When I was a little kid, my grandpa and I formed a secret bond. I was his favorite and we both knew it. Sure he liked the other grandkids just fine, but I was the first one, the first baby he ever held. His military job didn’t allow him to attend the births of his three children so when I came into this world thanks to his middle child, I was impossibly small and completely his.
We played chase the stuffed monkey, we did ballet in train stations, we laughed at Mr Bean episodes until we cried. Well, my grandpa laughed at Mr Bean episodes until he cried and I laughed at him laughing. His face got so red and sweaty he was like a cartoon character. I loved it and I loved him. Grandpa Jack passed away from ALS but soon took the role as my lead guardian angel. Some people talk to God. I talk to Grandpa Jack.
Two weeks ago, a little girl named Essie lay on a mat outside of the orphanage fevered and sluggish. Previous clinic attempts to diagnose the illness proved unsuccessful and I decided to take her to a local hospital to figure out what was wrong. Dripping with sweat and fever hovering around 104, Essie and I took a Vespa to a taxi to the hospital. We waited in a long queue at the hospital, my English a hindrance as most spoke the local language and I struggled to keep up. Lines led to more lines and as we waited, Essie whimpered in my arms. I was so focused on trying to remove her pain with my mind, I missed our name getting called by the nurse. Someone behind me tapped my shoulder “Obroni go” and I brought Essie into a room with a doctor. They took her vitals, did a quick test and showed late stage malaria, something the local Senya clinic must’ve missed in their labs. Essie was quickly moved to a hospital bed that dwarfed her tiny body as nurses surrounded her trying to find veins to put a needle in.
I felt helpless as I sat next to her small, tired body getting pumped with fluids. I couldn’t get straight answers from any of the nurses as most were there getting trained and not actually on duty. About three hours later a doctor came over and told me she would need to stay overnight and I panicked. I couldn’t stay at the hospital overnight, as safe as Ghana is, I still did not feel comfortable staying out alone in the dark (a friend had been mugged the previous week and the experience shook me). I knew I would need to get Essie supplies and make sure she was put in the correct area before I left to come back at dawn. I moved as quick as possible, the sinking sun a ticking time bomb.
I ran to a small shop and bought her new clothing, diapers (as she had been wetting the bed) a bucket to wash her in the morning, dinner, toothbrush and anything I could think of. I was terrified of leaving her and felt so guilty as we moved her sleeping body to the children’s ward where she would stay the night.
Even though it was a hospital, it was still a hospital in Ghana and many of the procedures admittedly made me uncomfortable. (For example, I was repeatedly asked my personal (not Essie’s) religious preferences by doctors and nurses alike and when I stated none I was subjected to reasons as to why I should let Jesus in my life and one nurse even took my phone number from the records and told me she wanted to call me so we could take photos together. And she did. She called me three days in a row before I blocked her.) In the children’s ward I gave the nurses strict instructions on where her food and belongings were and told Essie I would be back at sunrise to get her. I was shattered and broken. It had been a long confusing day and I questioned leaving this little girl in a hospital alone overnight. As I waited for my taxi I stood in the now almost empty lobby of the emergency ward trying to keep it together. I leaned against a wall and wondered whether I made the right decision. At that moment I heard a laugh track and looked to the left of the room. To my absolute wonderment, in the middle of Winneba, Ghana, an episode of Mr Bean played on the small television screen. Mr Bean. Of all shows. With the permission I needed granted, I finally let myself cry. While I still felt helpless, I knew it would be okay. After all, my grandpa was there letting me know it would be.
After another long and embattled next day (worthy of another blogpost perhaps another time), I took home an exhausted but healthy Essie to her family of 40 brothers and sisters.