future let me know.
    Charity Burke

  8. You can come here anytime. They will take hand surgeons and nonhand surgeons. They certainly have hand injuries, but the one ortho guys does everything. Hand, foot and ankle, spine. You name it. They need everybody.

  9. Amanda

    Wonderful!  Good push toward stepping outside one’s comfort zone.  Makes me want to start volunteering at our local legal aid clinic. Thanks for the reminder. 

    Amanda Hill

  10. Sounds like a great plan, Amanda. You’re welcome.

  11. You  have really much to be proud of – you are not afraid of hard work and never going to give up. I like your inspiring story and your position on the whole, keep it up!

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  12. Thanks for the encouragement, Shelley.

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