rotating header

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Playing to Heal

When we admit malnourished children, their wilted spirit often mirrors the condition of their body. Most do not bother to protest my exam much, they are listless, apathetic, resigned to a lethargy that began as hunger and is now the atmosphere in which they live. Over days and sometimes weeks, as their sapped energy is replenished by nutritious milk, eggs, and beans, the resurrection which starts from the cellular level eventually expresses itself in eyes calm and widely open, or at long last a smile. We tell the caregivers that this process of recovery requires more than just calories: the children need warmth, human contact, care, love, interest, and play. Their mind and spirit need to be reached even as their body is reviving. Occasionally a nurse will have the time or energy to hold one of the kids, or we might get hand-me-down toys or books from boxes from home, or from team mates. Because most kids don't become malnourished while living with particularly energetic or upstanding adults . . . the caretaker's indifference can be part of the problem. So this month we are happy to welcome a visitor who is a marriage-and-family therapist in the States. Today Karen sat on the floor of the ward, with the bag of toys she brought. Around her were gathered some of our most pitiful little friends: Azibu with AIDS who has increased her size by 50% in the last month after dwindling to near-death levels, or Aligonila with sickle cell disease who has spent his entire life a step away from death, weeks and weeks in the hospital for blood transfusions. Others who I've only seen lying in bed now sat and held a doll. The adults were curious, attentive. We hope that Karen can model healthy playful interaction, in a way that encourages continued work with these children after she leaves. We've asked her to teach at our staff meeting on Friday, too. And meanwhile her husband Dan is absorbing all he can on rounds and in the outpatient department, his training as a PA about half done. They are a couple we would love to see God calling back into Kingdom work in Africa.
And there is a side-story of redemption in these pictures, a staff member who seemed hostile, who seemed reluctant to work, passive-aggressive. In my self-righteousness and judgment I condemned her work-avoidance. Then I talked to another friend for insight about what was going on below the surface, and was reminded that this lady had an infant who died this year, and neither we nor many other staff went to her home to console her or attend the burial. Ouch. Here I am ticking off missed days, and there she is in mourning, feeling bitter. Instead of nagging her, I began to invite her to join in our nutrition work, and one day brought her some books to use in her health education efforts. As she softened, and even smiled at me, I asked her if she'd like to work with Karen this week, and she agreed. Hard to remember sometimes in the midst of chaos and too-much-work, that our colleagues are also human beings, and need the same TLC that the malnourished patients do to draw out their true selves. Not easy for harsh and demanding doctors like me! Lord have mercy.


Travis and Amy said...

We will be praying for Dan and Karen! And for the staff and children who are being loved by them!

Amy said...

I love the very sweet pictures and faces! Praying for a great visit with everyone and for lots of play and healing!

Barbara Elwood said...

What a wonderful glimpse into life on the pediatric ward today. Karen brings a special new gift to the families there.

My prayers are with you all. Once again, thanks for being the arms and Christ to those you serve.