The Breathing Repairwoman

September 16, 2013

by Annette Lievaart, Respiratory Therapist

God continually reminds me that though healing the physical body is a good goal, healing the spiritual body is even more important.

By Annette Lievaart, Respiratory Therapist

Living and working as a respiratory therapist at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya is very different from living and working in Edmonton, Alberta.

In Kenya, I always walk to work. The mornings are beautiful, with the sun peeking up over the clouds and the birds singing. I often greet people who I meet along the way. In Kenya, a simple “hello” or wave is not appropriate. Instead, we always shake hands and ask how things are going, and there’s no rushing or worrying—outside the hospital, that is.

Inside the hospital, my days are busy. To describe my job to patients, I translate respiratory therapy into Swahili as “the breathing repairwoman”, because I’m the first of my occupation to ever spend time at Tenwek. I usually work at the hospital around 50 hours a week. Although I work long days, I love what I do and my days are very diverse. 

At times, I’ve held babies in our neonatal intensive care unit; at others, I’ve fixed ventilators and am always helping patients breathe. One night, I donated blood at midnight for a patient who severely needed fresh blood that could clot. At times, I work within my specialty, and at others, I do whatever needs to be done—from touring a medical company through the hospital to sorting supplies in the storage room.

Whatever I am doing, I love to help out the career missionaries and shoulder some of the load of working here. I also love sharing knowledge with the staff as we learn from each other.

Prior to and during my time at Tenwek, I’ve spent many hours learning Swahili. Conversations going on around me help me continue to develop my understanding of the language, which I studied for three months before I came to the hospital. The nurses and I often chat over a chai (Kenyan tea), where they encourage me and help me pronounce different words.

I have learned so much that I can now do basic respiratory assessments in Swahili. My language may not always be correct, but I am learning--and when the patients laugh at my mistakes, it’s a good form of chest physiotherapy!

As I continue to live and work at Tenwek Hospital in the coming months, I ask for your prayers. I will need strength both physically and emotionally, as the days are long and I see a lot of death each week. However, God continually reminds me that though healing the physical body is a good goal, healing the spiritual body is even more important.

Please lift up the people of Kenya—that they will not only experience physical health, but will also experience the life that is found in Jesus.