Part II – Lucky
Names have been changed or deliberately not used to protect confidentiality and privacy in this article.
It probably happened because of getting TB but that’s never been confirmed. What is definite was the horribly painful seizures she had all the time. Various kinds of drugs were tried at LAMB to stop the fits.
Though they helped a little, they did not stop the fits completely and she was left with a weakness down her left side and unable to control her body. Cognitively she was fine but effectively she was left trapped in her own body.
She spent about a month in the hospital but with a catheter and feeding tube constantly being used and there came the point where it was decided there was nothing more to be done and she needed to be allowed to go home to die.
This is not something new for LAMB (and, I suspect, any hospital in Bangladesh dealing with the poor). I have lost count how many times, over the last 7 years, that my wife and other staff here have spent hours ‘breathing’ by squeezing an airbag for a 13 year old girl dying of eclampsia, drowning in her own lungs after giving birth, subsequently to die. Or for young boys to have been bitten by a snake and not brought to the hospital to be given the anti-venom that will save their life until it is far too late and their organs have swelled with the poison. There are no ‘hollywood’ style movie endings here where the children always survive. Often, they don’t.
It is no wonder then, that many of the bideshi (foreign) staff come home exhausted, not just with the work and the heat, but with the emotional intensity that comes with this life. I am told – and I believe it – that in the past, some have had nervous breakdowns. The miracle here, I think, is that more don’t.
Well, Lucky was sent home to die, but not without support. My wife and her Rehab team went out to her village to assess her home situation. She was on TB drugs and steroids to help reduce inflammation in her head under the assumption this was being caused by TB meningitis. When the team arrived, Lucky had pulled out her own feeding tubes and was choking when she tried to feed but, she did seem generally much happier – perhaps because she was now back home with her family and more comfortable.
The Rehab team watched how she had taught herself to stand by pulling on a bar with her dad’s help. They gave her a chair to help position herself for eating and exercises to help any development that could possibly happen.
The Community health rehab workers followed her up and my wife and the team went out twice over six months to check on her. Far from dying, she was getting better and improving all the time. The local kobiraj (village doctor) had ordered homeopathic (and dubious) medicines for her and her father had to be persuaded to keep going with the LAMB (and Western) drugs which he viewed with suspicion. A compromise was reached, much to the Rehab staff’s relief.
Lucky’s communication was still limited but some speech was coming back and her ability to move around increased dramatically. The last time they went to see her she met them outside the house – the first time they had come she had been entirely confined inside. The photos accompanying this post tell the story much better than these words – the change was remarkable. Considering the best medical advice gave no hope this is a definite miracle in my book.
Lucky is never likely to be 100% better but she is back at school and she is functioning in normal society around her. She beams from ear to ear and it is clear that each day for her is another day that has been blessed. For a girl who had such a tragedy occur in the first place, she has gone on to be very lucky. Lucky to be alive and beating her circumstances.
The Rehab staff deal with the most difficult circumstances (as do all the nurses and doctors at LAMB) from babies through to old men and women. Tragedies occur – just recently my wife went to do some therapy with a patient she was dealing with in the hospital but was stopped on the way by a doctor who told her he was signing the death certificate. When your work is entirely built on making life better for others, such things are utterly demoralising. But stories like Lucky’s also happen – again and again. Weekly, if not on a daily basis – in all the departments. I regularly meet with doctors (some of them Oxbridge trained) who tell again and again of a patient ‘who just should not be alive’. But they are. These events inspire and renew everyone.
Which is just as well. Tomorrow the Rehab staff will have to do it all over again, not knowing what the outcome will be this time.