A three year old was sitting beside the doctor’s table, outside the labor room. He was surprisingly calm and quiet. He seemed to enjoy the tea we had given him while his mother delivered her fourth child. He had no father or any known relative to take care of them. His mother was a psychiatric patient on regular follow up and treatment.
He didn’t trouble us at all and never asked where his mom was. This little one was wearing the same old clothes that he wore when he came here few months back (We had seen him with the mother on her previous two admissions) and this mom, didn’t have any clothes for her new born either. The little fellow had a brown paper bag, which had stones, bottle caps and other junk, probably he picked up while coming to the hospital. These were his toys.
These people collected the single use, plastic water bottles from us because it was the nearest thing to a toy they knew. They filled them with stones and pebbles to create rattles for babies.
The nurse returned from the labor room with a troubled look.
“Doctor,” she said. “She has no clothes for the new born, and not even for herself. We gave her a bed sheet.”
“Don’t we have extras from the donations?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “Nothing’s left as we gave away everything from time to time.”
It was a very common scenario at this general hospital of the other end, as the population here had been battling with poverty, war and hunger for decades. Since the war ended, they had no more fears of untimely death or losing their loved ones, but the constant struggle with poverty continued.
This mother, who was now delivering her fourth baby, was seen by us at the ante-natal clinics as she was referred to us by the mental health unit. We couldn’t gather much information on her as no one came to visit her. She was a psychiatric patient and was apprehensive and reluctant to talk to us.
One of the midwives came to us with tea and biscuits for this little three year old, awaiting for his mother.
“He’s wearing the same old clothes, miss,” I told her.
“Doctor, if you could provide some clothes I will wash him up and tidy him,” she said to me, knowing that I would go to any length to achieve this. I was so thankful that we were blessed with such kind-hearted midwives and nurses. They never said no to our requests and helped us in everything as our hands were always full in operating theaters and labor room.
We called up the pediatric ward, but they had no extra clothes. I made a quick decision and walked over to the shop on the other side of the A9 Road. I bought some clothes for him and also for the new-born baby. For the mom, I got a new bed jacket and a lungi (a wrap-around cloth). We were bound to help them, as there were no other means.
A few days ago, a mother who was admitted for childbirth told us that she was willing to give the newborn away, as she was a single parent of a teen daughter. The man had left her while she was pregnant and she was ashamed to go back to the village. No one knew her situation and her plan was to deliver this child, give it away to the probation authority and return to her village to take care of her daughter.
She was willing to undergo Caesarean section as she had undergone surgery during the previous childbirth. We always used to visit the patients who underwent surgery, as soon as we returned from the operating theater. When I came back to our ward after six hours, I couldn’t see the mother who was operated on that morning. When we finally found her, she was washing clothes in the bathroom with the urine catheter pinned up into her waist. I was shocked to see her up and walking like that as we always had a struggle to make them walk after a surgery. Post-surgical patients prefer to stay in bed due to pain caused by surgical wounds.
“What on earth do you think you are doing?” all were scolding her for getting up without assistance.
“I had only those two nappies and a baby shirt you gave me the other day doctor, so I had to wash this for the baby,” she said with tears rolling down her cheeks.
I kept sets of baby clothes in my table drawer, to be given to those in need. When she told me all her social problems and situations I gave her the last few pieces I had left. Back at the store, remembering her, I bought a few extra sets of baby clothes. I knew it was not my duty to provide them everything. I have been told by many seniors to work up to my limits, but the humane side of me never let me rest. I feel so much pain seeing them suffer like this.
I shared these incidents few years ago, in my Sinhala blog ‘Anithkona’. It was an attempt to share what they were going through after the war. After a few days, I got a feedback from a kind-hearted Sri Lankan lady residing in Australia that she was willing to help these people. I refused their help as the sole purpose of my writing was to show the misery and struggle of the North End and had no intention to trouble anyone else.
Regardless of my objections, they sent clothes and other goods and it was collected by two temples in Australia. When I told about this to the Military, they were willing to help with the transportation and distribution.
I heard that they received the goods and had distributed them among the poor and the orphans.
My cousin residing in the USA had sent baby clothes, and we distributed them among the needy mothers in our wards.
When I went to post-natal wards to check on the mother, sinna thambi (little brother) was sitting on the corner of the bed with a sad face.
“I wanted a baby brother, but mom got me a sister instead. I don’t want a sister,” he sighed.
We arranged counseling and follow up for the mother for her psychological issues. With the help of mental health unit, she was donated goods for her baby.
Some evenings this little boy was seen at our nurses’ station where he learned to write. Our wonderful nurses and midwives were teaching the kid to write and speak because he was so shy and timid as his mom almost never spoke with him.
Remember the mom who got down from her bed after surgery? After a week, she withdrew her request to give away the child.
“I breast fed her for one week doctor… I can’t give her up….I love her,” she said. I met her when she was ready to be discharged. “My eldest has attained puberty while I was here. I have to go to my village to arrange her ceremony. I will take care of my kids somehow, doctor,” she said with a hopeful smile.
We arranged social support for them by informing the Psychiatric Social Worker (PSW) of that area.
Every hospital admission is traumatic, but seeing them go home recovered and healed is a blessing indeed.