The discharge area is definitely the most fun place to be in the hospital. Discharges take place in Phase 2 – the section of the centre dedicated to those children who are ‘cured’ of whatever medical problem they came in with, and are now gaining weight on a high calorie diet before being set free. So when the mother finds out she is about to be liberated, she becomes ecstatically happy (as this means not only that her child is cured, but also that she can now go home to her other 7 children to make sure they have a chance of survival too!). The child usually becomes aware of the change in his mother’s behaviour, but interprets this with caution. On the day of discharge, he senses that something dramatic is going to happen, and bursts into uncontrollable tears when you enter the room to carry out the final examination.
Now, if we follow this child’s progress back in time, we pass first to the phase of transition, where he is recovering from his medical condition and is trying to get used to the taste of plumpy nut for the first time. Prior to this is phase 1, where children are often sick, limp, horizontal and moaning, with metabolisms that are not yet working properly and infections that their weakened immune systems are fighting to control. This is the entry stage for most children. But any child that is in a really bad condition is sent directly to the intensive care unit. This is where I spend most of my days. If you get admitted here, you have an 80% chance of getting out alive. The children get injections and incisions and tubes put in, and if they make it through all that there’s the psychological trauma to deal with. So when I sit with a child at the time of his exit from Phase 2, and I start to feel hurt by his disdainful tears, I have to remind myself that my relationship with him began in the intensive care unit, and that I am a face he would rather forget.
Do I sound pessimistic? I don’t believe I am! I’ve learnt to love the sound of tears! That uncontrollable expression of life force that indicates a strong pair of lungs and a child that is on the mend! And when occasionally it is followed by a little laughter, or more miraculously, by a child who reaches out to you to hold him (whilst he quietly pisses on your trousers), then I get a taste of the euphoria the mother feels when she finally arrives home to display this bouncing smiling child, in place of the bundle of bones she set out with.