“I just admitted another one! How many more times is this gonna happen?” Frustrated and needing to vent, I plopped down in a chair in my co-worker’s oﬃce having just admitted a 4 year old girl, Rachel, who was comatose. It wasn’t just malaria she was fighting against, oh no, her little body was also engaged in a critical war against the toxins circulating in her system. I didn’t want to accept it, yet here she was, another child felled by the dreaded cow urine concoction (CUC) given to parents by local “herbalists” to treat seizures. I’ve written about this awful stuﬀ before, and it continues to haunt my practice here. Now that we are in the midst of rainy season, cerebral malaria is at its peak and parents are seeking out the cheapest way to cure their kids, but it’s not curing them it’s killing them. I’ve already certified the deaths of three children this month who all succumbed to the eﬀects of CUC. So far the stat sheet isn’t too cheerful — cow urine concoction 3 : life 0.
With this track record nagging at me, I continually prepared myself for the inevitable as I saw Rachel over the next few days. Our wonderful pediatric nurses were giving it their all, but her condition wasn’t improving. By day three, however, I was forced to admit something, she wasn’t improving…but she was still alive. In my limited experience treating CUC, being alive by day three with such a heavy burden of poison is very unusual. I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it. She was just barely hanging on, so we hung on too.
The following morning as I made my way around the pediatric ward, the nurses and I stopped at Rachel’s bed last, she was still lying unmoving and the head nurse explained that nothing had changed overnight – – she was no better/no worse. Squatting down so that I could be close to her face, I proceeded with my daily routine of a greeting this little girl — it was a greeting I will not soon forget. “Good morning Rachel! How was your night?” Before I could continue, her little eyes opened! Heavy lids, ,sluggish but determined, lifted to reveal a beautiful set of serious dark eyes, staring back at me. I wish I could have seen her thoughts right then, mine where ecstatic! Rachel was awake! So sure that she would die, it was only yesterday that I let myself begin to hope that she might recover. What a lesson, a challenge really, to my faith! I had prepared myself every morning to see her bed empty, but God was preparing a very diﬀerent story. I thought she was dying, he knew she was just sleeping. He saw past all the lamenting and complaining going on by myself and those around me, he saw past it to the moment when he would say, “Talitha cumi (little girl, arise)”. He did that for Rachel! He did that for me. He allowed me to witness an incredible moment of healing. It was a moment that tested my faith and revealed exactly where my focus had been. Rachel continued to get better, much better. Today she visited me for a follow-up appointment and she was smiling and chatty. We are still fast friends from her time in the hospital.
Adapted from ‘Stories from Egbe’