A three-year-old kid was sitting outside the labor room beside the doctor’s table. He was surprisingly calm and quiet. He seemed to enjoy the tea we had given him while his mother delivered her fourth child. He had no father or any known relative to take care of them. His mother was a psychiatric patient on regular follow up and treatment.
He didn’t trouble us and never asked where his mom was. This little one was wearing the same old clothes he wore when he came here a few months back (We had seen him with the mother on her previous two admissions), and this mom didn’t have any clothes for her newborn either. The little fellow had a brown paper bag with stones, bottle caps, and other junk, probably picked up while coming to the hospital. These were his toys. These people collected the single-use, plastic water bottles from us because it was the nearest thing to a toy they knew. They filled them with stones and pebbles to create rattles for babies.
The nurse returned from the labor room with a troubled look.
“Doctor,” she said. “She has no clothes for the newborn, not even for herself. We gave her a bed sheet.”
“Don’t we have extras from the donations?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “Nothing’s left as we gave away everything from time to time.”
It was a common scenario at this general hospital of the other end, as the population here had been battling poverty, war, and hunger for decades. Since the war ended, they had no more fears of untimely death or losing their loved ones, but the constant struggle with poverty continued.
This mother, who was now delivering her fourth baby, was seen by us at the ante-natal clinics as she was referred to us by the mental health unit. We couldn’t gather much information on her as no one visited her. She was a psychiatric patient and was apprehensive and reluctant to talk to us.
One of the midwives came to us with tea and biscuits for this little three-year-old, waiting for his mother to return.
“He’s wearing the same old clothes, miss,” I told her.
“Doctor, if you could provide some clothes, I will wash him up and tidy him,” she said, knowing that I would go to any length to achieve this. I was so thankful we were blessed with such kind-hearted midwives and nurses. They never said no to our requests and helped us in everything as our hands were always full in operating theaters and the labor room.
We called up the pediatric ward, but they had no extra clothes. I quickly decided and walked to the shop on the other side of the A9 Road. I bought some clothes for him and also for the newborn baby. I got a new bed jacket and a lungi (a wrap-around cloth) for the mom. We were bound to help them, as there were no other means.
A few days ago, a mother admitted for childbirth told us that she was willing to give the newborn away, as she was a single parent of a teen daughter. The man left her while she was pregnant, and she was ashamed to return to the village. No one knew her situation, and she planned to deliver this child, give it away to the probation authority, and return to her village to take care of her daughter.
She was willing to undergo a Caesarean section as she had undergone surgery during the previous childbirth. We always visited the patients who underwent surgery when we returned from the operating theater. When I returned to our ward after six hours, I couldn’t see the mother who was operated on that morning. When we finally found her, she washed clothes in the bathroom with the urine catheter pinned up to her waist. I was shocked to see her up and walking like that, as we always struggled to make them walk after surgery. Post-surgical patients prefer to stay in bed due to pain caused by surgical wounds.
“What on earth do you think you are doing?” all scolded her for getting up without assistance.
“I had only those two nappies and a baby shirt you gave me the other day, doctor, so I had to wash this for the baby,” she said with tears rolling down her cheeks.
I kept sets of baby clothes in my table drawer to be given to those in need. When she told me all her social problems and situations, I gave her the last few pieces I had left. I repurchased a few extra baby clothes at the store, remembering her. I knew it was not my duty to provide them with everything. Many seniors have told me to work up to my limits, but my humane side never let me rest. I feel so much pain seeing them suffer like this.
When I went to post-natal wards to check on the mother, sinna thambi (little brother) was sitting on the corner of the bed with a sad face.
“I wanted a baby brother, but mom got me a sister instead. I don’t want a sister,” he sighed.
We arranged counseling and follow-up for the mother for her psychological issues. With the help of the mental health unit, she donated goods for her baby.
Some evenings, this little boy was seen at our nurses’ station, where he learned to write. Our excellent nurses and midwives were teaching the kid to write and speak because he was so shy, as his mom rarely spoke with him.
Oh ! remember the mom who got down from her bed after surgery? After a week, she withdrew her request to give away the child.
“I breastfed her for one week, doctor… I can’t give her up….I love her,” she said. I met her when she was ready to be discharged. “My eldest has attained puberty while I was here. I have to go to my village to arrange her ceremony. I will take care of my kids somehow, doctor,” she said with a hopeful smile.
We arranged social support for them by informing the Psychiatric Social Worker (PSW) of that area.
Every hospital admission is traumatic, but seeing them go home, recovered, and healed is a blessing.
I shared these incidents a few years ago in my Sinhala blog ‘Anithkona.’ It was an attempt to share what they were going through after the war. After a few days, I got feedback from a kind-hearted Sri Lankan lady residing in Australia that she was willing to help these people. I refused their help as the sole purpose of my writing was to show the misery and struggle of the North End, and I had no intention to trouble anyone else.
Regardless of my objections, they sent clothes and other goods, and it was collected by two temples in Australia. When I told about this to the area heads (as there were no means for transportation or distribution in this area), they were willing to help with the transportation and distribution. They received the goods and distributed them among a few villages and the orphanage.
My cousin residing in the USA had sent baby clothes, and we distributed them among the needy mothers in our wards.
I witnessed the kindness and dedication of healthcare workers in the North, but the world didn’t hear much about them. May this note be a tribute to all the extraordinary ladies I’ve met in the North who did their best to help the North to heal!
#BodhiniSamaratunga #අනිත්කොන #anithkona #උතුරුකතා #inspiration