(Written by Stephanie Law who grew up in the US, graduated from Arizona State University with degrees in History and Political Science and is now teaching in a remote area in Thailand. She toured with MedArt’s China Orphan Outreach team to Suzhou in March, 2013.)
I walked into the small ward to see the team’s first patients. It was then that I first saw little Jenny. She was so small, a little cuddly ball of a baby with feathery light brown hair, bright attentive eyes, and a shy disposition. Her little legs and arms peeked out from the sleeves of a pair of hospital-issued blue and white striped pajamas. Drowning in her oversized clothes, she was perched on a pink hospital bed meant for adults. Her sweet fragility of a 14 month old was accentuated by the giant bed, making her seem even smaller than she actually was.
She laughed and giggled with what little noise her small body could make. Her nanny from the children’s home found the keys from the hospital, some humble toys. They would suffice for this baby’s short weekend in Suzhou. Auntie tossed the silver hospital keys up and down, higher and higher. Little Jenny squeaked with delight, her brown hair flopping softly in the air as she bounced up and down with the jingling of the keys. The team came over to examine her and as they lifted up her shirt, I saw the burning red marks where she had had her colostomy and vesicostomy. These procedures had been done because she had been born with only one kidney and an imperforate anus, meaning that these openings from the large intestine and bladder were needed to constantly remove waste from her body. On closer inspection, some of the redness was attributed to skin inflammation from the open wound. As one who is neither medically trained, nor accustomed to being around babies, I winced and glanced away. I guiltily looked back again, ashamed of my own weakness in looking at a reality that the babies faced everyday.
Looking at these children, I saw so many things that they face everyday that they couldn’t control. Not only could they not eat, they couldn’t even go to the bathroom on their own. They are shuttled back and forth between painful and sometimes misguided medical procedures without a voice to say no or cry for help. These little babies' health is at the mercy of the choices of the adults whose care they've been placed in.
The weekend was long and stressful. Important decisions had to be made, and very quickly because the babies only had the three days with the MedArt team from Hong Kong. Sunday arrived, the last day to do operations and surgeries on the children. I came back from a brisk walk in the chilly March air outside the hospital and saw a woman pacing nervously back and forth in the waiting area outside of the operating room. It was Jenny’s nanny. She looked up from her pacing, distracted, and then smiled as she recognised me from before. 明天你回去香港嗎？(You going back to Hong Kong tomorrow?) I panicked for a little as it had been so long since anybody had spoken to me in mandarin. I managed to choke out a 對啊 (Yes) and asked her about her baby. She explained that they had come all the way from Beijing for this surgery. She smiled again, but this time she was unable to hide some of the anxiety on her face. Every time the door to the operating room slid open, she jumped a little and looked expectantly at the door. It's already been 4 hours she said, glancing again at the door. I nodded, unable to give her more comfort with my limited putonghua abilities. We sat quietly in the waiting room together, both thinking of the little child lying on the operating table whose life hung in the balance.
I returned to the doctor’s office as I saw my uncle, Dr. Ngan, slowly walked back from Jenny’s surgery. It had taken a very long 4 hours to operate on her because the treatment needed to be accelerated and a snap decision was made to perform another operation that normally would take place at a much later time, for the baby’s future health. It was a high stress environment; most of these babies would not get another chance to receive this kind of care. It was the end of a very long day. Unlike the hustle and bustle of the beginning, the end of the weekend was a quiet and reflective silence in the office.
It would be easy to overlook these babies. But working with Medart was different than anything I had experienced before. MedArt actively searched for these children and assembled a knowledgeable and caring team with expertise in these childrens’ particular cases. Most of the babies had complicated and rare conditions that only specially trained doctors could treat. So often lost in the shuffle of adoptions, hospital records, and orphanage rosters, these babies’ names and cases are insignificant to most. I saw MedArt give them a chance and show them and the babies’ communities that they are not forgotten.