catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 24 :: 2013.12.27 — 2014.01.09


Taking the cup

I braced myself with one arm on the port side of our dugout canoe, grabbed myself around the waist with my other arm, and gently leaned forward to rest as best I could.  Chris, my co-worker, covered me with a heavy blue tarp to shield me from the heavy downpour, just seconds after dark rainclouds had begun to block the hot Amazon sun.  Each time someone raced by us in a speedboat, the waves rocked us back and forth, coaxing the contents of my stomach upward with each rhythmic motion. I begged God to help me contain myself until I could get out of that canoe. 

We arrived in Nauta an hour later. I untangled my foot from the damp, mildewed fishing net, slipped a little on the long, slimy Paiche fish that lined the canoe by then and exploded in the bushes before I ever checked to see that I was sufficiently out of sight. I didn’t care; I simply had no time to worry about it.

It took 20 minutes to make the five-minute walk to Pastor Emilio’s house, even with Chris pushing and sometimes pulling me along the dusty road that overlooked the river. What always enchanted me about the Peruvian jungle made no impression on me that day. I was so sick; I didn’t care.

Children splashed and played in the river as they scrubbed down with the same lye soap the women right next to them used to wash pots and pans from Sunday’s dinner. Men whose bare feet were as wide as they were long, and whose dry, sculpted, sun-scorched faces showed the strain of doing the arduous work of mules, carried cargo twice their weight from the port into town by strapping it to their heads and across their backs.

Pastor Emilio’s wife ran to get her husband when Chris and I arrived. She saw that I was keeping my promise to let them know if I ever needed help with anything on my way from Grau to Iquitos, via Nauta.  Pastor Emilio wondered if I had contracted malaria or dengue fever, but once he felt my forehead, he said it really didn’t matter what I had — my fever was just far too high. 

Then I realized I was shaking, and that my wet face and back were not necessarily reactions to the jungle heat.  I didn’t care that Pastor Emilio put me in a motokaro alone, and sent me to the medical post in town. I just needed help as quickly as possible.

I didn’t care that the medical post was a dusty, unsanitary room no larger than an outhouse, or that the sterile materials were stored in two-liter, plastic, Coca-Cola bottles on the window ledges around the room.  I didn’t even care that they were taking my oral temperature with a thermometer labeled “rectal.” And, for the first time, I didn’t care if they tore open the package of a brand new needle before giving me a shot to lower my fever.  I just took the shot and headed toward the jungle-city of Iquitos where there was a clinic.   

Though the trip by unpaved road in a cattle car was brutal and unforgiving, it was two hours shorter than by boat, so Chris and I opted to take it.  Six hours later we were at La Clínica Ana Stahl, a hygienic oasis with shiny halls, fresh sheets on real beds, and the sterile smells of alcohol and pine.  My fever was again full-blown. And I was soaking wet, shaking and in much pain. 

After diagnosing a parasite infection, the doctor sat next to me with a large bottle of IV medicine.  He explained that they were out of IV needles, and that they wouldn’t be able to get any until the next day. 

He then opened the bottle, poured its contents into a paper cup, handed it to me, and said, “Toma.” “Drink.”

When I looked at him in disbelief, again, he told me to drink it, adding that the medicine absolutely had to get into my body one way or another. And if it couldn’t enter via IV, then I needed to drink it. 

As I drank that IV medicine, as I took the cup, with every swallow I was keenly aware of how nasty, bitter and offensive-tasting it was.  And yet, the knowledge that it would purge my body of that infection, that it would save my life, somehow made it a bearable, unbearable task. 

This I cared about.

It was the answer — the only answer to what ailed me.

It reminded me of Christ, who also took the cup not for His sin, but for mine, swallowing every nasty, bitter, offensive drop of it, knowing that His obedience was the answer — the only answer to what truly ailed me, not in my gut, but in my heart.  

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