Friday, August 6, 2010

Hot as death?

Warning: this story might not be for everyone.

Last night, after closing down the clinic for the night, I was ready to head home when three figures walked up with a baby.

I thought about letting the on-call health worker take care of it but God refused to let me go. My feet felt glued to the ground. The figures seem so solemn, so resolved. I decided to assess them and then call the doctor. When I asked them what was wrong, they just showed me the small baby in their arms. He lay calm and still. Too still. He looked like he wasn't breathing.

I figured it was the poor light in front of the clinic so I had them hurry in. I touched the baby and he seemed warm -- hot even. I started thinking malaria. But as I assessed the baby more, it became very clear he wasn't breathing.

I called for my translator and asked them how long he'd been this way. They seemed confused. What do you mean? Isn't he breathing?

As my translator went for the doctors, I started resuscitation efforts. The family was sure that he had just now stopped breathing. "Just as we entered the clinic gate," they assured me. But it didn't look that way. His little hands were curled in tight fists. His body semi-rigid.

I gave oxygen and started chest compressions but was unable to restart his heart. Once Caleb got there we worked on him together. While Caleb did compression, I stopped to take his temperature. He was burning up with a temperature of 38.8 degrees (102 degrees).

Caleb pronounced him dead after assessing the rigidity setting in. Shaking his head to my hopeful looks. When I handed him to his mother, she too shook her head in disbelief. No, he's still warm. He must be alive. She put her ear to his mouth and said there was a rattle. She could hear it. But there wasn't.

It took her several minutes to believe us. She just kept looking hopefully to each of our faces. I told her that her baby was hot not because he was alive but because of the fever that killed him. I told her that we could no longer hear his heart beating. I told her that he wasn't breathing. He wasn't moving. I won't soon forget her face as that news finally settled in.  

I broke down and cried as I prayed for her. She seemed so hopeful. She had come from so far. He was still so warm. And yet all I could offer her was a quiet shake of my head and my prayers. I wanted to give her so much more.

He was only nine days old. He had spend 5 of them on fire. I used to think that death was cold but I don't anymore. I've learned that here, death can be hot as well.