It was only last week that I met you. You came to the hospital when it opened because the American doctor from the mission hospital brought you and your mama on the plane, hoping we could help. You had a tumour growing in your mouth.
I watched you sitting on your bed with your mama. She said it hurt you when you were eating. You knowingly putting your hand on your cheek, where the tumour hurt you the most. We gave you pain medicine and later you asked for more chicken so I knew you were feeling better.
You didn’t reach for cuddles when we walked by your bed, but you also didn’t cry. Your mama greeted me with a smile every day.
When the doctors saw you during the week, they thought the tumour in your mouth wasn’t one we could operate on and remove. It was growing bigger and you were getting sicker.
A few days ago we gave you a blood transfusion, IV fluids, antibiotics and malaria treatment because you got so sick. We also told your mama that we couldn’t operate on you and we’d try to find you flights back to the mission hospital. Did you see the look on your mama’s face? It broke our hearts. Did you feel her warm tears drop onto your soft skin? We prayed for a miracle.
We wanted to fight for you baby, but this tumour we couldn’t remove. We knew you were dying but we didn’t know when and we wanted to get you home to your family, to your twin sister.
On the weekend you got sicker. You couldn’t lie down anymore because that made it too hard to breathe. You didn’t want to eat or drink much and even though you were so tired you couldn’t sleep because your body had to stay awake to breathe.
This morning when I walked with you in the hallway I had no way of knowing, but as I walked back into the ward, you stopped breathing. Your face changed colour and the tumour that you’ve been trying so hard to breathe around filled the whole space in your mouth. Your limbs straightened out and stiffened for a moment. I hurried to your bed where your mama was sitting and told her through a translator, that you, her baby had stopped breathing. Her face filled with grief and a wail escaped her mouth. She bent over, face to the ground and began to moan, a noise penetrating every surrounding heart with deep sorrow. She hurried out of the room.
I sat on your bed with you in my arms. You’d taken two small breaths but that was it. You now lay limp in my adrenaline shaking arms. I called to the nurse to page the doctors and another to bring a stethoscope. She listened for your heartbeat and shook her head. She put the stethoscope ear pieces in my ears, I put the diaphragm over your heart and it was silent.
Your mother had stepped out of the ward because her heart had broken into pieces, so I had the privilege of holding you in my arms. The nurse put curtains up around us and I sat there alone with you, staring at your face, tears dripping off my eyelashes, soaking into the pretty, white, flowergirl dress you were wearing.
People came in and out of those curtains, checking all was well with me and you, asking if I was ok and did I need anything? Yes, I was ok, because you were in my arms and you were at peace. You weren’t fighting for air anymore. Finally you could rest. Now you are in a place where there is no pain and no sickness. Will you remember me when I join you there? Will we see each other from afar and you will know that it was me who held you as you took your last breath? It was me who held you for the next two hours, in place of your mama who could not bare it. I could hear her wailing down the hallway. She loved you more than words can express and as I sat there holding you and hearing her cries, I thought how raw her heart must feel. I didn’t even want to think how deeply my heart would hurt if you were my child and I had lost you. But I still cried for you. I cried for your mama’s loss, for the hundreds and thousands of mamas and papas all over the world who loose their babies from diseases. I cried for the babies lost in Africa from preventable illnesses. I held you tight.
I stayed with you while the officials came and while your cousin came to see you. She could not bare to see you lying on the bed so still and lifeless, so she didn’t stay long.
When the time was ready I wrapped you up in a patchwork quilt, made with love from someone who knows that the children who need these blankets need something special. I carried you out of the ship and down the gangway and put you on a stretcher to go to the morgue. I saw your mama coming down the gangway in our hospital chaplain’s arms. She was bent over in pain. Agony was written across her face. I thought my heart might split open. The doors shut on the vehicles and they drove away, you in one and your mama in another. I turned my back and walked up the gangway, afraid that the tears would spill over and I would loose composure and fall apart right there on the steps. I will never see your mama again, but I will carry you and her in my heart forever.
So little one, as you rest with your heavenly Papa, I will pray for your mama and your family.
I will never forget you.