Friday, November 4, 2011
Twenty-eight days ago his teenage mother gave birth to him in a mud tukel. Although small, he seemed healthy; but there was a problem. He wouldn’t breastfeed.
So the family walked to town and bought a plastic bottle and baby formula. They poured it down his throat to keep him alive because he wouldn’t suck.
“He cries a lot,” she complained, “and he isn’t passing stool.”
Dennis was the first to see her. After hearing her complaints, he asked me to review the child and see if there was some kind of bowel obstruction. “The babies abdomen seems rigid,” he said.
So I gathered the mother, her parents and a medley of relatives (who needed to watch) into the tan metal container used as a consultation room. We were on outreach caring for the small community of Maloney which is a 30 minute drive from Tonj.
The teenaged mother nervously set her baby down on the table for me to check, but she wouldn’t meet my eyes. She knew something was seriously wrong.
Drawing back the thin sheet which covered his skeletal frame, my eyes widened in surprise.
-- It couldn’t be... No, Lord... Not this.
His umbilical cord was infected. Swollen and cracked, it bulged out menacingly from his taut abdomen. Someone had recently painted it purple with Gentian Violet (a messy but effective disinfectant).
His face --a wrinkled mask of pain-- contorted rigidly. His arm flexed to his chest clenching tight little fists that I couldn’t extend. And his legs stretched ram-rod straight locked in attention but crossed at the ankles.
His boney frame was frozen in a pirouette of pain. I couldn’t touch him without inspiring tiny whimpers. Their feebleness made me want to whimper too.
Oh, Lord. This child of yours is suffering. Papa, what do we do?
I called for Dennis and he agreed. The boy had tetanus. He asked me to prepare the family to come back to Tonj with us. They would have to go sell a cow so he could get the anti-tetanus serum in Wau... assuming it could be found.
Looking from Dennis to the boy then back to Dennis, my heart sank. His words did not make sense.
--“You mean we are going to take the boy back with us in Tonj?” I asked skeptically.
--“Yes,” he stated softly.
--“But we don’t have any anti-tetanus serum. What can we do for him there?” All hope had left my voice by then.
--“We can ease his pain while the family gathers the money for Wau,” he explained.
--“Oh. But... honestly... do you think there is any hope for this child?” I asked flatly. I didn’t see any hope in his eyes. I didn’t feel any hope in my heart.
He hesitated only momentarily then said, “I have seen babies like this recover...”
--“Yes... but after 28 days?” I worried out loud.
--“Stephanie... the boy is in pain. We must do something for him.”
Only then did my brain and heart connect. Yes. We had the ability to help his pain. Was I really suggesting that we send him home to die? What kind of soulless monster had I become?
This tiny little man was suffering. Imprisoned in spastic muscles and tetanic contractions, his short life had known only pain. We had a way to help. We had a duty to help.
I confess I believe his case to be helpless. I don’t know if I should pray for him to live... or die quickly. All I know is there is a 28 day old boy in our clinic who moans incessantly. All I know is there is a scared teenage mother in our clinic who must watch it. All I know is it hurts to see them suffer... and I want to run away from this hurt.
Lord, please help this family. May your will be done. Amen.
Please pray for us to know how to proceed. Pray. Pray. Pray. Thanks.