This blog isn’t really about the newly christened future King of England. Or the multi award winning American pop group formed in 2001. Instead, it is a short story about a baby girl who reminded me of Prince George, her sister, and a pair of scissors.
It is the best of times; it is the worst of times.
Soon after arriving in this city in northern Pakistan, I looked after an 8-month-old baby girl who was brought into the Emergency Room (ER). She had been unconscious for a whole day while her family travelled to our hospital and when we assessed her, we found she had stopped breathing. The nurses took it in turns to breathe for her, each of them squeezing the ventilation bag with one eye on the monitor, to make sure her blood oxygen level came up to normal, while we tried to find out what was wrong.
And then we saw it – the tiny puncture wound on her temple, near her right eyebrow. It turns out her older sister had been playing with her the day before, using scissors for lack of toys, and with an accidental slip of a child’s wayward hand, this baby’s story had already been written.
Many babies pass through the ER of our little hospital. A lot of them scrawny and malnourished, trying their hardest to survive. Occasionally twins or triplets, where we fight for them all, but sometimes only win with one. Sometimes there are too many babies for one mother to manage….so she offers one or two to me. With a heavy heart (and an ethical mindset), I politely refuse and laugh about it later. But as I walked past the TV last week, I couldn’t help but double take – observing the furore over the big fat snug baby that is Prince George – and it brought me back down to Earth.
This is what a baby’s life SHOULD be like. The centre of attention, being cooed over and dressed in princely outfits, while strangers who they will never know take photographs of them to cherish forever. Not what I have become accustomed to during these past six weeks, where a new baby is often just another mouth to feed, another body to be clothed, a commodity to be donated or exchanged when the load gets too heavy to carry.
But back to the story of the scissor sister. It was my turn to ventilate her. I sat there as everyone watched and realised that, as long as I continued to squeeze the bag, she would continue to be alive. Brain dead maybe, but alive. As the minutes passed it became clear that we would not be able to fix this. She had most likely suffered an extradural haemorrhage from the scissor injury, causing irreversible damage, and even if we did have a CT scanner or a neurosurgeon (which we don’t), it was too late.
Putting the ventilation bag down was the hardest thing I’ve had to do, knowing that I would be the one who dictated the time and place of this baby’s death. We stood solemnly around her lying on the stretcher, watched her oxygen level drop, and felt her pulse slow to nothing. She died with dignity, but without pomp and ceremony, without tears, and without a flag flying at half-mast. The parents did what most parents do here after the death of their child – they thanked us, swiftly wrapped her up ready for burial, and left the hospital with the rest of their children in tow.
It is the best of times; it is the worst of times. On one side of the hemisphere, in a city I call home, a baby is born exalted – photographed, pampered and entitled to dominions so vast and wide that most people cannot comprehend – he is the centre of the universe. Whilst on the other side, a different tale is spun. The anonymous babies of Pakistan come out crying and screaming the same as any other. Some of them make it, but many slip away unnoticed. Sometimes, over here, the universe just isn’t big enough for another baby.