I’ve always imagined that for a doctor, telling a patient’s family “I’m sorry, there’s nothing we can do” must be the hardest thing about the profession. When you are someone’s last hope for healing, how can you look them in the eye and deliver such news?
I was at a gas station last week when a boy came running to me, pushing his little brother in a dirty blue wheel chair. Having seen the logo on the side of the Land Rover we were in, the boy said he knew we were doctors here with the ship and pleaded for me to help.
The little boy in the wheel chair’s name was Amadou. He seemed unable to move from the neck down and his legs were like toothpicks. His eyes rolled around in his head. Malnourished and underweight, Amadou’s condition appears to have impaired his cognitive development severely. His older brother told me that Amadou was born this way.
I’m sorry, I said. “Mais, je ne suis pas medicin” – I am not a doctor. I bent down and said hello to Amadou. At the sound of his own name, a smile spread from his ear to ear. I don’t know if he could feel my hand on his leg, but I reached out and touched him anyway. I didn’t realize that I was smiling back at him until later, when another crew member gave me this photo she had candidly snapped from the car window.
There is nothing we could do for this little boy, to even bring him to the ship would be to give false hope. I reminded myself that The Africa Mercy is a surgical hospital, one overflowing with patients we can help, and does not have the resources to help in a case like Amadou’s. Even now I continue to have to tell myself this, over and over again.
Guinea is a country of 11 million people. The absence of healthcare here is so drastic, that perhaps the closest this little boy will ever get to a doctor is me: a twenty-something ‘journaliste‘ who probably hasn’t so much as used the word “chromosome” since her last biology class in 2007.
“Dieu vous bénisse, Amadou,” I said. God bless you.
I watched as we pulled away, Amadou’s eyes were still rolling. And my heart was still breaking. And the world was still turning.
And if the best I can do is share this story, and hope that one more little prayer is sent up for Amadou by someone who reads it…then that’s what I’ll do.
Photos in today’s post courtesy Christina Fast.