Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The lost chance

I can’t distance myself today from what I saw last week.

The scene plays over and over in my mind, an endless loop. The child condemned to die.

No melodrama here, just plain old reality. More so than the baby who died of starvation the morning we arrived at the hospital is the child doomed to die for lack of a simple operation. Isaiah. Four years old, he lay in his crib, his pale legs like matchsticks, his breathing shallow and labored. A tube shoved down his nose, an IV stuck into his skinny arm. His mother stood by him, stroking his forehead, pushing back the thinning brown hair from his eyes. Tears flooded her own eyes, dripped down her cheeks as she told us the story. The silent plea in them was unmistakable.

Help save my baby from dying.

We couldn’t.

It was too late, and the mere fact socked me like a sucker punch. There was help there, you see. Isaiah suffered from a blocked esophagus. Each time he swallowed food, he vomited it back up because his throat would only swallow so much. He became thinner and thinner. But luck was with him because there were two American doctors at San Pedro Sula who were set to operate the morning we visited. They would cut a hole in his esophagus and Isaiah, after healing, would be a normal little boy again.

But the night before, his mom, who had kept a steadfast vigil at his bedside for the 22 days he was at the hospital, had to go home to tend to her other children. In her place, she sent her older son. And the older son, despite doctor’s orders, thought his little brother needed food. Maybe he couldn't understand. The reason why doesn't matter. He fed him.

Isaiah went into convulsions. The surgery was cancelled. I asked the head nurse if they couldn’t do the surgery. She said, “He’s too unstable.”

“And when he stabilizes? Can the American doctors operate?”

“They are leaving today.”

The doctors, who could have saved his life, would have, but they couldn’t and were leaving Honduras. So I stood there in this little boy’s hospital room, knowing what the mom probably already felt. Her son was going to die.

He could have been saved.

I thought later of lost opportunities in life. Everyone has them slip through their fingers, out of sheer bad luck or ill timing. A great job, a book published, a dream fulfilled.

For Isaiah, it is a life saved.

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