Friday, November 6, 2009
Sometimes there are tears.
Maddie's mother laughs in disbelief because she is smiling.
There was an addition to our office wall-collage today. It's a photo of two-year-old Maddie, smiling on her hospital bed. It's quite possibly the only photo she's ever smiled for.
Maddie was diagnosed with Burkitt's Lymphoma, a childhood cancer found primarily in Africa. A child can die within 6 weeks of exhibiting symptoms. I know because I saw this happen last year in Liberia. Symptoms include gross swelling of the face and abdomen, which can be reversed if treated properly. In fact, when treated with six doses of a basic chemotherapy drugs (which can be purchased here for 7 dollars a dose), Burkitts has a 70% remission rate. Sadly, most parents lack either access of money for treatment. So the children die.
Maddie is memorable. She has more natural sass and personality than any two-year-old I have previously encountered. For example, I was visiting her in the hospital when our group translator was trying (unsuccessfully) to get Maddie to smile. He picked her up and soon after began to nervously laugh. Maddie had peed on him. None of us should have laughed, but we couldn't help ourselves. Maddie wasn't having an accident, and we knew it. And it was funny.
There are many more "Maddie Stories" like that. She just had an attitude. My friend Suey, who coordinates the chemotherapy treatments, has revealed to me an assortment of funny/sassy things she has done.
In my experience's with sick kids, it's good if they have some sass. The sassy ones are the fighters. The sassy ones make it.
I really thought Maddie was going to make it.
Almost two weeks ago, I got a message from Suey in the morning, telling me she'd be available for an interview about the Burkitt's program. I responded, and waited for her to give me a time. She never got back to me. I thought it a bit strange.
Later that afternoon I heard there was a sick kid in the ICU. I assumed it was a patient who had been on the ward.
Around 7:30 I was walking down the stairs to deck three (where the hospital is)on my way to exercise, when I saw Suey coming up the steps. She looked defeated. I asked what was wrong and she answered, "Maddie died today."
I was shocked.
Maddie had gotten a severe infection. In eight hours time she went from sitting up and talking, to being critically ill, to going home to be with Jesus.
It was heartbreaking. For Maddie's parents, for Suey, and for those involved with her care.
I don't think we can ever find an answer to why these things happen. We live in a fallen world; sometimes there are tears.
Wanting to encourage Suey, I began to think back at what encouraged me during times when I watched a child die at home. I remember the first time I came home and sobbed over a patient. He was a 1 1/2-year-old with SMA, a disease that causes kids to progressively lose their ability to breath. Most die before age three. I cared for him three nights in a row. He sat propped up on his bed, unable to move his chest or legs. He'd flinch, wake up, and sometimes cry, when I gave him his chest PT throughout the night (I'd tell him the doctors made me do it). His grandfather would rush to his bedside, pat his head, and talk him back to sleep.
I didn't understand why God would let that happen. I came to His Word demanding an answer.
I found it in Hebrews 2:9-10
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
Jesus understands suffering. He became it. Had he not, Maddie, my patient with SMA, and all who have felt the sting of death, would have suffer in this life, and continue to suffer throughout eternity.
That night, it was enough to know that Jesus understood his pain. He understands all pain. And it was by His choice. He Loved my patient more in a way my mind cannot fathom. He has promised to never leave or forsake His children. One day, He will wipe away every tear.
And that is enough.