Thursday, December 15, 2005

An Endless Parade of Patients:

Mirlande, a beautiful 13-year-old with pigtails, who weighs 66 pounds, sits on the edge of the bed, all legs and arms. She holds her knees, which ache from rheumatic fever. John listens to her lungs and heart. Her left lung is full of fluid, possibly caused by tuberculosis, and her heart murmurs overwhelm the sound of the beat. Her mother, who sits next to her, tells John that blood tests revealed her daughter has sickle c, a serious blood condition.

Karen Bultje, a Canadian woman, who has lived in Haiti for 9 years, and runs a little school and shelter for children not far from us, has brought Mirlande and her mother to us. Karen had already arranged for the girl to have an echocardiogram. John reviews the echo results, which indicate that the rheumatic fever has damaged all four of this girl’s heart valves—mitral, tricuspid, aortic, and pulmonic. “This is probably the leakiest heart I’ve seen,” says John.

Mirlande sits in front of us, alive and beautiful. She isn’t able to go to school because of her sicknesses, but they don’t keep her from smiling.

We don’t have a hospital for Mirlande, not even close, but we will take her echo back to the United States, because as Karen says, “You never know.” We can at least leave this long suffering girl and her long suffering mother with a little hope. In a place like Haiti, false hope glitters like the real thing.

Haitian Hearts gives the mother $100 U.S., for medicines and food, which Karen will administer. We also give Mirlande a small supply of aspirin to thin her blood, furosimide, to get rid of excess fluid, and penicillin to keep the strep and rheumatic fever from returning. Karen will arrange to get a chest x-ray to see what’s going on in that left lung.

Am I depressing you and overwhelming you with profiles of all these sick children? Do Haiti’s problems seem insurmountable? I think that’s the danger with profiling so many sick and poverty-stricken people. People can shrug their shoulders and say, “It’s hopeless, and there’s nothing I can do.” Sometimes we feel like we hit an emotional wall, seeing so many needy people, all of them deserving.

Just remember the corny starfish story, about the man who walks on a beach carpeted with starfish, picking up one and then another to throw them back into the ocean to keep them from dying. Another man observes this behavior, and points out to this Don Quixote that there are thousands of starfish stranded, and he’ll never be able to make a difference. As the beach walker bends down and picks up another starfish and lofts it into the water he replies, “It makes a difference to this one.”


Jerry Pierson said...

It's extraordinary, but as I've been reading your posts since you started, I've been struck by how your writing is beginning to remind me of that of Loren Eiseley. I think you both have developed a similar way of incorporating lived experience into what it is you're trying to communicate. Or something like that.

I wish I could express what I'M trying to communicate better, but my brain is still frazzled (can you believe I dreamed of Secured Transactions last night?).

Anyway, it's interesting you mentioned the starfish guy--Eiseley's the one who ran across him on a beach one day and wrote about it in his essay "The Star Thrower."

Keep up the good works.

Maria Carroll said...

I learned that Eiseley wrote The Star Thrower when I googled it, and felt a little bad referring to the story as corny. That's a big coincidence that you were already thinking of him and very nice praise. Thanks for the encouragement, and I hope you have sweeter dreams tonight.