Growing up, if you asked, I wanted to be a doctor – particularly Patch Adams, the happy doctor who always cured my patients and made them laugh. Today, we went to the long term children’s ward at the Mbabane Government hospital to help the play coordinators (teachers) teach through play and I remembered why I was never fit to be a doctor. During the short time we were there, one of the little angels went into surgery (surgery in eSwatini government hospital, yikes!). The kids all had IV drips and one was so active, the IV almost yanked off of the wall (or out of her tiny hand). We read them books, practiced animals/colors/shapes, and practiced with writing with the older ones. We learned what the needs were for the play coordinator who does this full time (Please!! If anyone has megabloks type blocks, decently new-ish crayons, dry erase markers or dry erase sleeves…).
While the University of Iowa group worked more with the bedridden kids, Katy and I chatted with the program manager Raquel who is an uber sweetie! We talked about her new role with our partner, the Rocking Horse, the needs of the organization and the overall needs of the children’s ward. I told her that my best Swazi friend died in this hospital two years ago without adult diapers even though he lost the use of his legs and had no blankets to keep him warm in the drafty winter air or adequate food for his mother who was acting as his bedside nurse (there aren’t exactly nurses for the patients) – even medications required to keep him comfortable as he died were a shortage at the hospital. Raquel confirmed that this happens often in the children’s ward as well. She told me that there was an influx of newborns/NICU babies who needed intravenous nutrition, but the hospital lacked the IV drips small enough for their tiny veins. After doing research, these cost only $0.10 USD each.
As we chatted more about needs and how we could fulfill them, a stretcher was pushed down the hallway completely covered by a sheet moving toward the morgue. Raquel gasped. My mind immediately went to my friend Sifiso. He couldn’t be under there, as he died 2 years ago. But somehow he was. Katy and Raquel resumed talking. I only knew this because I could see their lips moving, but it was as if no audible words were coming out. Today I was reminded that life is so fragile, and I was not built to be a doctor.
I returned to the ward. I went straight to the little baby Katy and I were working with. I picked up the book I was using with her and pointed to an animal. In the sweetest voice, she raised her tiny hand with the IV, pointed to the animal with me and shouted “CHICKEN” with a huge grin. It was a pig, but I cheered. I cheered because she had a grandma there who smiled when she answered wrong, exposing a mouth with no top teeth, who laughed while she said slowly “P I G…P I G… PIG!” and the baby parroted “PIG”. I cheered because she was getting discharged this week. I cheered because there was no stretcher and sheet with her name on it. I looked around the room at my amazing friend Katy and the awesome team from University of Iowa (Jordan, Professor Will, and Rachel) who were smiling and laughing with other bedridden kids and felt so blessed to be a tiny bright light in someone else’s murky world today. Thank you for your support making all of this possible!