Tuesday, January 26, 2016

oh baby, baby

 This is my Aylan, so to speak (as in Alan Kurdi, from the refugee crisis). He is the child I will always remember for representing a huge, dramatic crisis.  I don’t even know his name, but I can still see myself sitting next to his lifeless body and wanting to just hold him and cry for a very long time.  The picture in my mind is that of his body wrapped in a white PPE apron from the clinic. Since ebola, clinic workers are not supposed to touch corpses, so we wrapped him and only his beautiful face was visible. I took this photo the day before, when he was just a boy playing in the clinic’s waiting room. He was only there to accompany a sick family member. He was never examined and nobody worried about him. His mother was smiling about having his picture taken. A perfect little boy.

The next morning he did seem sick and a neighbor told his mom to take him to the clinic. She had spent the previous day there, so that day she really felt she should work the land in order to have food for her family that evening. She couldn’t afford another day at the clinic. In the evening her boy-friend rushed them to us on his motorbike, with the boy suffering fever seizures. Our head-nurse and I stood over his body, knowing we were looking in vain for signs of life and trying to think up the least painful way to tell his mother. When she heard, she broke down in tears of desperate regret and sorrow. She spent some time running, trying to process the pain that swept over her. I sat next to his wrapped little body with my hand on his chest. I soaked in some of Africa's pain for a while. I watched the nurse pack away some things as tears were running from her eyes. She has not been able to get used to the hopelessness she often gets to see. Thank God for that.

Malaria. If a child continues playing and doesn’t fret too much while having high fevers at night, you may not even notice that malaria is busy taking your kid. Especially if there are bigger, louder children around, taking all the attention. We noticed from feeling this boy’s enlarged spleen after he died, that he must have had quite a few feverish nights. He taught me to, in future, manually examine every child’s belly to look for this sign. Give the anti-malaria tablets in time, and they will live. Have them sleep under a mosquito net and malaria can be prevented.

It’s a wild world, where children die from preventable diseases without anyone noticing. What to tell a mother in a place like that? “You should’ve come sooner...”? She’s learnt that the hard way too.

Caustic soda is another killer in Liberia. People use it to make soap, but sometimes they forget to store it away from children. Well, it’s not like the average Liberian household has plenty of cupboards with locks on them. Baby Susan drank from a cup that had been used for caustic soda. Her mother came running to the clinic with her and thankfully she was not too late. I’m guessing Susan hadn’t drunk too much of the stuff. Or maybe it’s because we prayed with all our might. All we could do for the rest was make her drink plenty of milk and give her some anti-inflammatory tablets. Had she needed surgery, there would’ve been little hope for her. She made it and her mother followed our advice to come back to the clinic for a check-up the next day. It was only then that I realized I had assisted Susan’s birth, during my previous visit to Rivercess. Encouraging to see some of these little ones make it!

You can help, you know? There’s opportunities to give: www.benyoh.nl
Or check out Drive Against Malaria
 and find out how preventable malaria is. Exciting stuff is going on with the Roll Back Malaria partnership, speaking out for a malaria-free world.

Apparently, little Anna (preemie of 2014. see Liberia 2014) has also been sighted at the clinic. She left us being way too small to be ‘independent’ and sent into the wild, but showed up about a year later. I'm sorry I wasn't there to meet her again, but one of our co-workers remembered her as "my little baby" and was able to tell me that she made it through that first risky year of her life. Her mother may be one of the most eager learners I’ve worked with in Liberia. She has not been to school, but makes sure her kids will go and I trust her to make a contribution to a stronger next generation.

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