15 June 2013

The Comic Relief of Perspective

A two year old floppy baby was sent to see me this afternoon.  He had been born completely healthy, but after only four months of growing and thriving, a mosquito transmitted malaria to into his little body and the fever reeked havoc on his brain.  As a result, this sweet boy has lost all muscle control, unable to move his arms and legs or even hold his own head in a functional position.

Still sound asleep, Granny pulled him from her back and positioned him in her lap.  Like a rag doll he slumped into a little bundle.  It took a bit to arouse him from his slumber, but once awake, he was nothing but bright eyes and a wide smile.

I turned to a new friend who is here helping out in the hospital for a few months and said, 'You know what breaks my heart, if this kiddo lived anywhere else he'd have a wheelchair that would support his trunk and neck . . . he'd have early intervention services . . . and adapted switch toys so he could play--' 

She cut me off.

'And he'd never have gotten cerebral malaria and would be a perfectly normal little boy.'

Her words stung me.  In those split seconds I became aware that I have gotten used to the way certain things are here in Niger.  Things that two years ago could sober me in an instant.  

It still bothers me that we can't provide all that is necessary for an adapted lifestyle for those living with disabilities in Niger . . . but without realizing it, I've grown accustomed to the mechanism of so many of these injuries.  

Two years ago I had to hold back tears while treating my first patient with a diagnosis of cerebral malaria.  Now I have resigned myself to the fact that there is not much we can do to help certain ones of these kiddos.  

I haven't given up . . . it's just become normal.

As my heart began to fill with the grief of this reality, I reached out to lift baby into my lap in order to teach Granny how to best position him to help encourage the development of head/neck control as well as grasp-release of small toy-like objects.

Still deep in my moment of solemnity, I rested him into place, as B. gently said to me, 'He just pooped on you.'

'What?' I asked.

'He pooped.  On your leg.'

Without thinking, I lifted baby into the air.

Sure enough, my new little (diaper-less) friend had left a big, soft, chunky gift on my left thigh.

Not knowing what to do, I set him back down, mushing his present into the fibers of my zunni.  I continued on, trying hard to ignore the warmth between his legs and mine.  As I showed Granny how to hold his head for best support, my brain began an internal dialogue:

'Oh my goodness!  This kid just pooped on me!!'
'So what, he's a kid . . . who has cerebral malaria!'
'But he pooped ON me!'
'He has no muscle control!  In his WHOLE body!'
'BUT he POOPED . . . ON ME!'
'Just be professional and stop acting like a child.'
'Talk quickly and then give him back to Granny . . . don't do a half hearted job because you're grossed out by a little bit of toddler poop!'

I somehow managed to keep my gag reflex in check, did what I needed to do and got baby safely back to Granny.

My new friend handed me a towel and some gloves.  Disposing of what I could, I returned into the gym to find that he had delivered round two on Granny's lap, but it managed to roll onto the floor.  I grabbed some new gloves and picked up his little dropping.

Granny was shocked!

'Ivoa lvkajslvj aljv lakv;kjbad jaldfvdfjlkajdvl;kgrwoih ldfkjv lkdajfv difjg lwkf eagj l!' she said to B.  When asked what she said he simply responded, 'She can't believe you did that without screaming!'

So here's to keeping things in perspective . . . cerebral malaria is a big deal, poop on my zunni . . . not so much!


Robin said...

That is called 'justice' -- I remember when........should I share my poop stories???

Leah L. said...

I know what you're saying about accepting the new reality that used to make your stomach knot up--I've known that will happen someday and wondered what it would feel like to realize it. It hasn't happened yet to me, because we keep not settling down in our home, but I know it's coming. If you can accept the new norm for the sake of staying out of a state of ongoing emotional trauma, but maintain your compassion, you'll be able to keep going for years. Keep up the great work!