Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sierra Leone: The Children's Hospital

After meeting the kids at The Covering and having a great day on Wednesday, we were looking forward to getting out in the community and doing an outreach at a children's hospital on Thursday.  Honestly, what I had seen of the community so far, from just riding from the hotel to the center, was shocking.  All the people....the tin working instead of going to was all a very eye opening experience.  But, in the middle of that horrible existence, we arrived at The Covering.

Thursday was a different story.  There was no oasis in the middle of the desert on Thursday.

On our way to the hospital, we drove downtown where traffic got a little heavy.  There were people everywhere, but it seemed the further we went, the more wheelchairs I saw.  Mostly men, but women, too. Some had one leg, a few had none.  One man had both, but his legs looked like they had been completely mutilated and his feet were pointing in directions they should not have been able to.  Older whose eyes had been gouged out.  As the traffic slowed, they came right up to the vehicle and knocked on our windows.  I was heartsick.

What in the world must these people have endured?  No doubt, most of it happened during the war.  I wanted to do something to help, but it wasn't safe for us to open the doors or windows while traffice was stopped.   I tried not to make eye contact, but it seemed that everywhere I looked there was someone waiting....hoping ....for anything we could offer.  As the vehicle started moving, a couple of men in wheelchairs rolled along with us...shouting to get our attention.

When we finally arrived at the "hospital", the picture there wasn't much better.  There was a huge line of moms waiting outside in the sweltering heat.  Some were holding their babies, some had them strapped on their backs.   They all looked miserable.  I can't imagine having a sick baby and having to stand in line outside just hoping I would be seen.

When I say we went to a children's hospital, I'm not talking about what our American definition of hospital means.  This was a 2-story building with the same ammenities as the rest of the city - almost none.  Just inside the door were several wooden benches which were filled, shoulder to shoulder, with more moms and babies.  We were directed to go past the waiting moms and upstairs.  We met with a nurse in charge and were taken to a ward where there were maybe 30 or so beds.  All were filled with children of varying ages who had been in the hospital for several days to several weeks.

The moms were there with them.  They had no chairs to sit in and definately no place to sleep at night.  There was one long bench down the middle of the floor, which was the only thing in the entire ward for the moms to even sit on.  Some of them were sharing the beds with their children, but the moms who had babies in bassinets didn't even have that option.

We were introduced to a 5-yr old girl whose mother had abandoned her.  She had been living at the hospital and the nurses had been caring for her.  She had obvious developmental/mental/sensory issues, but was apparently otherwise healthy.  The nurses hoped we would be able to take her with us.  Unfortunately, that did not happen as this little one would need 24 hour individualized care.

The girl whose mom abandoned her weeks before we got there.

One little girl and her mom, who didn't look very old herself,  had been there two weeks.  The baby girl was 2 months old and was obviously severly malnourished.  Her eyes bulged out of her head and her arms and legs were just skin-covered bones.  Proportionally, her head was enormous compared to her frail body.  I'd think it a miracle if this baby made it out of the hospital alive.  It was so incredibly heartbreaking.  It was this young mother's first baby.

I remembered how I felt when my first son was born.  Jackson was healthy when we left the hospital, but gave us a scare a few days later when we realized he was allergic to the formula he was eating.  I remember rushing an hour and a half to our pediatrician's office.  It was the longest trip of my life, since a nurse had painted a grim picture for us on the phone prior to our departure.  However, I knew I was heading to a place where he would be well taken care of and we would eventually be home again with a healthy baby boy.  This is certainly not what the mothers in Sierra Leone experience when their children are sick.

I was able to talk to a mom for a while who had also been there about two weeks.  Thankfully, her little one had improved and she expected to be able to go home the next day.  She was one of the few who spoke English and was able to communicate fairly well.  She was a beautiful lady and it was so obvious how much she loved her son.  He, like many others, had the same diagnosis - a "cold".  If they have a fever and maybe a cough..."cold" is the diagnosis.

While I was talking to her, another mom approached me with a bag full of empty medicine viles, surringes and needles.  She didn't really speak English, but I managed to catch that the medicine was gone and she wanted more.  She was hoping I could help.  I was a little nervous, since I'm not a medical-type person and I had no idea what these viles were or where they had come from and I certainly had no clue what her baby really needed.  Thankfully, the doctor we had with us was close by, so I grabbed her and let her take over.  I can't imagine what it must've felt like to be so desperate that I'd go to a complete stranger (and a foreigner at that), hoping they could do something to help my baby.

Before we left, we were able to hand out a loaf of bread and bags of water for each mother.   They were so thankful for the food and the fact that we showed an interest in their children.  We were able to be there for a while and just  hold babies so the moms could have a short break.

We left and went downstairs to a unit that is like a nutritional ICU....sort of.  There were maybe 20-25 beds pushed right up next to each other, with just enough room for one person to walk down an isle between the rows.   On most beds sat a mom and her child.  Very, very sick children who were dying of starvation.  These were the children who you've seen on the World Vision commercials.  You know..the ones that you just glance at before you change the channel.

There were several babies and children there, but the one I remember was a little girl who was 7 months old.  She looked like she might be a month old, if that.  She was so tiny and frail.  Her very young mother brought her in, laid her down on a bed with no sheets and just walked off.  She laid there with no one until some of our team started paying attention to her.   I sat with her for a while, but was afraid to pick her up.  She was so tiny and looked so miserable, I didn't want to hurt her.  When we came back to the hospital Monday, I didn't see her.  I assume she died.  There's no way she could've gotten well enough to leave.

This little guy had been abandoned, too.  

One of the nurses told our team that only about one child per month makes it out of that ward.

We delivered care packages with bread, peanut butter, a small toy and a small amount of money to the moms here.  Most of them smiled and were very thankful.  English wasn't really even needed.  I think they understood that we were moms, too, and we wanted to help them take care of their babies.

While we were helping there, we sent our drivers out for more bread and water.  Before we left, we made sure that every mom and child who was waiting outside and in the small area inside had something to eat and drink.  You would've thought we were handing out them, I guess we were.

We went back to the hospital on Monday with some supplies they needed that we were able to provide.  Bed sheets, sippee cups and pitchers for water....simple things that they were unable to provide their patients, most of whom die there.

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