(A story written in 2011 while I was a missionary with Danita’s Children in Ouanaminthe, Haiti)
Imagine for a moment, that you were in this mother’s shoes… You grew up poor, with almost nothing to your name. Your dad died when you were young and your mother had 7 other kids to raise. Your family lived in a one room, wooden home, and each and every night that you laid your head on the concrete floor to go to sleep, you were hungry. Now you are 33 years old, and have 6 kids of your own. Your mom couldn’t afford to put you in school, so you can’t read or write and its difficult to find work in this country. You sell a few things here and there, but you’d be lucky to make a dollar a day. And just like your mom, you can’t afford to send your kids to school either. You know its their only way out of this life, but its impossible.
One day, like most days, your kids are hungry; they are crying, saying “mamma, mamma we need to eat! We haven’t eaten since yesterday. Mom feed us!” You haven’t eaten for the last two days either; you went without food yesterday so the kids could eat. Frustrated, you sigh to yourself. It seems there’s never a way to make ends meet. You put some rice in the boiling water above charcoal fire, and take the few cents you have to go to the market to buy some beans for your children to eat with their rice. The bag of beans in hand, you make your way home, knowing you just spent the last cent you have. Worry starts to fill your mind, “How will I feed all these kids tomorrow?” you ask yourself. “I don’t have anything left.” Your faith quickly kicks in and overrides your thoughts, “Don’t worry, God will provide.” As you near your home you see neighbors screaming, saying something about your child being badly hurt. Something about the boiling water and fire. The beans drop to the floor as you run to find your baby. Your nightmare is confirmed when you see her laying on the floor screaming, the pot of boiling rice spilled out around her. You go to pick her up but some of her skin comes off in your hands. She’s burned badly. Her entire backside and feet are bleeding and open; her insides are showing, and her dark skin now looks white. Your baby is screaming. She won’t stop. “Don’t cry honey, Mommy’s here. You’re going to be ok” you try to comfort her, but her screams only get louder. A crowd gathers around you, as your baby’s blood is all over your shirt and arms. Soon hundreds of people are coming to see what happened. “Jesus!” some are yelling. “Jesus help us!”
What do you do? Where do you go? Do you call 911? No such thing. Call for an ambulance? There are none here. There’s a public hospital near by; maybe they can help. People start pulling out the change they have in their pocket and hand it to you, knowing the hospital wont see you until you pay first. Someone waves down a passing motorcycle taxi and tells them to take you the the hospital as fast as possible. You get on the motorcycle with your baby, still screaming, still bleeding. You’re afraid to touch her skin. It is so hot, and it feels like she is missing parts of her body.
As you pull up to the hospital you run inside for help. The woman behind the window stops you and tells you to wait in line; you have to pay 10 Haitian dollars first. “But my baby… she’s burned badly. Please help.” you plead with her. “Everyone needs to pay first ma’am.” she replies coldly. You wait, for what seems like hours as you try to comfort your suffering baby. Finally a doctor calls your name. As you meet the doctor you eagerly search his eyes for compassion; you find none. He works long hours with little pay, and he is exhausted as well. Years of trying to treat patients with the little resources available to him, his heart is harder than it used to be. He cleans the wounds routinely with soap and water. You can hardly watch as he scrapes your child’s skin off her body. She screams in pain, not breathing for tens of seconds between each cry. Suddenly you feel sick. You keep your hands on the baby so she doesn’t fall off the table, but turn your head to throw up on the floor. You haven’t eaten in days, so there’s not much to come up. Your body feels as if it is the one that had been burned. “Hold the baby still so the doctor can clean it!” the attending nurse yells, frustrated that the baby wont stop screaming and moving. He cleans the burns, but there’s no burn cream to put on it. He wraps the baby’s lower half in a bandage and tells you to take it off in a few days to let it dry. “That’s it. You can go” he says.
Pain medication? Not here. IV fluids and antibiotics to prevent infection? Not enough money. With nothing left in your pocket to pay a taxi, you begin to walk home with your baby. Tears roll down your cheeks as you wish there was more you could do. You try to think of every option, but you know none of them are possible.
Day 15. Your baby’s burns have gotten worse. They are turning black, and she has been having fevers a lot lately. She still can’t sleep, and she screams in pain throughout the night. Sometimes, as you are breastfeeding, she bites you. She’s trying to relieve her pain by biting something. You return to the hospital, only to have the same scenario happen again. You pay, you see a doctor, they dress the wounds, and they tell you to leave. Each day the burns seem to get worse.
Day 24 the wounds have gotten even worse. Now there is a horrible odor to her skin, and she is feverish with frequent diarrhea. One foot has swelled up so much it looks like its going to pop, and the burns have eaten away the other foot. You decide to try to go across the border into the Dominican Republic to get medical attention. It’s illegal, but you have to try. Its market day, so Haitians are allowed to cross partly into the Dominican to buy and sell. You get over the bridge and sneak across the street to the local hospital. There you are met with eyes full of horror. “This child needs help or she is going to die. What were you doing waiting this long to get help? Why did you leave your child alone? What kind of mother are you?” They don’t understand you’ve been searching the entire city for help. You don’t say anything, you just let them judge you. You’re used to it by now.
Where can you go? The government wont let you go 3 hours away to Santiago because you don’t have a passport. Even if you wanted to pay your way illegally, you don’t have enough money. The Dominican hospital changes the dressings, once again, and sends you on your way.
Feeling defeated, you make your way home again. You look in your baby’s eyes, wet with tears. “I’m sorry baby” you whisper, tears rolling down your face, “I’m so sorry.” She blinks at you, as if to tell you that she understands.
Day 24 is when we met her. She showed up at the door with the look of desperation on her face. She had traveled the city for help for 24 days, but there was no help to be found. It wasn’t her fault, she didn’t deserve this. She did everything you or I would have done in her situation. The harsh truth is that had she been born in America, her baby would not be suffering like it is. My heart broke instantly for this mother. She’d watched her child go through some of the most horrific pain known to man for 3 weeks without even a teaspoon of Tylenol to give her.
She was flown across the country to Port-au-Prince yesterday. One of the Danita’s Children staff members is accompanying her and her mother, and they are staying one of the nicer hospitals around. She is receiving IV fluids and antibiotics, as well as receiving a blood transfusion. Today she is going in for surgery to clean up the wounds, and a group of Doctors will be flying from the U.S. next weekend to do skin grafts and more extensive follow up care. I can’t imagine how she has survived, now 26 days, in that kind of pain, with infection flowing through her body, and fluid building up under her skin. All I can do is thank God we met her and continue to trust Him with her life.
If you put yourself in someone’s shoes for just a second, their suffering becomes more real to you. It hurts to feel their pain, but that is what God asks of us. He felt our pain, He spoke up on our behalf… will he ask anything less of us? While we hurt for this mother and her child, I am reminded so much of how our God must feel for us. If a stranger can hurt for another, how much more could the One who created us empathize and love us through our pain and suffering? Sometimes I feel God’s presence the strongest in the midst of hurting and suffering people. It is in the dark places that light can shine. It is there that we can feel His love, His redemption, and His power to relieve even the deepest of sufferings.
My heart is heavy today as I pray for this baby. I know it is ultimately in God’s hands, and it is our privilege to let Him use us to show her His love.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. Psalm 34:18