I've been silent for a while, not knowing where to find the energy to put down the hundreds of words swirling around in my mind. Sometimes life in this place is just about keeping your head above the water while so many things are going on.
I do have one particular story of a 3 year old boy who had surgery on a tumour in his neck that was cutting off his airway. I didn't see him before he went in for surgery but I heard from those who did that it was much like Emmanel from Congo where he was trying so hard to breathe past his tumour that is was distressing to listen to.
This little Malagasy boy, let's call him Naty, went in for this very complicated, difficult surgery and was intubated and sedated after surgery for several days. I often helped out inside the ICU during the time that he was in there.
Naty was a strong boy and despite sedatives, pain relief and even some amount of muscle paralysers, he still moved around. There was a certain position he hated lying in and so even with bolus medications being given before moving him, he'd still manage to wiggle back to his most comfortable position.
Since this cute little boy’s admission his papa or aunty had been staying with him since his mother was 9 months pregnant and had other children at home. Both the papa and the aunty were so beautiful to watch their interactions and care with him. Even when his small body was on the large ICU bed, covered in lines, wires and tubes, whenever he fought against us, his papa would be off his chair in a flash to calm Naty and talk to him.
We tried getting him off the ventilator several times but each time he couldn’t cope breathing on his own with a damaged trachea, so we put in a temporary tracheostomy. He was able to be off the ventilator pretty much straight away. He was out of the ICU and back in the ward less than 24 hours later.
Soon Naty was able to start practicing swallowing water. His papa was so patient with him, spooning water into his mouth as he practiced swallowing. Some days he was improving and other days it felt like he was taking a step or two backwards, but most days I'd look over to their bed and Naty would be sitting on the bed with his papa sitting on a stool next to him, leaning on the bed. The two of them would be playing with a truck or other toys. His papa would say something to him and Naty's little face would brighten with a massive smile.
Days passed by and we were able to remove his tracheostomy and actually hear his cry and have him start swallowing food. When the nurses came to his bedside Naty didn't enjoy it. Mostly he cried a pitiful, raspy cry than was almost silent in volume. His papa was always so tender, calming him for whatever it was that we needed to do.
Last week I did night shift and looked after him. One night when his IV antibiotics had ceased and I didn't need to disturb him, I had a sudden thought to pray that God would close that trache hole that bubbled frothy sputum when he coughed or cried. When I came back from my day off after nights the hole had closed completely!! In fact, in this last week suddenly Naty has conquered his difficulty swallowing, his trache hole has closed over, he has had no more fevers, he is happier than ever and he isn't crying whenever a nurse comes near him.
I went to deck 7 with him and his aunt the other night and it was such joy to see him participate in a little running race with the day crew, his aunt and myself. His face was bright as a smile lit it. When we got back to his bed on the ward, Naty pulled out the pictures of his new baby sister that had been born a few days before. “Zaza!” (child) he proudly said in his raspy voice, showing me each printed photo of his beautiful new sister. “Yeah, your zaza kely! (baby) Tsara be!” (Beautiful) I replied in my limited Malagasy.
This past weekend, our little boy and his papa discharged home and he would have been able to meet his baby sister for the first time. After a whole month of being in our hospital, seeing this little family every day, his departure has left a little hole in our patient community, but I am so happy for them. I am happy that we were able to give this little boy a chance at a long healthy life. His aunty said to me, that night on deck 7, “No one else in Madagascar could have done this surgery.” It’s true, the local hospitals aren’t equipped for all the care that he had on board, but some day I very much hope they are equipped so that boys and girls just like Naty are given the surgical healthcare that they need. That’s why Mercy Ships is here in Madagascar, to bring life to those who aren’t able to access the care that they need and to train up the Malagasy medical professionals who will help strengthen and build their own healthcare system for the future.