How do you start a story like Christine's?
Just being the mother of five -- or a mother in Haiti -- would be challenge enough. Now imagine being the mother of five, in Haiti, and one of your children, Christopher, having a medical condition needing treatment not available in Haiti. I can only imagine.
We met Christine on my second day in Haiti, when we received patients from the USNS Comfort. Christine accompanied her son Christopher, who has hydrocephalus. The pictures may shock you. We have children who have hydrocephaly in the United States; they just don't look like this, because they receive treatment early.
She told us Christopher's father was dead. She didn't elaborate and we didn't pry. She showed us pictures of her children and of Christopher's father: Beautiful, smiling, all of them.
Our group heard a rumor that Anderson Cooper was doing a story on Christopher, and that while a crew was filming Cooper getting into a helicopter, there was gunfire. Our doctor, Adam, had mentioned something about that as well. How Christine ended up on the USNS Comfort, I don't know. I do know she was separated from Christopher for a while. As Christine told me, she had been breastfeeding Christopher until they were separated, and as she said in English, with a slight gesture, "No milk now."
Christine’s laundry was hanging on the crib to dry; she would feel it and flip it around several times to help it dry. Every morning, after she fed Christopher, she would tuck him in for a nap, wait until he was asleep and off she would go -- where, I don't know. She went somewhere to get washed up. When she returned, she would pull out a small hand mirror, prop it upon the chair and fix her hair. After she was finished with her hair, she would fix her face: nothing fancy, but a little powder and lipstick. She didn't need it. She was already beautiful. Beautiful all the way through, down to her soul..
We all became close after the first day -- we even shared our food with her. Every morning, the day shift nurses would bring her a simple breakfast: a piece of fruit, a yogurt, maybe some crackers and a bottle of water. At midday, a hot meal if we had one, a sandwich if not. I think more often than not, she would tuck part of it away. Maybe for a day she wasn't so blessed? We can only imagine. She always said thank you for even the smallest gestures: a helping hand with mixing formula, taking a turn holding Christopher, anything.
We took turns staffing the ward. One evening shift, while I was writing in my journal, I watched Christine as she wrote in her own journal. I noticed she was left-handed. I wondered what she wrote about.
One day Kez, an American RN who lives in Haiti and speaks fabulous Creole, sent Christine out with some money to go and get some of the documents needed to start working on a passport and medical visa for Christopher. Kez had told Christine she would need Christopher's father's death certificate. Christine didn't know how she could get that. Kez told her where to go and that she had to do it. Christopher would be closer to getting the medical treatment he needed.
We knew that when the time came to say goodbye to our ward patient, and to Momma Christine, it would be hard. But really, we had no idea. There were tears, hugs (or anbwase in Creole) and photos. Someone in our group got a green scrub top and had us all sign it for Christine. It was a lovely gesture, and I'm sure there were more than a few tears on it as well.
We have heard via Kez and Momma Vanessa that the paperwork is in process, and that surgery has been arranged at the University of Michigan when we can get Christopher to the states. I for one look forward to when I can anbwase my friend Christine.
To say that I am amazed at the resolve of the Haitian people, and of Christine, is an understatement. The daily struggle that is life in Haiti is unbelievable to most here in the States. I think of Christine and Christopher often, and send them wishes of peace, hugs and blessings. Please continue to pray for the people of Haiti.
BlogHer is helping "Write Women Back Into History" by participating in Women's History Month 2010. We are showcasing the stories of women in Haiti in the wake of the January earthquake. You can read more from BlogHer's Women of Haiti series throughout the month.
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