Small Miracles

Sherri is part of the MSF team responding to the earthquake in Haiti. Today she shares the story of an unforgettable patient and his family...

This week Joseph was finally discharged completely from MSF's program. It was a long journey to get here with Joseph, and there were days when I wasn’t sure that we would make it.

Joseph’s mother was witness to his worst days in hospital, and after a few weeks she had given up and returned home leaving him in the care of his teenage brother. This desperate little boy at our intensive therapeutic feeding centre (ITFC) was no longer her son, she refused to acknowledge him or believe that Joseph could find his way back to her again, in short, she had already begun grieving. After his meeting with the psychiatrist Joseph began to improve, on medication he started to sleep, eat and gain weight, however with these improvements he became distraught over the absence of his mother. Most days Joseph would quickly descend into hysterics, crying for his mother, asking why she didn’t love him. In these moments there could be no reasoning; it became instead my daily routine to work with Joseph’s arms wrapped around me while he sobbed into my shoulder. He would become so inconsolable that the only option was to hold him until he quieted or fell asleep.

Slowly though these episodes became shorter, less frequent, Joseph still asked for his mother every day, always disappointed when she refused to come. He never stopped missing her, instead he began to better understand and manage the emotions he was feeling, without having them completely overwhelm him. It was several weeks after the visit with the psychiatrist that we finally began to learn who this boy Joseph was. He loved hip hop and dancing, was generous, wanted to be a football (soccer) star, was an incredible drawer of airplanes, helicopters, and houses, he wanted to go to school and mostly Joseph loved his family and wanted to go home. It was the day that Joseph asked if he could borrow my phone to call his family and find out why no one was coming for him that we knew he was ready to return home. When he reached his parents, instead of crying into the phone he demanded answers, he proceeded to get angry with his parents and was able to articulate these emotions in a way that most adults are unable to. The time had come to discharge Joseph home. It was his father who came to get him, explaining that his wife had almost left him over arguments about bringing Joseph home. Joseph’s mother refused to believe the reports of his improvements at the ITFC, instead believing that he would be a danger to the rest of the family. Joseph had been with us at the ITFC for over a month during which we had built him up as much as we could, but could he succeed in winning back the heart of his mother; was he strong enough to fight for his place in his family?

This week Joseph returned for his follow up visit with the medical and mental health teams. He talked about home, what he was doing, who he was playing with, all of the normal things a boy would share. When I asked him about his mother, he told me that she hugged and kissed him every day now. Joseph’s sister informed us that for the first week at home Joseph refused to talk to his mother out of anger, he had wanted to punish her before forgiving her. Joseph’s biggest concern now is school, it has restarted again In Haiti, but his family can’t afford to send him, instead he stays home…

Only now can I admit that I wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to save Joseph, who had been so determined to fade away into death. He will forever be counted among my short list of miracles witnessed.