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.