Thursday, November 6, 2008

Prince of Thieves

This is a guest post by Jamie Martin, a Georgetown Medical student and a friend of TTL since it began in 2004.

A weird and wonderful thing happened this past July. Mr. Kearney—a retired principal from Ireland—presented me with a crisp, green envelope filled with nothing but money. Quite incredible, this Irishman entrusted me to use my judgment and his money for good works throughout Africa—effectively donning me a modern-day “Robin Hood” (though, sparing me the conflict of stealing from the rich!). Months later, I find myself in rural Lesotho, and I could think of no better place to begin my task…

This past week, Reid and I traveled to the neighboring district of Thaba Tseka, where TTL offers outreach services in collaboration with a local clinic. On the first morning we loaded the vehicle with the essential supplies – formula, multivitamins, a scale and length board, and food for the clients. We had a busy day ahead of us, aiming to see 11 clients.

Often, the setting of our visits is a dimly lit hut. The smell of burning dung lingers in the air, and shadows of curious children dance in the light of the doorway. During our fifth visit of the day, we were approached by a self-referred woman seeking the assistance of TTL. She seated herself across from us; her child bundled in her lap.

As the conversation briefly paused, Thabang translated that the child had been “coughing very much.” Three years of classrooms, hospitals and tuition behind me, I confidently reached only one conclusion—this child is very sick. Gazing at the child across the room, I began to count out the speed of his breathing. The rise and fall of his chest was alarmingly fast—nearly keeping pace with the secondhand of my watch. Laying the child flat to obtain his height, our fingertips were met by numerous, bulky lymph nodes along his neck and at the back of his head. These same bumps were found under his arms and at his waist, which cemented our decision to test the child for HIV.

Our fears were realized—this child was infected with HIV. The woman later revealed that the father was receiving treatment for TB, increasing the chance that this child also shared the same disease. This combination—HIV and tuberculosis—will mercilessly consume a body, and in children it does so with sinister speed. When asked why she had not taken her son to the doctor, the mother replied: “I cannot afford transport.” We remained expressionless in an effort to conceal our sinking hearts.

At moments like this, it is difficult not to throw up your arms and surrender. A child on death’s doorstep and the only barrier is a lack of a ride? This boy will soon succumb without the necessary – but effective – treatments. Hearing the mother’s response about transport, I reflexively reached into my pocket for money. Whatever is needed for transport, medicine and food, I thought. Heck, I even wanted to buy her new clothes.

Alternatively, the outreach staff reasoned for a more pragmatic approach—we would offer transport fare to the hospital. If the woman did seek medical attention for her son, we would meet her at the hospital to give her the return fare, as well as pay for any hospital fees.

The next morning we found the mother and child in the hospital waiting room. Because they were able to get to the hospital, the boy was admitted and able to begin treatment for TB and HIV. Though Reid and I were satisfied with the result, we cannot take credit…It was Mr. Kearney who paid for the fare. With each day spent at TTL, the necessity of the “direct intervention” that TTL provides becomes more and more apparent. And, it is only possible because of the hundreds of people like Mr. Kearney, who have also chosen to don the character of Robin Hood themselves.

1 comment:

M Poff said...

James, very beautiful retelling of the story. Miss all three of you guys, and wish many days I could join you. :)

Keep up the postings, I read them often, especially when frustrated by DC.