She Didn't Even Have A Name

We were at Papa Palmer and Nana Nancy’s house when the phone rang.  We had just finished eating a delicious meal and were talking about M’Bingo and theology interchangeably.  After answering the call in the other room, the veteran missionary physician returned to report, “It’s a four-day-old.” 

“You should go, Ethan,” Elizabeth said, voicing my thoughts. 

So Dr. Palmer, an internist, escorted me to see my first patient, a baby girl in respiratory distress. 

When we arrived, the baby was dusky, cyanotic (blue), and struggling to breathe despite high flow oxygen.  A resident presented the case.  The beautiful little girl was a 41-week-gestational-age infant whose mother had rupture of membranes (“broken water”) 48 hours prior to delivery, increasing both her and her baby’s risk for infection.  The delivery was notable for excessive meconium (fetal excrement). Extraction of the baby had been difficult.  All in all, not a good set-up for arrival in the world. 

At the time of our evaluation, the infant was already receiving all the treatment we had to offer.  We went outside to speak to the resident, asking about his differential diagnosis, getting more information, and teaching a bit about sepsis.  While he spoke, I racked my brain to find something, anything that could save this child.  But I knew only one thing could save this baby: a miracle.

I approached the mother and apologized for my attire (having not anticipated this trip to the hospital, I was wearing an Arkansas Razorbacks t-shirt and flip flops).  I told her that her child was very sick.  We were doing what we could do, and I asked her if I could pray for her and her child.  We held hands and went to our Father in prayer.

The next morning while I was running errands at the hospital, I went back to the baby’s bedside.  She was gone.  My heart started racing.  I spoke to Esther, the unit’s financial worker, who confirmed what I feared.  The little girl was dead.  She had not yet even received a name. 

But God knew her.  He loved her.  He loved her more than I loved her.  In fact, He loved her more than I have ever loved anyone. 

1 Corinthians 15:55 reads, “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
 “O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

Facing my first patient death as an attending physician, I did not feel as if death had lost its sting.  The tears that ran from my eyes did not seem victorious.

Death is the enemy.  It originated in the Garden.  The sting of death is sin, and from sin death originated.  There are not many things that Christians should hate.  Death is one of them.  I hate it.  I hate that death robbed this young, first-time mother of a lifetime with her daughter.  I hate that here in Cameroon the death of babies is common.  I am here because I hate death.  I hate sin.  And I know the One who has overcome both death and sin through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Death is the enemy.  Jesus Christ has overcome, and through Him, I have overcome as well.  He is my hope.  He is my rest.

“Weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning.”  Psalm 30:5

I will see many children die here.  In fact, I imagine I will see more die in my first month of working in Cameroon than I saw in my entire medical training to this point.  How do I mourn without being paralyzed?  How do I prevent my heart from scarring over?  I do not know. 

[Jesus] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  Revelation 21:4

I rest in the fact that my hope is greater than any tribulation.  My Lord is greater than sin and death.  His Kingdom is the pearl of great price.  Jesus is abundance.  He is good.  He loves me.  So today, my tears are dried.  I pray that God enables me to mourn well for those who die, and to rejoice well that Jesus is alive.


  1. This is such a poignant and painful story. May the pain of this world always point us to Jesus Christ, who conquered death. Thanks for sharing this Ethan!

  2. Thank you for sharing, we are praying for you so much and believe God is doing and will continue to do amazing miracles through your lives.

  3. You're coming into this situation with infant mortality at a high. Through God and your medical expertise you will make that mortality rate go down. By the time God takes you somewhere else you will have changed many lives. You are making a difference God will guide and teach you. Thank you.


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