We Don't Know Her Name

photo by keithernesto
photo by keithernesto

"We don't know her name."

The tiny girl carried in by one of the volunteers from the Pediatric Centre in the hospital could not have a sadder story. Her mother died, and she was found on the floor of their home all alone after however many days it had taken for someone to realize that her mother had passed. Her body tells a story of many months of not-enough-food and sickness and neglect. We don't know how old she is. And we don't know her name.

Somehow, out of all those sad details in her story, that one stuck with me. We don't know her name.

Today's specialty in my HIV clinic seemed to be very sick children with both TB and HIV and complications that made it almost impossible to find the right combination of medicines for them. The medicines that can cure TB cause problems for our HIV medicines, making them not work right. And the usual medication options to get around these problems are not possible if you have certain complications, as the children I saw today had. A damaged liver. Too malnourished. Too little to take tablets. All of these things and more conspired against our already-limited options.

I was frustrated over my inability to come up with good solutions for these kids and the need to choose between not-so-good and possibly-worse.

And then I really looked at her, girl without a name. Beautiful and precious despite her emaciated body and sores and tube for feeding down her nose. No matter how sick and poor and overwhelmed she was, this girl's mother surely chose a name for her daughter that was as beautiful and precious as she is. Parents give so much thought to a child's name. So much of this little girl's story lost to this virus...

But we begin a new chapter. Hers has been a story of grief and loss. We try to change her story into one that is headed to health and happiness and hope.

I start medicines for her HIV on top of the medicines to treat the TB in her lungs. I refuse to accept the verdict that we are out of the nutritional supplement that will give her much-needed calories, and - sure enough - some plumpynut is miraculously found. The lab tells me that they cannot run the test I need because they are out of vials for blood, so I send her back with a vial from my study supply. We try. We try.

And at the Pediatric Centre on the wards, where the volunteers look after abandoned babies with great care, they have given her a new name.

May her story change.

Posted at 07:02

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