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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Fatoumata, God, and Me

I could hear the woman’s shrill scream above the crowd of voices trying to get our host’s guard to let them into the compound. Next came a knock at the cottage door.

“Can you take a look at this lady’s child? She has been sick and the medical folks here have not helped.” My colleague and I were just visiting this mission station in Africa, but the request was not uncommon. Grabbing the instruments, we followed our friend out to the round reception hut.

“Sh-she stopped eating her rice. Her body very hot all the time. She squeeze her eyes like this.” Clad in the gorgeous fabrics Africa produces in those vibrant colors, through her tears, Mama squeezed both eyes tightly, demonstrating the sign of severe headache in small children. The beautiful two-year-old was panting, straining to catch a breath.

“For how many days?” I asked, palpating the tummy of the too-silent Fatoumata. Normally, an African child cried at the sight of my white skin; but, this little girl did not resist my touch.

“Too many days, too many days!” The mother sobbed, rocking back and forth, shaking her head, and waving her arms.

“Did she eat the Ramadan feast with you last week?” The end of the month-long fasting period had come on Thursday, which would mean she had been ill for less than four days. Mama shook her head.

“Small, small.” At least Fatoumata had been well enough to be taken to the lavish feast.

Except for her high fever, panting, and lethargy, I could not find anything significant on examination. I longed for a laboratory to which I could send blood and urine, but such things were simply not available.

After my colleague weighed the tiny Fatoumata, the appropriate dose of liquid antibiotic was offered to the mother. Gently, Mama tilted Fatoumata’s head, touching her bottom lip with the small, transparent medicine cup. She allowed only a tiny bit of the thick white liquid passed her child’s lips. The toddler accepted the medicine into her mouth, but held it there for a time. Finally, her Adam’s apple bobbed and she parted her lips for the next sip of medicine.

The following day Mama and Fatoumata returned, her little body still quite febrile. None of the fever medicines helped for long, even with Mama sponging the child and offering her liquids throughout the day and night. She agreed to try one more day. Oh, for an intravenous set-up for this dying child.

“Double the dose.” The still, quiet Voice broke through my fitful sleep.

“But, God, all the textbooks and manufacturer’s recommendations say to give her 30-50 mgs per kilogram over a twenty-four hour period. I am giving her 40 mgs per kilo now and am afraid to give her more. So far she doesn’t have diarrhea but if I give her double?” This was the first time I sensed God telling me to do something that was totally contradictory to my training. Could I really experiment with this child’s treatment and override the recommendations? Hours later, the real-life challenge came.

“My baby dying! Help her!” Over and over Mama screamed at me, thrusting the small body into my arms. If I did not take the risk now, she would likely slip into a coma.

“We will double the dose and pray again for her.” I was none-too-steady when I gave those orders to my startled colleague, who remained silent. “She is dying; we need to take the risk that it was God’s voice.” Agreeing with my plea, she doubled the amount of liquid in the plastic cup and  handed it to Fatoumata’s mother. New instructions were given and prayer, again, offered for both child and parent. 

As the days passed without word of Fatoumata, we anguished in our hearts. Was she still alive? At last a taxi stopped at the gate. Mama and Fatoumata rushed in, followed by a well-dressed, dignified man. Now, Fatoumata was afraid of my white skin and hid behind her mother’s skirt. Wonderful! It was unusual for Fatoumata’s papa to accompany them, but he was so overjoyed with her recovery that he insisted on coming to thank us.

Twenty years later, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a new recommendation for this very antibiotic. Under certain circumstances the recommended dose was 80-90 milligrams per kilogram—double the dose, just as God had instructed for little Fatoumata, growing up in the uttermost parts of the earth.

Author’s Note: This is, happily, a true story.

Faith Writers Challenge: Topic “Experiment”
Beginner Writer Category
Ranked: First Place

****Haile… coming Tomorrow

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