Once Upon a Time, a Hospital Ran Out of Toilet Paper

No toilet paper.

At least I think that’s what the Hungarian nurse signaled to me. Her hand pointed to the empty cardboard roll while she shook her head.

“In the whole hospital?” My English words fell flat, but the panic in my tone must have communicated something.

She held up a finger to tell me to wait, and walked to another room. When she returned, she carried big squares of gauze and a pair of scissors. After cutting the sheets into thin rows, she handed me the pile.

I sighed. That works.

Picture post-communism Europe, 1995. I traveled with a ministry to teach at English camps in Hungary, drank some bad water, caught a parasite, and was checked into a hospital that still operated under a strict bureaucracy of socialized medicine.

(I ingested a parasite. And the entire hospital ran out of toilet paper. I’ll give you a second to wrap your mind around those two things.)

That was the beginning of four of the most terrifying nights of my life.

My wonderful translator only came in once a day to talk to the doctors. Other than that, I was left with the five Hungarian words I knew. Each time a nurse came to get me for medical tests, my anxiety would go through the roof. Where was she taking me? Why? Would it hurt? Getting an EKG where I thought I was going to be electrocuted is a story for another day.

And, unfortunately, I was quite the celebrity in the hospital. Other patients would visit me, smile at me, scowl, or lecture me in their native tongue. I wondered if they were contagious while they touched my hair. One of my roommates pantomimed a hand coming through the window to steal my things. It never occurred to me I could be in a hospital and not be safe.

Prior to this, I stayed in a dorm full of American staff, taught English, and had not experienced true culture shock - until I couldn’t advocate for myself in a medical setting.

Then I started to lose it. Fear coursed through me on a level I’d never experienced before in my life.

On the third night, a young woman came to find me. “Elizabeth? French?”

The admitting hospital paperwork used my middle name instead of my first name, so it took an extra second to register that she was speaking to me. But French? “No.” I shook my head. “American.” 

“Yes.” She smiled brightly. “French? Parlez-vous français?

Do I speak French? “Yes.” I prayed I could dust off the cobwebs of my high school language class.

Le téléphone.” She held a hand to her ear as if it was a phone.

Telephone? This was 1995. Cell phones weren’t a thing. What telephone?

Viens avec moi.” She excitedly motioned to the door. “Viens avec moi.

She led me to a lobby, where a rotary, pea green phone sat with it’s receiver lying on the table. The girl beamed and handed me the receiver.

Putting it to my ear, I took a deep breath. “Hello?”

“Deborah!”

My mother’s voice. MY. MOTHER’S. VOICE.

Uncontrollable tears poured down my cheeks.

A few days earlier, I made the don’t-worry-mom-it’s-going-to-be-fine phone call, and told her the name of the hospital. I had no number or address. It was a large medical campus in the middle of Budapest. I couldn’t even tell her what building I was in. 

Internet searching was not a thing in 1995. Instead, here’s what happened:

My sister called Information and received a number for the hospital. One number. She got my mom on the phone, dialed a three-way call to the international number, and it rang to … the random phone on the floor where I stayed. Then. Then, the person who answered at the other end spoke French. Not Hungarian. French, the foreign language my sister knew. They worked through my first name issues. The Woman Who Answered the Phone knew who I was. Knew how to find me. Placed the phone down. No one hung it up while she searched for me. And I was able to speak with my family during one of the most overwhelming experiences of my life.

Because God knew. Because God is that big. Because I am His, and it’s how He took care of me in that moment.

Life becomes burdensom. We can forget that God loves us specifically. Individually. As the One who created us. This is the God who knows the number of hairs on our heads. The God who provides for the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the field. 

This is the God who wants to knock your socks off with His giant love for you.

It’s not always easy to cling to that during the middle of life’s muddy waters, trials, and big questions.

But I was wondering.

Would you be able to ask God to specifically love you today in a way that you know it could only be Him? It doesn’t have to be a phone call in a Hungarian hospital. It can be a flower you passed. Or the words of a friend. Or finding a lost treasure. Or maybe just a few minutes of peace.

He has something in mind just for you.

 

How are you today? Even if you’re not in the mood to look for God, I’d love to hear from you. You don’t have to have faith that He loves you in that manner. I will pray it for you until you’re ready.