Dark Times and Rainbow Days
Written on Friday 16 January, 2009
This week has been a difficult one. We have had two deaths on childrens’ ward in less than 24 hours – a 9 year old girl and an 8 year old boy. We had only taught resuscitation to the doctors and students that morning, just after they had learnt about it, they had to put their new-found skills into practice. For the girl, we spent most of the afternoon resuscitating her, and we all saw how it can be successful, even when her heart had stopped. “Resuscitation can bring someone back to life”, a Ugandan nursing student later reflected. Unfortunately, without intensive care facilities, when she stopped breathing again, we had little choice. We could try to resuscitate her again, but even if it were successful, she would need ventilatory support that we can’t offer here.
It seemed unbelievable when the next day, as I was doing the ward round, I realised that boy in the next bed was not breathing. I don’t think the staff quite believed it either. We found ourselves going through the now-familiar routine of resuscitation. Unfortunately it was soon obvious that it would be futile. The mother was distraught when I told her that he had died. Generally speaking, Ugandan mothers don’t show their grief. Not that they don’t feel it. But this mother was different. We were all devastated.
So many thoughts and questions are raised in situations like these. This is what we are trained to do as medics. Some deaths affect you more than others, I’m not sure why. But even though it’s sometimes hard to process the events and the emotional response to them, I know I would stop working in paediatrics the day I was not affected by a child dying.
Yet, life goes on. Today, an orphan baby who has been on the maternity ward for 6 weeks has a new family. Her new parents heard that there was an orphan on the ward, and asked if they could look after her. They were delighted to have another baby now all of their children are grown up; and were beaming at her as she slept peacefully beside them. Two mothers were singing and almost dancing in the special care nursery as they found that their premature babies had gained weight this morning. I couldn’t help but celebrate with them. And as I showed a post-op photo of a cleft lip repair to parents of a baby born yesterday with a cleft lip and palate their smiles made me smile too. There is hope, even when it seems unlikely. And it’s a privilege to play even a little part in it.
This week has been one of dark times and rainbow moments. The dark times are difficult, but God is right there with us, feeling our pain, knowing our frustration and comforting those who mourn. And he gives us those rainbow moments to let us know his joy.