Words cannot express how difficult these last couple days have been. Where do I even begin?
Pain. First, I guess I will start with the least significant piece of news. As my friends Zep and Nairi were saying their goodbyes to the children and packing up their things for America, I began to feel this horrible pain in my right side. "Hmm...this feels sort of familiar...whatever, I'll be fine." As I often tend to do, I tried to ignore my symptoms and focus on the tasks at hand; holding babies, taking pictures, and saying goodbye to my friends. However, at one point, the pain got so bad that I had to put the kids down and step outside for some air. For approximately the next two hours, the pain was unbearable. I curled up in my bed and hoped it would pass. To make a long story short, I think I had a kidney stone (or infection?). My mom called the doctor and I started taking antibiotics. My side is still a little sore, but I'm not in nearly as much pain as I was the other day. Whew! (Please don't worry about me).
Like I said, my pain is the least of the bad news and horribly insignificant in comparison. Sadly, let me tell you about Neema. Neema is a little girl at the baby home who is about three or four years old. She is absolutely beautiful. Her smile melts your heart and her laugh is outrageously contagious. She came to the baby home about two years ago after suffering some of the most horrible trauma and abuse you could ever imagine. Neema was repeatedly raped by her father. When she first came to the baby home, she was frail, tiny, and in so much pain. Because of her abuse, Neema currently frequently suffers rectal prolapses. Basically, the end of her colon ends up on the outside of her body. She had one surgery a while ago to prevent this from happening again, but like many procedures in Africa, it didn't work.
A few days ago, Neema woke up in the morning in a great deal of pain. The poor little darling walked out of her bedroom with her back hunched over and her little bum in the air. "It hurts," she kept saying while pointing to her nappy (diaper). Her normally joyous face was now scrunched up, wincing with every movement. I held Neema that morning until she fell asleep. Apparently, there's nothing we can do for her and eventually her insides work their way back in again and she goes on with her daily routine.
Luckily, it only took a day for this to happen and Neema is back to her normal, happy self again. But can I take a second and say, "WHAT?! A two-year-old?! Her own father?! How disgusting and cruel do you have to be?" How could anyone ever do such a thing? I was truly heartbroken holding her and watching her have to deal with the consequences of such cruelty. I don't know if I've ever felt more helpless. Precious Neema. Please keep this beautiful little girl in your prayers.
Suffering. I don't know how many of you follow the baby home website, but if you don't, let me tell you about another gorgeous baby, baby George. Georgie is one of those babies who people are drawn to automatically. Not only is he a handsome little thing (a future heart-breaker for sure), but he is almost always full of joy. You will never find George crying just for attention or whining for a different toy, etc. More often, you will find him smiling, eyes twinkling, and full of innocent wonderment.
Lately however, little Georgie (about a year old) definitely has reason to be crying. George was born without an anus and has had a colostomy bag since birth. In hopes of easing current and future difficulties, George has undergone several surgeries in the last year and now has an anus. This is fantastic news for any child, but especially for an orphan in Africa.
Yesterday, George finally came home from the hospital and today I got to spend some time with him. As we looked after him, Erika (another long-term volunteer) and I began to well up with tears. George has had each of his surgeries (all major) without ANY pain medication whatsoever. He has a huge open wound in his side where the colostomy bag has been (now stitched up), and his intestines disconnected and reconnected, a hole carved out between his legs for an anus, and to top it off, he has the worst case of diaper rash I have ever seen. The diaper rash alone is about three square inches of open flesh. He also has a scar from his bellybutton to his ribs from a previous surgery. Imagine, just for a second, the amount of pain this baby has experienced. You can't. It's impossible for us to imagine the kind of pain he is in because we will never know that kind of pain. We have been blessed to live in a country where morphine and vicodin are anywhere and everywhere. You wouldn't even consider surgery unless you KNEW you wouldn't feel a thing. Georgie had his intestines cut apart and sewn together and felt every single second. It's amazing he's still alive.
So as we watched him try to get comfortable and cry with every movement, how can I not ask why? Why does this little, tiny, beautiful baby have to suffer so much? When will it end for him? He deserves a happy, healthy, and long life full of running around, kicking soccer balls, and laughing with friends. Why does this little baby have to suffer like this? Why? Just why?
Horrible Sorrow. So if this wasn't devastating enough for you, I apologize, but what I'm about to write is a million times worse. Yesterday afternoon, five month old Stella passed away. She died. So suddenly. So unexpectedly.
A week ago, Stella was a healthy, happy, and very chubby little girl. She seemed to have no health problems at all. I was on shift in the tiny baby house. Stella was laying on a blanket and began to cry. It was just about time for her feeding, so I picked her up for a bottle. When I picked her up, she was a little floppy; kind of limp. One of the mamas and another volunteer noticed and the mama looked concerned and felt her fead for a fever. We took her temperature. No fever. I fed her the bottle and then held her in the rocking chair for a few hours, watching her carefully. During this time, she began to breathe kind of funny. It was almost like she was wheezing, but it was more like she was making a little noise (like a mix between "peep" and "grunt") with every breath. The mamas made note of it, told the assistant manager, and kept a close eye on her. Two days later, she was in the hospital with what the doctors called pneumonia. She was treated for pneumonia and tested for malaria. No malaria. No fever. No improvement. The next day, they put her on oxygen and Amy demanded she be moved to ICU. There was no room in ICU. That afternoon, she died. Doctors tried for 25 minutes to resuscitate her, but it did not work. Just like that, Stella lost her life.
How could this happen? She was healthy and happy! She was chubby and well-developed, not premature. She literally just died! Died! A five-month-old baby who I was rocking to sleep less than a week ago, died. What?! What?!
Forever Angels has lost five babies in four year, all of whom were premature, days old, and malnourished upon arrival at the baby home. With the other babies, it would have been a miracle if they survived. But who could Stella die? It was so unexpected, so unfair.
All of us at the baby home are truly heartbroken. I cannot even describe the sorrow, the hole in our hearts. Stella was such a beautiful baby whom I will never forget. She has gone from being a blessed baby to truly a forever angel.
I apologize for this depressing update. There's so much more I could write (how life is so unfair and how much we take for granted, especially when it comes to medical care back at home), but I don't know how much more I can bear to think about it all. Please pray for these babies. Please tell other people you know that there are suffering and dying (unnecessarily) babies in Africa (and around the world). Please don't forget them. Don't change the channel when you see a "save the children" commercial. Allow yourself to feel it. Feel the pain for these kids and then act on your empathy. They are helpless. We are not.
P.S. I attended the funeral for Stella today. I haven't cried that hard in a while. All the mamas attended and we mourned the loss of one of our family members. Stella had no parents, no family. We were her family. We loved her so much.
Please keep Stella and all of us at the baby home in your thoughts and prayers.