Last week 8-year-old Labi came to the ship. In the afternoon, someone came to my office and told me about her. Thinking I might want to write a story about her, I went down to the ward Tuesday evening to find her.
I'd seen her pre-op photos before going down to the ward. There was a fist-sized cauliflower shaped tumor, the width of her smile, sprouting four inches out of her mouth. It was pink, fleshy, and dripping in puss. When I entered the ward she was hanging up coloring book pages on her wall, with her nurse Becca. She had the tumor covered with a blue rag. Becca told me she wouldn't let anyone see it. When it was time to eat, she'd crawl under her hospital bed so no one could see her. Eating messy and difficult. She had to tilt her head back, pull her tongue out, place the food on her tongue, put her tongue behind the tumor, and then she could swallow the food. It was quite a process.
When Labi first came to the ward, she wouldn't look anyone in the eye. She was too withdrawn and insecure. She'd experienced a lot of pain for an eight-year-old.
The next day, Wednesday, Labi went in for surgery. Dr. Gary (max/fax surgeon) thought he'd have to remove part of her jaw to take out the tumor. But thankfully, the tumor wasn't affecting the bone like he's thought, and was removed with the jawbone intact.
That evening went back to the ward to see how she was doing. The tumor was completely gone. Labi looked like a totally different little girl.
She was hooked up to a monitor and an IV, dozing in and out of sleep. I didn't want to bother, so I just stood in the corner and watched her for a few minutes. She woke up and Becca, still her nurse, wanted to show her what her face looked like. Labi hadn't seen herself since surgery.
Becca handed her a small mirror. Labi looked down, paused with a look of bewilderment, and began touching her mouth (where the tumor use to be). After about 20 seconds, a tear rolled down her cheek. You could see her trying to hold them back, but another soon followed. Then another. Then another. Finally, she stopped fighting them and freely cired. Becca left her bedside to get her tissues.
Her mother had been standing next to her, watching the entire time. When Labi started crying, she backed away from her bed. You could see in her eyes and body language the mixture of joy and pain. The two years of discouragement and depression over her daughter condition had finally ended. Relief had finally come. But watching the emotion of her small daughter was too much for her mother's heart. It took her a few minutes before she was able to wipe Labi's tears.
I was moved by Labi's tears. They were mature and raw. Painful and joyful. Heavy tears for an eight-year-old to cry.
I am certain that she has shed many tears over the past two years when she was alone. She is strong and I don't think she'd want people to see her cry.
I am thankful she came to the Africa Mercy and no longer needs to hide.