October 23, 2013 – Day 4 - Tough Decisions
I had hoped to spend part of today with Rene. Instead I was reminded of how many children there are out there just like him. Some are younger, some are older. Some have special needs, others don’t. What they all have in common is that they are infinitely vulnerable and dependent on adults who are stretched too thin, have too many children to take care of, and too few resources to give them the care they deserve. Instead of spending my day with Rene, much of my day was spent caring for a little one who was brought to the crèche I was at from Rene’s orphanage. I had arranged to spent part of my day working in the NICU unit of a crèche down the road from Rene’s (I hoped to go visit Rene after a few hours at the NICU). Having spent many a day and night at a similar place in South Africa it kind of feels like home to me. I love caring for the premature babies, the ones that are very sick and need lots of loving.
After a short conversation with the crèche director the nurse gave me a tour. As she was showing me the ropes, someone came in saying that four babies had been brought in from the orphanage up the road (Rene’s orphanage) – the crèche takes in babies from other orphanages and crèches as it has the doctors, nurses, staff and resources needed to care for very sick children. They mentioned that it was the same orphanage that had brought in another child on deaths door the day before. Instantly I was frustrated. While I’d like to think the staff at Rene’s orphanage does the best they can and have their hearts in the right place, they are understaffed, under resourced and uneducated on how to properly care for children. They didn’t have their orphanage license renewed by the Haitian government because of the conditions (they could be shutdown at any time by the Haitian government). As we walked into the room where the four babies were my frustration grew further. They were all malnourished to some degree – their little arms and legs not much bigger than my thumb, skin falling off the bones. They ranged from maybe three months old to eleven months old. None of them weighing more than nine or so pounds (all smaller than my not quite two month old nephew back in the States). The crèche director and nurse checked out the children. It was determined that three of them could probably do ok back at Rene’s orphanage, as long as they were given better care and nutrition. I could see that the director and nurse would have liked to take in all four of the children – but there was no room. There wasn’t even really room for the one they were taking in – but he wouldn’t live if he went back.
Going home tomorrow, every time I’m struck with a difficult decision in the next few weeks I’ll think of this moment – the moment when they had to choose whom they had to take in to save their life and who was just healthy enough to go back to sub-par care. Literally determining life and death for these children. Suddenly, my decisions don’t seem so difficult any more.
The crèche director explained how they needed to care for the three children who were returning, giving the care givers from Rene’s orphanage formula as they didn’t have the right kind. They also weighed them. They would be visiting Rene’s orphanage next week anyway to do some training – they’d check in on them and weigh them again then to see if they have progressed at all. The little one who needed more care had the biggest eyes – begging for help from someone. His face was sunken-in like he hadn’t eaten for days. His caretakers explained that he wouldn’t eat anything, but he didn’t look like a child who had refused to eat. He was whisked upstairs to a nanny who fed him a hardy bowl of nutrient-filled cereal, which he ate wholeheartedly without fuss. He was then handed to me so I could comfort and love on him – something, in addition to food, he needed desperately. This little one, after a simple bowl of food and some good cuddles, suddenly had an ever so slight glow in him. For the next three hours, I held him in my arms, giving him the love he needed. He began to smile, reach for and grab my hand and toys I brought towards him, and on a few occasions laugh. It’s amazing, truly amazing what a little food can do. When I took him back to the crèche nanny, she fed him a bottle of milk. I waved good-bye knowing he was in the best hands he could be in, outside of his mother and father…whoever they were and wherever they are. Fingers crossed he’ll continue to improve…