Years ago, three of our children from POCCH had gone home to visit their mum. She lived with an Aeta tribal group, and when they returned one by one they had to be confined in hospital due to Malaria.
While I was taking my turn at caring for our patient, I couldn’t take my eyes off another patient on our ward who, too weak to even sit up, lay motionless and helpless. [Here in the Philippines, every patient has to have at least one ‘bantay’, which is a person to care for them. The bantay has to run and buy the medicine when the doctor prescribes it, take the patient to the bathroom when needed, wash and bathe the patient etc. The job of the nurse is to administer the prescribed medication or to alert the doctors if and when necessary. A patient with no ‘bantay’ will just be neglected and receive no medication or treatment.]
The patient I was drawn to was a two year old boy who just pulled at my heart’s strings. He was in such a pitiful state. He had 3rd degree malnutrition, TB, diarrhoea, dehydration and other complications. He was just skin and bone except for his stomach which was swollen due to malnutrition and one buttock which was swollen due to infection and he was clothed in nothing more than a dirty little vest and he lay on his dad’s cap in place of a nappy (diaper).
I observed for a while but I was just overwhelmed with compassion. I saw how all the other patients had people running around tending to their needs, while no one was running around buying or administering medicine to this little one. His mother lay with her head on her arms in despair, slouched over his bed and just slept hour after hour. When the patient’s food ration was delivered, she ate like she was starving too.
I slipped out quietly to inquire what medication he needed. I was informed that even if he was given all he needed, his life expectancy was still less than 50:50. I was told, “There are complications!”
At the earliest opportunity I went out to buy nappies, milk, bottles and all that was prescribed so at the very least the nurses could start the necessary treatment.
When I returned, the mother was gone and the father had taken her place. He thanked me for my kindness, but then looked quite troubled. I asked him what was wrong and he said that the hospital wouldn’t give him water to make up the bottles. He couldn’t leave because he had no ‘bantay’ for his son. So I promptly offered to watch over his son while he went to get water.
While he was away, his son was given his first dose of medicine. I was shocked. This little boy was so starving he tried to make a meal of it. He licked his lips trying to get every last drop of nutrition out of this sugary medicine. I spoke tenderly to him in his own dialect, encouraging him to fight for his life. I had plenty of time because it has several hours before the father returned with water.
I knew that even if he were to improve there was no quick answer for his sickness. TB, though treatable takes at least six months of treatment for a full recovery. If the child remained with his family, they clearly couldn’t afford to feed him much less provide medication, so in reality he had little hope of survival with them. So after much thought, I made a proposal to the mother and told her that if she would let me care for her son while undergoing treatment, I would cover all his expenses. I was shocked when she refused my offer. I couldn’t believe it. I left her my address just in case she would change her mind.
Of course I was aware that she didn’t know me well and understood her apprehension, on the other hand however, as far as I could see, she didn’t have any other options. Her son was dying.
That night as I lay in my bed crying inconsolably, I couldn’t get him out of my mind. I tried to imagine what I would do if my son was in that state. I couldn’t understand how a mother could just sit and watch her son die. I thought of how I would knock on doors and offer to do people’s laundry or any kind of work to raise the money to somehow buy the needed medicine and do my best to care for my son. I cried myself to sleep.
There are times that no matter how much you want to help someone, they just don’t want to be helped.
The next morning when I stepped out of my bedroom, I couldn’t believe my eyes, the child’s parents were sitting in my lounge.
Look out for my next blog and I’ll tell you how it all went down!!!