Her phone chirped, and Laura looked down at the screen. It was 10:00 on a Saturday morning. She didn’t answer.
Sometime between 1:00 and 2:00, Laura was freed up enough from the chores around the house to answer the missed call. It was Gulya, a young woman who lives in the village with her two-year-old son. Her husband died last summer from an extreme asthma attack. Her son suffers from asthma, too, and every cough is cause for worry.
Gulya told Laura that her son had a cold, was coughing, and had a fever. She was nearly beside herself. In the last year her son has been in the hospital twice for asthma-related issues. Laura told Gulya she could give him Tylenol and asked if she had her son’s asthma medication. She didn’t. Laura told her to watch him and see how he progressed and said she wouldn’t run over right then.
The line Laura walks is little more than a knife’s edge at times. Fall to one side and you’re in danger of coming across compassionless—in fact, you’re in danger of being compassionless. Fall to the other side, however, and you’re in danger of feeding unhealthy dependence upon the rich Westerner and propping up the Western Savior mentality that’s so deadly to both them and us.
Gulya texted Laura again at about 7:00 while we were having dinner at a friend’s house. After talking with a Western doctor, Laura decided it was better to take Gulya the asthma medicine that night. So out to the village she went. It’s not a taxing journey physically. Really, from our house it’s just a few minutes by car. It couldn’t be more taxing emotionally. Every time Laura sets food there, she’s never sure what to expect, who she’ll cross paths with, or which man might try to kiss her.
By the time she arrived at the single room Gulya rents, it was clear her son really was having difficulty breathing. A dose of albuterol and 10 minutes later, and he was noticeably better.
Gulya broke down in tears, probably a release of emotion pent up all day after thinking that she was going to have to go to the hospital, which included a taxi ride, neither of which—the doctor’s visit or the taxi—she could afford.
As Laura was making plans with Gulya for a follow-up visit the next day, Laura realized something: A little bit of medicine and a little bit of compassion go a long way. Gulya’s son wasn’t in respiratory arrest. Laura didn’t need to administer CPR. She didn’t have to drive a hundred miles. She didn’t have to spend the night on Gulya’s floor. A single dose of albuterol and the willingness to show up was all it took to relieve the little boy’s physical condition and the mother’s mental anguish. It only cost Laura 30 minutes and dessert at our friends’ house.
Just a little bit can go such a long ways.