I had taken my daughter to the hospital because I noticed she had become a bit testy in the last two days; which is unlike her. She is usually a very happy kid. (Sometimes too happy; she wakes up by 4am and starts jumping on your stomach and reciting all the new words she learnt during the day. But I digress.)
So, I took her to the hospital to be tested, and treated for malaria. As I gave the receptionist my card, a woman walks in. She looks very disheveled, though not dirty, and anxious. Her hair was matted and short, as though in the beginnings of short dreads, and she wore a large blouse that most likely belonged to a skirt, and a mismatched wrapper . As she expressed herself to the receptionist who obviously had had this conversation she seemed to be crying, and pretending to cry at the same time, all the while staring at the tiny bundle, wrapped up in several wrappers, that she held in her arms.
The conversation they were having was about money. She hadn't enough money to 'open a card' as registration is called, and because of that she could not be attended to. On my prompting the nurse on duty went to take her to a doctor, so he could either attend to her or refer her to a cheaper (public) hospital. I offered to pay for her 'card', although I had no money for that. The doctor walked back towards us asking the nurse who would pay for her treatment if she did not have enough money for even her registration. The nurse shook her head and mumbled to me that all the doctor wanted at that time, was an opportunity to leave so he could pick up his children from school.
As I went about my business in the hospital I could see the woman moving helter-skelter begging for help and saying her husband was on his way, from a state about 45 minutes away. All the while I could see the tiny baby's movements become weaker and weirder. When I was at the dispensary getting my baby's drugs, I heard her screaming, and looked to see her pick up the phone and shout down it, ostensibly at her husband.
As I made to leave,another doctor held a stethoscope to the baby's chest, so I waited. Her expression was indiscernible, but after that she told the woman that the baby was getting worse and she had to leave for treatment elsewhere. She said to the doctor 'if he's dead, just let me know'. The doctor repeated her earlier verdict. Then I saw the child: the skin had grown quite pale in the few minutes that I went to be attended to. He was stretching out his limbs very slowly, very delicately, as in the throes of death. The child was almost gone.
The woman went out to the front of the hospital and began praying, speaking in 'tongues' and telling Jesus to give her baby life. That her baby could not die because she had no money. I didn't know what to do, I had my own baby with me. I decided to get her (my child) out of the sun and into the car. The woman was quite near us, and as she prayed she pulled at the limbs of her tiny, yellowish, still baby. His eyes were closed and his little arms fell lifelessly as she pulled-he was dead. A girl, probably her relative, looked at the baby and wailed and then held a phone to her ear.
As I drove away, I noticed a man had come in and after a while he held her and the other girl held her and she started screaming loudly. She had been told.
I know people die everyday, I know. But money or a lack of it should not be the reason why. As I reflect more on the incident I realize that this was a woman that just gave birth 4 days ago, she is most likely still in pain, definitely still weak and bleeding. And she had to add this to the problems. She had no money, how was she feeding after the birth? BTW, the registration fee was 1500 naira ($10).
I feel guilty. I feel I -we- could have done more. Before the doctor with the stethoscope came, a nurse had been trying to give the woman the registration money, then she realized it wasn't necessary. And she told me not to bother 'wasting' my own money. I admit I have and had little money, If all of us had pooled together in that hospital that morning, maybe that child would have lived, treatment and all. The doctor said he was severely anemic.
I could have been that woman, and that's what made me feel worse. When I was going to give birth, I literally had to beg for money to pay for the hospital, and, they discharged us quickly because they needed the beds we were in. And because I had no accommodation, I had to recuperate in one dank, airless room in the house of a 'friend' so uncharitable that her househelp did everything to make us uncomfortable. But unlike this woman, I was the one who was ill, not my baby, and for several days I could not afford the drugs that were prescribed for me, until some money happened on me .
What do you do with the corpse of your 4-day old baby?
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