In mid-December, the first set of triplets was admitted to the new neonatology service at Kibuye. The first two were boys, and a bit smaller girl. They each weighed between 0.9 and 1.1 kilos (2 and 2.5 pounds). There was even a bit of fanfare. Some government guy came and gave the mom several cans of formula (otherwise prohibitively expensive), and then we set to work.
They didn’t do too well at the beginning. No major problems, but it took about 3 weeks to start gaining weight and about a month to reach their birth weights again. But then they hit a stride.
Day after day, I would visit them, talk with their dedicated mom, and barter with her about their feeding regimen. But they gained more and more. It seemed that their tenure in the hospital would match my tenure as Alyssa’s replacement, and I thought that this would be my legacy as the fill-in pediatrician.
Wednesday, we celebrated. The oldest boy, named Dieudonné, had reached discharge weight. We discharged him, and he would wait in the hospital for his siblings to be ready to go home. We were thankful.
Thursday morning, I was told that Dieudonné had a fever the night before and wasn’t breastfeeding well. I checked him out. He didn’t look too bad. We readmitted him and restarted antibiotics.
Thursday evening he died.
I couldn’t believe it. Tragic things happen all the time, but to take such a long, steady victory and watch it crash to the ground in such a short time? I didn’t feel guilty. Just sad. And defeated. It can make you feel like it’s all in vain. Even his name Dieudonné, meaning “God given”, could almost seem like a mockery, now that he has been taken away.
I went to see the mom, to give her my condolences. She was crying. She told me that she is afraid the second son is sick, too. She speaks for the first time of wanting to take the children home. I don’t think she will. She’s not defiant, just in despair.
I had a few minutes before rounds, so I walked home and sat down with my old Book of Common Prayer, praying and searching for some comfort. I thumbed it’s 150-year old pages, remembering that the health state of the original owners of this book was maybe even worse than my patients.
I turned to the Burial of the Dead and found verses of hope in the midst of sadness: “I am the resurrection and the life.” “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” “And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.”
And then in 1 Corinthians 15: “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven...Behold, I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump...When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’”
And it all ends in a surprising way: “Therefore my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain.”
Not in vain. So be steadfast. I couldn’t tell you how the truth of the resurrection makes the difference for whether or not my work is in vain. But the promise is there. It has been spoken to me. And the one who promises is trustworthy. And so, even if I don’t understand, maybe I can persevere.
Romains 12:15 - “Partagez les larmes avec ceux qui pleurent.”
(Share the tears with those who weep.)