Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Krio word for friend

Friend.  It's a word that exists in every language.  Everyone needs a friend, and some friends come easier than others.  Here, some friends come and go as fast as the weeks flip by.  Every week you wonder what new face will come, what friendly face will disappear.  This time of year on the ship is fraught with goodbyes, and sometimes I get wrapped up in how many are leaving and momentarily forget to just enjoy these amazing people while they are here.  But you see, the goodbyes are because we are ending our field service.  In two days we will finish the last of the surgeries for Sierra Leone.  In one week the hospital will close until we arrive in Togo.  And this means the nurses depart in waves over the next few weeks.

But it also means that loose ends need tying up.  Loose ends like the eight-plate kids.  Who are the eight plate kids?  They came in last spring to have their legs straightened.  Small children with bent legs, young children still growing swiftly.  These are the ones that got a special opportunity.  Instead of having to surgically break and straighten their legs, they had something called "eight plates" put into their bones.  These plates give their bodies the chance to straighten the legs as they grow.  Unfortunately, that means it's a bit of a gamble.  Put the plate in, send them home to grow, hope they return when you tell them to.  Hope they've grown enough to straighten their legs.  It's a great way to fix things, so much less pain.  So they sent them home last spring, after a bit of time in hospital, and asked them to return in November.  And return they did, every one of them.  Here are a few that I got to know, with before and after pictures:

This is Osman before:
and after:
Fatmata before:
and after:
Mariama before:
and after:
Abu before
and after:

Now, I'm sure many of you can see that the results are not perfect on most of these kids, but there has been a change.  Fatmata was well enough to remove all her plates and go home straight-legged.  Some of the kids had just certain plates removed or revised.  Those who have plates still in will be re-assessed when the ship comes to Guinea next September, as the x-rays show they won't over-correct by then. 
Thanks to their visit last spring, the kids and their caregivers were already familiar with the ship.  So the very day they arrived they were busy and playful, and all over us.  And I learned a new word: padi.  It's Krio for friend.  Fatmata, I think, was the one who used it most.  Every time you turned around, actually more often when you DIDN'T turn around, she was calling out "mi padi! mi padi!" to get your attention.  She didn't need your name.  None of them did.  Padi was enough.  Just walking into the ward, you would get mass hugged and a handful of little voices crying out for your attention "padi, padi, padi".  Crazy, busy, loud, loved.  What more could you ask for? 
The slowly calming plastics ward, where we were down to 3 children, was instantly transformed back into chaos.  You couldn't do anything without a child trailing you, asking "mi padi, popo me!".  Or a child going on in conversational way in a language I have no hope of deciphering, but with all the confidence of a four-year-old that the adult she's talking to understands every word.  Honestly, a little hard to get anything done.  The small incisions on their legs to remove/revise plates did slow them down a bit, but it only meant they asked to be carried more, or walked stiff-legged like little storks. 
During worship time one morning, when the patient life team came to play music and sing with them, we made them dance.  Holding hands in a circle, one nurse per child, we pulled them gently to the music, making them move their feet.   Slowly getting more creative, we moved our feet forward/back/sideways/tapping/jumping, trying to get them to imitate, to move their knees.  Nothing could make those knees bend.  But they danced.  A week later, they were bending their knees like normal.  Ready to return home.  They went home yesterday.  And the ward feels empty.  No more cries of "padi, padi."  Only two children hanging off me when I try and get my computer work done.  But thats okay.  Little by little we are sending everyone home.  They're healing.  Soon we will have to leave, and my prayer is they all go home healed.

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