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The Virus of Misery

It has been a rough couple of weeks here at Neema House. It started slowly, with one or two kids running a low grade fever, then a higher fever, then diarrhea, then upper respiratory and then it was all out chaos. I did not do an official count, but now that we are on the tale end of The Virus of Misery, I think 20 of the 28 kids, as well as several staff and volunteers, became very ill. The Little Baraka (there are three Barakas) had to be hospitalized for over a week due to secondary infection of pneumonia. (Image from Kelly Gilbert)


There is nothing scarier than a sick baby, especially a baby who cannot breath and will not eat. If you have ever held your own baby and calculated the number of ounces she has eaten or the minutes until you can giver her more Tylenol, you know that all consuming worry that overtakes you. You want nothing more than for your baby to get better. This week was like that, only multiplied by 20 and complicated by language barriers, limited understanding of the medical system and feelings of inadequacy. I am so glad that I am here, I love these babies and I want more than anything to do good by them, so to have to make the medical decisions is so very stressful. I felt like a new mom all over again, and I kept thinking, if this were Camille or Tabitha, what would I do? Would I rush to the ER or ride it out?

The situation is also complicated by the fact that antibiotics are sold over the counter and the nannies and nurse that work at Neema House have a very liberal view on giving incredibly strong antibiotics for any and every symptom. I tried to explain that what we had sweeping through Neema like a forest fire was a virus, and that we should ride it out, only to second guess myself and feel like they thought that I was putting the babies at risk by not immediately dosing with antibiotics. We did take several of the babies in to see the pediatrician, and they did confirm that what we were dealing with was viral, but that knowledge only goes so far when you are telling the primary caregivers of tiny infants that the best course of action is to wait and watch. I feel the stress knot in my shoulders tightening even as I write this.

As I said, I think we are on the tail end of this horrible thing. We took another baby into the pediatrician yesterday because she was just not getting better and he did diagnose her with pneumonia and told us that she did need antibiotics. He said that half of Arusha has the same virus. I felt for him. He looked exhausted. He was glad to hear that most of our kids are doing better and that we did not have any new cases of fever at that time. I have to say how very thankful I am of this pediatrician, Dr. Matthews, from New York. When Baraka was admitted to the hospital through the ER, Dr. Matthews came to see him just because he knew Baraka was a Neema baby, and he wanted to do what he could to help.

I am thankful. I am thankful that all of the babies are on the mend. I am thankful that Baraka is now home and doing much better. Even Dr. Matthews said Baraka was “pretty scary” for a while. I am thankful that my family has not gotten sick, even though my girls were, by necessity, around all the sickness for the duration. I am thankful for the reminder that people are caring for our babies because they know they are Neema babies and they want to help. I am thankful that the nannies love the babies and are in tune to their bodies enough to catch signs and symptoms of sickness early, before it escalates to something more serious I am SO thankful that this week is almost over and everyone is on the mend.

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01/30/2014 at 7:09 pm

Oh my. Bless Bless your heart. I’m speechless as to
How to help- I will pray for all of you. You are so awesome- just keep giving God’s love. I have you in my thoughts So many hugs to you. Dawn M.

Diana Smetana
01/30/2014 at 10:34 pm

You will be in my prayers. God bless you for your loving heart and care for these babies. Praise our Lord that you and your girls are not terribly sick too! May our Lord continue to equip you with wisdom and understanding in the situations that you will face. Love to you and your family.

Susan Donaldson
01/31/2014 at 3:38 pm

Hi Kelly – I know EXACTLY how you feel. I have lived through this with the Neema babies for a year and it is a huge responsibility making the medical decisions for all these beautiful babies. I also know the feeling of there being 14 then18 then 20 sick babies at the same time. It is stressful as you say because you want so badly for them to be well and it is ‘scary’ when the babies are so small and vulnerable and the virus is sweeping through the Babies Home. Unfortunately January & February is always a very bad time of year for respiratory viruses in Arusha. I, too, thanked God every day for Dr Matthews and his hospital. He is an excellent paediatrician and cares so much for the babies. I also thanked God for the nannies who love the babies so much and would always come to me as soon as they thought a baby was sick. I am very happy to hear that the babies are getting better. You are all in my thoughts and prayers.

02/02/2014 at 12:37 am

I’m really sorry that you’ve experienced such scary and stressful times so early in your time here in Arusha. Praise God for his healing touch on the babies and for the good hearts of the staff who want so badly to make the babies better. I’ve also experienced the “antibiotics for everything” phenomenon here, and have second guessed myself when I’ve decided against following a doctor’s instructions. But over time I’ve gotten more and more comfortable with trusting my own instincts when it comes to what’s best for my Max and Elly. You’ll soon learn to trust your gut about a lot of things you encounter here.

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