Draped with children

Courtney writes from the Intensive Care Unit of the Balbala Slum Malnutrition Project in Djibouti City

Today in the ‘phase 2’ tent, I make eye contact with one of the moms. I am glad - I miss adult medicine and taking care of the moms, as much as I can in a hospital geared to kids, is kind of nice.  This mom has smart eyes and a grace about her—we’ve been caring for her child for about a week.  In the absence of language I’ve been drawing conclusions about all these ladies by watching how they soothe their kids, how patiently they wait to funnel the milk into their little toddlers, the look in their eyes as I talk to them.  I’ve taken to speaking to them as though they can understand me, eye contact and gestures and all, then pausing while the nurse or nutritional therapist translates. I think it helps us get one another.

She approaches with one babe in her arms, a slightly smaller one slung across her back, and her pregnant belly making a loop in her flowing robe.  She shows me her medical record from the government doctor next door. She’d had belly pain and been dizzy so we’d sent her over to get checked out.  She wants us to know that we’d given her the iron he’d recommended for her anaemia, but that she still had belly pains.  I check over the record—she was at about 24 weeks of gestation, and her blood pressure and urine had been normal.  There is not a lot else you can do to at that point except drink fluids and try to stay comfortable. So we gave her some paracetamol to help keep her comfortable, and watch her walk away, draped in children, externally…and internally.