I hate this picture.
I hate it because of the memories that come flooding back when I look at it.
I hate it because of the way my eyes sting with hot tears just like they did the night I met this little girl.
I was just getting out of the shower when I heard a heap of commotion. Would Dr Cassie please come up to the clinic? A man was bringing his granddaughter. They had been in their dingy for a few hours making their way here. It was dark. Was there anyway we could see her?
I followed Cassie into the clinic and my heart broke. The little girl was in her daddy’s arms, with her grandfather beside them. They were keen for me to watch, to hear her story, to tell it to others… because maybe others would be stirred to help.
“She’s three years old,” Cassie told me as she handed me her registration form. My eyes widened as I saw that she was also 10 kilos.
She was three years old and weighed less than my one year old who was contentedly sleeping in his air conditioned cabin two decks below us.
She was also in pain. I could see it in her eyes, even beyond the fat crocodile eyes that sat on the edge of her lids.
I listened as Cassie explained in pidgin, “The sore is too big for any anesthetic. This will be “bikpela pain”, but we need to get it clean.”
She then said to me in English, “In Port Moresby, we would put this little girl under. This is going to be very painful, but its the only option.
And so as Cassie began to prepare the wound, the hot tears in my eyes matched my little sweethearts. I was barely containing my emotions – half way telling myself to toughen up and half way knowing that sometimes we need to allow ourselves to feel the emotion so that we remember the importance.
And then she looked at me.
She looked at me with those big eyes as if to say, “How could you let this happen to me!?”
And that’s when I knew that even though I needed to feel the emotion, I also needed to be her courage. I swallowed my tears and the lump in my throat and smiled at her the biggest smile I could. “You’re very brave,” I told her. “This hurts so much, but its helping you to be healthy.” “I’m so sorry that you’re sick. I know its not fair. But you’re going to be better.”
And I held her eyes as she screamed in absolute pain.
When it was over, I looked at her laying there. Her tiny shorts were covered in blood. And yet I knew that there was no clean set of clothes waiting for this little girl. What she was in was all she had.
Except for the suitcase full of kids clothes that was sneaked onto the ship, despite the fact that we don’t have cargo space for it. And in that little suitcase we found the perfect princess nightgown for a ride home on the dingy in daddy’s arms.
They left with antibiotics, wound care tools, instructions to care for the infection, and where we’d be anchored if it got worse.
Later that night, in the quiet of the cabin, I asked Cassie, “What would’ve happened if we weren’t here?”
“I don’t know for sure,” she said, “It may have popped and healed on its own. But with an infection that big, positioned in a high bacteria area on the body as it was, and as undernourished as she is, it is very likely she would not have survived.”
So I guess in some ways I love this photo.
I love it because of the hope that it represents.
I love it because it reminds me of a precious life that was saved.
I love it because even though not every problem in the world finds solution, some do.
And some are better than none.