A solid day of malaise, closing my eyes as I drift in and out, listening to the occasional question on decimals or rising long enough to read Berenstain Bears “A Book on Manners” was all I could muster.
I could have guessed that Hannah’s afternoon nap yesterday was a sign of things to come, as she hasn’t done that for thirteen years (she’s thirteen). I could say it was a wasted day, but who am I to say. Jim’s bottle of Cipro has helped turn me in a different direction this afternoon though.
Since I live a parallel universe to really sick people, I won’t complain. Temporary discomfort. Since I have the capacity to complain more loudly than the mothers of just pronounced dead babies here, I will instead choose to be content.
And I don’t say that lightly, because there are many dreadful occasions to which that occurs each week.
Jim interrupted his rounds to come get me. He’d seen a few little ones recover over the last few days and discharged them. I didn’t see those.
Sitting to his left, he sat in the pediatric ward, a large rectangular room filled with metal cribs, 50-60 mothers and their 67 children sleeping together each night. This room was designed for 25.
The mothers stay with their babies on those thin latex foam, crib length mattresses for their ‘comfort’ as long as their stay; the blue plastic covering the beds was for the nurse’s comfort, quick changes. Who knows how often the bedsheets are changed. Half of the moms and kids sleep on the tiled floor.
Jim sat at a simple desk where women and their children would line up on stools in a row. An American physician and a couple Ghanian Medical Officers had their desks too.
Woman after woman held their flaccid child in their arms, supporting their floppy necks, holding them up for Jim to examine as each took their turn.
One was newly admitted that day. The three year old seized in front of me, mother watching, making sure I saw what she saw as Jim had been called away.
One child was complaining to his mother of headaches. This one, five, my own son’s age. She looked two, small and vulnerable in her mother’s lap.
One four year old had a puddle of blood under his lower lip. Probably from a seizure, Jim suggested.
Fatia, the student nurse and translator, passed patient folders on to the clerk behind her as she spoke in Mampruli to the mother. Your son has malaria in his brain.
He might have seizures, become limp and will have an IV of artesunate, if it’s stocked, or quinine, if it isn’t. If he can eat koko (watery oatmeal), he can. Unless he’s limp, then he takes only fluids.
Most mothers are inexpressive, but two. So irregular is the expression of sadness or pain, that I didn’t understand that one of the mothers was wiping her eyes of fear, or sadness, or disappointment that her child was this sick. And when she was told her child had cerebral malaria, she didn’t leave the line, but cried more. When I reached to touch her shoulder to show her the universal language of I’m sorry, a simple smile on my face and tears in my own eyes, then she, perhaps embarrassed?, quickly left the line.
The American doctor zoomed to the back of the room to look at a crying child. This would be the one ward where I would hear crying. This doctor’s two daughters, three and almost one, had just recovered from malaria. They were caught early, so their disease resolved quickly. Perhaps the key to preventing cerebral malaria is to bring these children in for early treatment. We’ll never know for sure whether they have been showing symptoms for a long time or not.
Though there have been efforts, perhaps if there was a malaria outbreak on American soil, malaria, too, would have a vaccine.
This sign found in the hospital…