J Walking

From my friend Jen’s blog about her time in Haiti… She has managed to put words to something too awful for words…

This was one of those days that just makes you wonder what the heck you can even do in a place like this. There are so many who are sick. The needs are too overwhelming. The stories are too tragic. There are no good answers.
Over the past several days I’ve had several of the patients’ mothers start crying in front of me. They were crying tears of pain, frustration, sadness and, maybe, relief. Pain that can’t be adequately expressed with words. Frustration at circumstances that trap them in a life of poverty. Sadness that permeates everything. Relief that someone is finally helping their child. I can’t even imagine. Parents here, and parents all over developing world, are no different from parents in the developed world. They all want what’s best for their kids.
Here’s one story that breaks my heart. I was at the Missionaries of Charity children’s home this morning and afternoon. Each morning sister Rosmerta opens the front gates and dozens of moms and dads rush forward, thrusting their babies towards her, hurriedly telling their stories, trying to get their voice heard so that maybe their child might have a chance. Rosmerta tries to pick out the few that look the sickest. The others are sent away to find someplace else, or to find no place else. Maybe home to die. Who knows. But the children’s home is already over-full (many children are already sleeping 2 in each very small crib, with 16-20 cribs crowded into each small room, and only one “mamazan” to care for each room), so she can’t take everyone.

This morning she pulled a tiny 6 month old baby girl out of the crowd–she weighed 7 pounds and she’d had a fever, vomiting, diarrhea and cough for the past few days. Over the next couple hours as I cared for this child I learned of her story. Her mom is 45 but looks older. Her dad was killed by the “chimere” last year. There are 5 other children. They live in Cite Soleil, one of the most devastated places on earth. I knew there was something really wrong with this baby, a reason she was so malnourished at 6 months of age (her mom had been breastfeeding her, so she should have been healthier) but I couldn’t quite place it. I think I was just so busy treating what I saw in front of me–a very dehydrated baby–that I missed something that in retrospect was obvious.
I ended up bringing this baby, as well as one other, back to St. Damien’s with me. On the way we got a flat tire because the road that runs from the airport road to Tabarre is a mess. So I sat there in the back of the dirty truck with 2 very sick babies, holding up bags of IV fluids and watching the cars pass…pondering how unfair life can be…that this is the best we can do for these kids…it’s so not right.
The St. Damien’s ER was crazy…I’ve never seen it so full. There’s no way they should have taken these kids but the administrator made it work, somehow. We took them in a back room and did all the blood draws and everything else ourselves cause there wasn’t anyone else to do it. It took a long time to get them settled in cause it was so hectic. But finally I was focused back on this little 6 month old girl, and as I was filling out her paperwork I examined her again so that I could document everything. And when I listened to her heart I heard a loud heart murmur I hadn’t heard before. Then I looked up at her face and saw the face of a baby with Down Syndrome (heart defects are pretty common in kids with Down Syndrome). I’d been looking at her face all day but I guess I’d never really “looked.”
In developed countries, people with Down Syndrome can live very full, productive, wonderful lives. If they have heart defects, there’s surgery to fix the defect. Once they enter school, there’s special education available. There are communities and programs in which they can live and work and enjoy life and thrive. This child will never have any of that. Her heart defect will never be fixed and she will likely die from heart failure at some point. She’ll likely never go to school, and even if she did, there’d certainly be no special education for her. In a country in which even the most able-bodied people don’t have jobs, she’ll certainly never have a job.
There are a few wonderful, well-run homes for disabled children here, but the chance that she’d ever have the opportunity to benefit from one is very small. There’s such a need here for that kind of thing, so that kids with disabilities can get the care they need, and their parents can get the respite they need. The same organization that owns the hospital is actually building a home like this just adjacent to the hospital, but it won’t be done for awhile.
The rest of the day was a repeat of the above: very sick child + tragic story + not being able to do enough.
This is when I repeat to myself what my friends have reminded me to say to myself, over and over (and I quote from an e-mail I got recently from one of them):
“I am FINITE. I can only do a little tiny bit of good and must be satisfied with that. I am FINITE.”
Seems incredibly obvious, but I forget quickly.

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