She took my hand in hers

She took my hand in hers

"Mama come quickly, there's a sick person here!" I was a bit surprised, given there are always people who are sick at my door, so much so that no one seems to take much notice of that fact anymore these days. But my fellow teacher Tekla insisted that I leave the classroom right then and come to the motorcycle upon which sat a tiny woman wedged in between two men.

I remembered her from two years ago when she had fought to survive TB and AIDS. I remembered that Rose was also a mother of three very young children. Her sweet and trusting eyes I will never forget. I didn't know who the two men were, but as soon as Rose was at my house, the motorcycle owner, practically dumped her and the other man onto the porch, drove off in a flash leaving me to figure out what to do. I quickly learned that in addition to AIDS and a likely relapse of TB (coughing up blood) she also was vomiting and had diarrhea. We might have the embryo of a clinic in the making but my living room is not the Houston Med Center! What to do first?

Actually everything. Rehydration formula, a prayer, a blanket to wrap her in, a bucket, zinc. All of this this while trying to appear to "have the situation under control."

Fortunately, Msafiri was here with me and could keep watch and try to stabilize her situation. I so vividly remember another friend who had been brought to me in a similar condition -- I made the mistake of putting him quickly into the car and rushing him off to the clinic only to have him die in the car before we ever even made it to the clinic! So, first things first -- rehydrate and stabilize and then transport. The bumps, mud, sliding, and trenches from the rain make even a healthy person queezy. But where to take her? Often I feel like clinics and hospitals are playing a game of "musical chairs" -- giving people referrals, only to get another referral, until eventually the person from the village finds out their money has run out or the person dies. When she looked a little bit better we put her into the car and took Rose to the closest dispensary with an intravenous drip. The reception was cold. They certainly were not in the mood to be Florence Nightengale. But after some arguing, they finally agreed to give her two drips. What I know is that no one wants someone to die at their clinic or dispensary. Thinking that all was now well, I left 'the brother' with some money for transport after discharge. I had no idea it would be that same afternoon. And so the following day, we sent her to Kibao to be admitted by the sisters there. It may be far away but it's the best place that I know where both love and medicine are dispensed 24 hours a day. A few days later, though, she was sent back to us-- the sign that they had done all they could do-- and I drove her home to the village of Iyegea, one of our "lost" villages. The man with her who had claimed to be her brother turned out to be her husband. He was afraid to tell me, fearing what I might say to him! It was easier I guess to say that he was her brother. Taking Rose's nearly lifeless frame into their house with her little children looking on was heart-wrenching. Rose's eyes twinkled though. She took my hand in hers, said "thank you" to me for everything we had done. She died two days later, her children at her side ...

Next week we will be speaking again to her village hoping to avoid more heartbreaking deaths of lovely young mothers. For their sakes, and for the sakes of all of their children.