Are they just a number?
It has been almost a week since I have been back from Haiti and it has been an emotional rollercoaster. Each day I wake up and with each memory I hold onto, I still try to process it all. Here, I want to begin by re-telling some of the life-changing stories that happened while in Haiti.
At the beginning of the week, my team and I experienced a traumatic passing of an infant that cut down deep within me but changed my life forever. Bear with me as I try to vividly re-tell the story. On Monday, we had the opportunity to visit a home for dying and abandoned babies. When I first heard of this home, I was so excited and I couldn’t wait to go and hold, feed, and bathe babies, but I did not fully understand the heart-wrenching sights that I was about to see. When we arrived and I stepped foot into this home, my heart immediately dropped and I fought tears like never before.Wiping my face with the sleeve of my arm, I made my way down the stairs and before me were rows and rows of cribs filled with sick and dying infants. I cannot express to you in words how many there were; row after row and room after room. As I looked, these infants didn’t even seem to have an identity; their bed was labeled with a number. As I tried to process this scene, my mind began to think, “Are theses infants just a number here?? Is this real??” Inside, my heart was screaming as I looked at each infant. Even though they couldn’t’ understand, I told them, you matter. You are not just a number to Christ. He cares for you. He knew you even before you were formed in your mother’s womb. He loves you so much. This pain will end soon. Hold on little one. I was angry and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I walked through the row of cribs and touched each tiny little hand that reached out for me, starving for love, and begging me to pick them up. I immediately scooped up a sweet baby girl and as soon as she was in my arms, she stopped crying and her head laid on my chest. Again, I fought tears. I looked at her face to find that she had a severe eye infection. It was oozing and she looked as if she was in a lot of pain. She felt warm to touch and I’m sure was suffering from an infection that her little body couldn’t fight. In my mind, I began to think back to my hospital at home and the place where I would work. If I were to hold an infant like this in the states I would be gowned, gloved, and with a facemask on for protection from any type of disease, but with this little girl in my arms, I didn’t care. I stroked her head as she laid on my chest. I went to the side room and prayed over her as two of my other teammates gathered around with their sweet infants. Tears fell. My heart was broken and I couldn’t understand. Time passed and I held this little girl, trying to get every spoonful of food I could down here; her belly was huge (protein deficiency) but her arms and legs were so skinny; she was greatly malnourished. It was time for their nap around noon and as I placed her back in her crib, she cried and cried. I picked her back up and she stopped, as peaceful as she could be as long as she was in the warmth of my arms. I had to put her down, telling myself that I could get her again after her nap. We left the room and let the children sleep while we visited another orphanage for a few hours.
Around 3pm, we returned. I went right to the same bed of my sweet little girl and as she reached for me, I scooped her up once again. I held her in my arms as I went to all the other cribs and touched their sweet, fragile, little hands and over each child I said a prayer. Within a few minutes a scene across the room caught my attention; a young mother was sobbing as she stroked her sweet babies face that lay so helpless in crib #14. I immediately noticed that this infant was on oxygen (a very ancient and rustic machine) and as I processed the scene, “Crib #14…this child looks familiar. I think we were holding her earlier,” I knew smoothing we was not right. I scanned the infant. So helpless, she laid in the crib gasping for air. She was so desperately trying to breath from her mouth as a nasal canula was pushed up her nose. My attention kept going back to the mother as she sobbed and sobbed trying to get the attention of one of the nanny’s. They kept shoving her away and telling her to just express her breast milk. The mother was holding a small medicine cup and as tears fell from her eyes, she tried to express any drop of milk that she could from each breast. My heart hurt. I wanted to run over to that mother and hold her in my arms.I wanted so desperately to comfort her but the language barrier made it hard for me to do that. Although I couldn’t fully understand what she was saying, I read her body language. I wanted to speak up and assess this infant. I wanted to help, but I didn’t know if I really had the place to do that. There was a respiratory therapist on our team and I grabbed her asking her to look across the room at this baby. She immediately felt the same way; she knew something was desperately wrong. We watched for a few seconds as this baby was gasping and these nanny’s were pouring breast milk down this babies throat with a small medicine cup. My heart screamed, “What are you doing?? This infant is going to aspirate. You have no idea what you are doing! STOP.” The baby then starts to foam at the mouth and her eyes froze open. This image is forever implanted in my mind. A nun comes down the stairs and goes into the back room where she begins to draw up some type of medicine. My heart told me, “Lauren, go talk to this lady.” I made my way over to her and said that I was a new Graduate Nurse and this baby needed immediate help. I was so surprised at her response. She spoke English and every word pleaded, “Please help me!” In that very moment, as I remember every emotion rush over me, I panicked. I didn’t know what to do. I had to stop myself and say, “Ok Lauren, you have just graduated from Nursing school. You are going to be a NICU nurse. You know what to do,” but everything within side of me didn’t. We had absolutely no resources to work with. Everything that this place had was donated, even the expired meds. I frantically searched that back room for anything only to find nothing. I made my way to the infants crib along with our respiratory therapist and team leader. I felt for a pulse…there was nothing. We started CPR on the sweet baby girl. This moment was so surreal. We are performing CPR on this infant, the mother is sobbing right next to us screaming words we can’t understand, and every infant in this home was crying. It was as if they knew what was going on, as if this was a daily occurrence and in their mind they were next. No matter how young they were, they knew the tragedy that was taking place in crib #14. My heart raced and I cannot express the sea of emotions I was in. After about 20 minutes of CPR, we continued to get no pulse. I knew there was nothing we could do. Even if this baby did start breathing again, we wouldn’t have any type of resources to keep her alive. I prayed knowing that this situation was out of my hands and God was in control of it all. “Lord, if this child is meant to live, You are going to have to do it.” Tear after tear fell from my eyes as we stopped CPR and this infant died before us. My two team members and I along with a pastor wrapped our arms around each other and prayed and even though we didn’t understand, we knew God was still God.
This was the hardest day of my life. Part of me was so angry and I couldn’t understand all the suffering that was going on in this home for dying and abandoned babies. Most of these infants would probably never make it out or get better. They would die there. Most were lost, abandoned, without an identity, and suffering from some horrible disease that even their caretakers couldn’t define.But at the end of the day, through this traumatic experience, I find joy and peace in the arms of my savior because no matter what, God is still God. I know God changed hearts and lives that day. The mother of the baby that died saw us praying over and fighting for her infant, something she has never felt or seen before. She saw us putting our full faith and trust in God. And through this, I know she found comfort and had an encounter with Christ.
That day, after we got back to the guesthouse and debriefed our day, I laid in bed and through tears I prayed over each little hand I touch and each infant I held. And in the beauty of it all I was reminded of God’s promises. I was comforted by his word. Here are some of the scriptures I read that night. Hope they are as encouraging to you as they were to me…
Psalm 30:5 Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
Psalm 34:18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit
Psalm 37:39 The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; he is their stronghold in time of trouble
Psalm 46:1-2 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.
Psalm 48:14 For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.
Psalm 55:22 Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you;he will never let the righteous fall.
Psalm 71:20-21 Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again.
Psalm 73:26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Psalm 138:7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me.
This was the day that changed my life forever...