Photo: A woman and her child at the maternity unit in MSF’s hospital in Nasir. The basket is the traditional way for Nuer mothers to carry their children. South Sudan 2012 © Brendan Bannon
Different Kinds of Happy
Emma Pedley is a British nurse working on community outreach projects with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Nasir, South Sudan. Read her MSF Field Blog here.
Before I know it it’s 5:00 pm and as I start to wearily gather all my things together into the Land Cruiser one of the consultants trots up to me to remind me about the baby still in the stabilization room.
What baby? There have been dozens.
The one you wanted to pass water. Oh, that baby.
Not one but three hours have flown by since I first saw that child.
As we rattle back over the uneven roads to the hospital I’m panicking internally and right now, with the tight band of headache pressing round my skull, I feel like I’m not thinking straight and my mind heads straight for worst-case scenarios. What if that kid does have concurrent malaria? Diagnostically the quick Parachecks aren’t 100 percent infallible, but at MSF the microscopy blood films are … What if this drowsiness isn’t just from dehydration, but from low blood sugars? What if the mother was right—what if that child really hasn’t passed urine all night as well as all morning as well as all afternoon? What if he really didn’t take any of that rehydration solution? What if I’d taken the other option and sent him straight to the ER? What if, what if, what if … ? Despite my training and qualifications I feel so, so unprepared for parts of this job sometimes—not so much professionally, but experientially, emotionally … unprepared for the heat … my heart feels leaden inside me and I’m barely holding back tears as I berate myself.
We arrive at the compound and pull up outside the Emergency Room. Running around to the back of the Land Cruiser, I take the sleeping child from his mother’s arms to carry him into the ER. As I unwind the blanket, the child rouses and starts crying—a weak, fitful cry that health care workers know and dread—the cry of a child with scant energy reserves left to cry with.
The crying pauses … I pause … the startled black eyes below unblinkingly regard the worried brown ones above. A few heartbeats and a few hundred years pass … and suddenly the little man in my arms is crying—and I mean proper crying—a lusty, full-lunged bawling with all the might and main he can muster, and I feel like I’ve never heard a more beautiful sound in my life, because any child that can cry that hard is OK, not 100 percent OK, but OK nonetheless. My heart feels like it’s going to burst with relief. And then there is a sudden warmth spreading across my lap and I jump up startled, still cradling the now half-naked yelling baby, watching the dampness seep across his trousers and mine and it’s OK. He’s passing urine, lots of urine—fantastic, amazing, brilliant amounts of wonderful urine that I’ve scared out of him that tell me that the kidneys are working perfectly, and the urine is streaming down my arms and legs and puddling at my feet and the baby is crying and the mother is clucking and fretting at the urine on me and I’m laughing because I’m so relieved, and I’m laughing so hard because who knew a crying baby peeing all down me could make me so, so happy? And then without knowing quite why I’m crying too and my heart is bursting wide open, and all the stress is pouring out and there are tears pouring down my cheeks and the urine is still pouring down my arms and they all mean the same thing—the baby is OK, I’m OK, everything is going to be OK.