Toroti, a frequent patient to Egbe Hospital, has captivated the hearts of many. A love/hate relationship for sure! Love to see her warm, bright smile in the ward. However, hate to know what her presence at the hospital means. Toroti, now ten years old, developed heart disease at age five as the result of an untreated infection entering her heart valves. She has since dealt with chronic chest pain, the inability to breath well, swelling of her lower limbs, and a frail, weak body. All to which causes her to frequent the hospital. Following her most recent visit doctors tell us she will probably not be coming back much longer. Toroti’s heart is getting worse and worse, and she is getting weaker and weaker. Without a transplant there is really no other option.
I have felt compelled to write a blog about Toroti for some time now. Wanting to tell her story along with the many other sick kids we see at the hospital regularly. Children whose lives seem unjustly plagued with illness and discomforts. Keeping them from school, from friends, from just being a kid! All for reasons that most likely would be easily treated or prevented in other parts of the world. It is an aspect of life here that is emotionally stressful and frustrating for me.
Dr. Dana Iglesia, fellow SIM missionary and friend, wrote a beautiful blog this week which I am sharing because it really captures the essence of my struggle. Unlike myself who only comes to the hospital on occasion, Dr. Dana, along with the other doctors and nurses live this day to day. I never doubt Gods sovereignty, but seeing a sick kid more times then none leaves me thinking- Why God, Why?
Here are Dr. Dana’s words….
Over the last few days I’ve been quiet and reflective about life here in Egbe and happenings around the hospital. It is one thing to know basic statistics about a place and another thing to live them day to day. I know many medical facts especially related to mothers and babies. I’m pretty biased in this way because, well I’m a woman and I enjoy providing maternity care. I also agree with many others, when they say that the health of nation is determined by the health of its women and children.
So I know, academically, that 2/3 of the women having babies in Nigeria are cared for by other women who are NOT skilled or trained to treat and identify basic important health problems related to pregnancy. I also know that the rate of death for children under five years old is about 124 per 1000 per year. In the U.S. this number is only 6.
The best way I can explain child mortality rate is like this…in any Nigerian town with 1000 children being born annually, 124 of these children do not make it their 5th birth date. That’s a lot of children, right! I know that on average, people in Nigeria live to the age of 54 years old. It is more common for people to die at younger ages in Egbe.
Children are brought to our doorstep weekly who are on the verge of death and do not make it. We get frustrated to the point that when a parent says their child has been sick just for 1 or 2 days we don’t believe them because of the obviously critical state of the child. We start to wonder if we are doing everything we can for our patients. Treating a seizing child with malaria becomes routine to the point that we forget that it’s non-existent in the United States.
In the last one week we have had:
*One year old with anemia, sickle cell disease diagnosed and malaria
*11 month old with anemia, likely leukemia, and malaria
*4 year old with meningitis or severe malaria, slowly awaking from a coma, but still with high fevers after one week
*4 month old with AIDS and malaria
*One year old with severe asthma needing help to breath
*18yo with sickle cell, anemia and malaria.
The rate I gave of 124 per 1000 per year starts to feel heavy and very real, when you see child after child come in with sickness. It begins to weigh on you emotionally and spiritually. The loss of a child deeply affects a family. Parents become unhinged watching this fragile life in their hands. This is not a time when we are able to do or say anything.
So what do we do? Sometimes I’m not even sure what to do. Rationalizing facts and statistics, don’t help. Knowledge doesn’t help. Prayer does help. But in the end, you have to “Be.”
You have to be present. You have to be present to this family’s pain and suffering. You have to be present to the loss you feel within yourself. You have to be present to the fragility of life.
I am grateful for the Psalms.
Psalm 121:2 My help (and hope) comes from the Lord the Maker of heaven and earth.
In the deepest part of my being, my faith tells me that I am not in control. I do not have the final say. I am a part of a larger story that is written by God.
God has called me here, so here is where I will be.