Short Stories: The Great White Hope

I believe that years from now, when I look back on this experience, this time will be consolidated into a few short moments. Years condensed into a blur punctuated by a couple profound memories.

It will be like looking back on camping as a kid. Growing up my best friend and I hated boy-scout camps. We always went, always complained, and then always returned. For some reason we only took away the best memories, leaving the others In the further recesses of our memory.

You remember the difficulty – the rain and the lack of comfort and amenities. Yet for some reason, you always look back with some fondness and set off on new adventures.

Peace Corps is similar in that regard. It’s a unique perspective looking to the future to understand what I will take away from the present. I am sure however, that an event last week will stay with me forever. This was not a good memory, but one that summarizes how life here changes your perspectives on what is important.

I was at Chiri Hospital, my oasis near Bonga. Here, Dave and I were hanging with the American doctors from an NGO called Lalimba. I heard about a baby who was believed to have meningitis. She had been on oxygen for three days with no sign of recovery. The family was deciding whether or not to take the child home to die in peace. That day there was a glimmer of hope. The little girls arms and fingers had been locked in a temporary paralysis. A defense mechanism resembling that of a centipede’s curl.  Twisted and cramped in a desperate search for security. That day, her arms had begun to relax and she was breathing easier.

Reluctantly, the doctors took her off the oxygen hoping she was recovering. Gasping for air, she was placed back on oxygen. Shortly after this setback, I went to see the baby and family. And this was the moment I will remember. It was the mother, looking at me as If I was this last great hope. Her eyes told me everything. “Maybe, this white doctor knows what to do!” She showed me the babies arms, and stomach. Pointed and said several things in her local tongue. She looked to me for an answer. I didn’t have one. I immediately regretted being there.

The next day, the family decided it was time. The baby, off of oxygen, died before she left the gates.

I haven’t quite figured out what it all means. Perhaps no conclusion can be found in this memory. It was haunting: the baby’s mom with her desperate eyes. I certainly know I could never be a doctor. And I know that sometimes things don’t make sense. You can’t romanticize everything, and in a world like this, there are no answers for the hardest questions.

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