It was so wonderful this year on my birthday, that the staff of Hôpital L’Eglise de Dieu Réformée not only took the time to repeatedly wish me “happy birthday”, but were so kind to bring me my favorite foods, complete with a whole quart of ice cream. I am so spoiled! They presented their wonderful gifts and left me to enjoy my meal in the relative quiet of our office. It was a great time of reflection.
Earlier in the day, as I was in my office, a group of 3 ladies came to my office door with referral sheets from another missionary medical group who refers patients to us. I pointed them in the right direction and explained to them how to check in and see the doctor. The other missionary group had kindly paid for their visit so they were making sure that all was in order. As they scurried off to their appointments, one of the ladies held back and seemed to be a bit befuddled by the instructions. She was very diminutive, quiet and demure. Her clothes were dirty and tattered, and her teeth were black with decay. I asked her if she understood and she incorrectly described the directions.
As the story unfolded, she had only shared a ride with the other ladies but really didn’t know them as she had come from farther up in the mountains than her comrades. She showed me her referral sheet and said it was for her son who was in her arms. As I glanced at the sheet, the name, age, height, and weight of the little guy was listed along with a simple note that said “malnourished. See Dr. Mark”. I took my first good look at her son and noticed his mismatched sandals, too large brown shorts and his too small “Incredible Hulk” flannel pajama top. The sleeves were long enough to cover his elbows but didn’t come close to his wrists. The area around his middle was too small to be buttoned due to his swollen belly. His hair was non-existent and his size was way below average for his 2 ½ years of life. Mom and he stared at me as if to ask “what’s next?” so I thought I might give them a bit of personal help to navigate our confusing maze of check-ins.
One of the staff members helped them to check-in and they were placed in the queue to be seen by one of the pediatricians. After the usual long wait (we are “first come, first serve” for outpatient services), Mom and “Hulk” again found me in the ER and without speaking, gently handed me the prescriptions for blood work, a chest film, and some meds. Mom was unable to read them, and once again very politely asked me for some help. After navigating them through x-ray and the lab, they went back to see the pediatrician for a more definitive diagnosis and a plan.
|Staff seeing a child in the malnutrition program|
After another time lapse, Hulk’s mom found me in the pharmacy. The pediatrician had suggested that Hulk be admitted, but mom said she needed to get back to the rest of her family. I told her that it would certainly be in his best interest to stay and be cared for by us, and that without the help he might be in danger of getting worse and even succumbing to his physical problems. She paused and said that the pediatrician wanted Hulk to be part of the malnutrition program, which monitors at risk children twice monthly, and provides some basic nourishment and necessities for them. The next time the program occurred would be the following week, so she and Hulk would return at that time. I argued against the delay as Hulk really needed to stay. Unemotionally mom stated that he would be ok, even though he was too weak to stand for long by himself, and that he had been that way for awhile. She would not be able to leave him behind or stay with him. The group had provided a little money for her to get back home, so she left, with a very polite “mèsi” and said that she would see me next week.
So as I sat in my office with a big plate of my favorite foods, waiting to devour a whole bunch of ice cream, while the memory of my birthday with Hulk and his mom were haunting my office. Knowing that this little guy was just one of many I have seen with similar stories made the meal a little more difficult to swallow and generated a time of reflection, a time of gratitude, a time of prayer. I don’t understand the inequality that life presents sometimes, nor why I have been given what I have been given. The irony of such a little guy having an Incredible Hulk shirt didn’t escape me on my birthday and that produced a grin on my face. As another chorus of “Happy Birthday” was presented by a staff member, I was overwhelmed by the blessings of my birthday, including a visit from a tiny “superhero”. I pray that someday, on his birthday, Hulk will have all of his favorite foods in front of him, be surrounded by friends and his loving mother, and know that there is an eternity ahead when all of this inequality will be made “right”.
I sure hope I get to see you again next week, Hulk! I’ll be waiting!
This was written on October 31, Dr. Mark’s birthday, and since then the little Hulk did return, but in worse condition. After some exams and blood work, they found that again it would be in the boy’s best interest to be admitted. The mother agreed but was unable to provide any money for his stay. Because of our generous donors, we were able to cover the cost for Hulk’s testing and time at our facility. He is still at the hospital and we pray he continues to improve each day.