Dieu vous bénisse

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. “Maisje 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.

Catherine Clarke Murphy

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.


9 responses

  1. Khaki! This brings tears to my eyes. Bless his heart, this sweet little boy. You are such an amazing soul…..
    I cannot help but pray for this sweet boy and his entire family and all the people you are working with…
    hugs my friend,


  2. My heart goes out to this child and to you. There is surely nothing worse than to feel so helpless in a situation that you so desperately want to fix. The only thing you can do is to create awareness which is exactly what you are doing.


  3. Gail Campbell says: Katherine, I cried as I prayed for this small invalid boy, and for his brother and family. And I thought, if only he could be at St.Jude hospital, then maybe he could be helped. It feels so helpless to see a need like his and think there is nothing that can be done. I know there are so many problems like his that you all see all the time, but I know that you never get used to not having it get to you. Just as my sweet husband, Dr. Joe, always had compassion even after 50 years of practicing medicine. Just know that I love you and am so glad that you are experiencing all that you are– God has a wonderful purpose in your being there. There are no mistakes with God!!


  4. Hey, Catherine,
    Greetings from one of your old J school profs!
    Am so happy to read your posts — I had not idea you were putting your journalism skills to work in such an important way.
    You’re writing with honesty and humor and aren’t avoiding the conflicts you find yourself in. I know this particular story broke your heart, and it broke your readers’ hearts. But when you bear witness, you move the needle in a positive direction. I know your readers will be moved to do something, a prayer, a donation. That’s journalism with impact.
    Know that you’ve made us here in our j school very proud.
    Dr. Maggie


    • Hi Dr. Maggie – so wonderful to hear from you! I am trying whenever I can to put my journalism skills to work. I think about the interviews I did with Paz Pena for Voces often – it resembles a lot of what I am doing now.

      Hope you are well. If you see them, please tell Bill Minutaglio, Rusty Todd and Dave Garlock I say hello from Africa :-)


      Envoyé de mon iPhone


  5. Pingback: and grace will bring me home « My Life Aquatic

  6. Pingback: On leaving: why saying goodbye to the Africa Mercy is the hardest « My Life Aquatic

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