Dr. Anna

I spent the other night in the flat of a most remarkable woman, and when I woke up on her sunlit couch in the morning I decided that I had to write you all about her. Her first name is Anna. She is a doctor, and while Russian speakers tend to call her by her given and paternal names, the rest of her friends all over the world call her just Dr. Anna.

Dr. Anna has friends all over the world simply because God cares for her. Though she lives here in little Belarus -- a country that most people haven't even heard of -- somehow she has crossed paths with innumerable individuals from every part of the globe and none of these individuals seem to be able to forget her. On the contrary, Dr. Anna seems to be some kind of magnet for international blessing.

Through her the Belarusian children's surgical centre (also known as hospital #1 in minsk), where she works in the ICU, has had access to all sorts of international aid. I've seen it myself -- syringes and catheters donated from England or Holland, for instance, without which the doctors would not be able to perform life-saving operations on little kids. When our congregation's youth group goes to distribute toys to kids in their hospital beds, it's Dr. Anna's hospital they go to. Some of her friends in other countries send her medical texts or CD-ROMs, of which she is the only possessor in all of Belarus; one of her latest wishes is to get a scanner so that she can scan and distribute some of her thousands-of-pages-long medical book rarities to colleagues.

And I have no doubt that the scanner will come to her. Because it just works out that way with Dr. Anna. She is a blessing magnet not only in her professional life but in her personal life as well... though it is often hard to tell the difference. She frequently stays until the wee hours poring over those precious books in her study, and I've spent similar hours in there myself, helping her write and submit abstracts for conferences online. The room is piled to the ceiling with medical books and journals, is decorated with little souvenirs of places she's been on her quest to bring all international medical knowledge into Belarus, has a strangely high number of calendars (as does her kitchen and her office at the hospital, which only just occurred to me), and has recently been crowned with a very, very nice computer which one of her international friends just gave to her. I would probably be coveting this machine if I didn't know that she uses it for such unselfish purposes.

This part of the world has certainly had its share of technological and scientific advances in the last century. But the medical sciences were not foremost in that, and I've already written about low standards of sanitary living here. There are also low standards of pay: a doctor will maybe get $30 a month if they are doing well, a nurse about $15. Factory workers are paid more.

And then there is the fact that this country is flat-out poor and cannot afford to eradicate roaches from its hospitals (Dr. Anna told me that sometimes they get into kids' beds), let alone afford new catheters, makes for a very sorry situation. Knowledge and money do not abound in this medical community by any means, but God has been using Dr. Anna to bring both into Belarus.

But I don't think Dr. Anna sees herself as some great medical messenger. She just wants to help the kids, and maybe one of the reasons she loves the children so much is that she sees herself as a child too. She constantly refers to God as "my heavenly father," and recognises that all of the good gifts in her life -- from her computer, to the bus which goes directly from the hospital to her flat, to the vitamins in an orange -- come from him. This is the sense of wonder that I understand we tend to lose as we get older. I don't know how old Dr. Anna actually is; maybe in her fifties. Her sense of wonder is absolutely greater than mine.

She loves to talk about cell structure and dosages of epinephrine, but Dr. Anna is also thrilled by simple things like ice cream mixed with fruit (her favourite meal -- she explains how it can be healthy and I've never wanted to argue). Or things like walking. Not long ago she had many bones broken in a fall down an elevator shaft at her hospital, and her collegues generally acknowledge it as a miracle that she can move at all, or that she's even alive for that matter.

One medical student friend of mine has been to some of Dr. Anna's lectures. She says that she gives medical knowledge, but even more than that she imparts an appreciation for every human being as an image of his or her creator. Dr. Anna has a strong sense of this concept and finds everything she understands about the human body to be pure joy, just because it is a gift from and an insight into her heavenly father.

She also has a strong sense of the concept of the body of Messiah. Molecules are joined together to form cells, cells have to be able to communicate with each other and together they form organs, organs work together within a body. Each part of the body needs both "lateral" and "vertical" connection -- lateral with other parts and vertical with the body as a whole. When she started talking about the internet as a tool for such connection (this was in the context of sending an online application for a conference in Australia) I couldn't nod vigourously enough.

Dr. Anna is a connector herself, I believe... whether she's gathering information at international conferences or helping to arrange times for our youth group to give out toys. Please pray that everything continues to work out for her, so that she continues to be a powerful tool to bless these kids and medical knowledge in this country as a whole.

- 15 May 2001

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