Post by Deepta V Narayanan:
Today I saw this 8 year old child admitted in the Paediatric ward.
He is around 32 inches or 77 cm tall. His arms and legs are stick thin – the diameter of some two or three of my fingers put together. His hair's withering. He can only walk, and feed himself and use the toilet. He hasn't developed speech, he can't see very well, cannot hear very well, or even if he can, he can't really understand, and only makes monosyllabic noises and clicking sounds – the kind one makes at a horse. He led me and a friend of mine around the beds. He had a surprisingly strong grip for one so frail and malnourished. But apart form a brief moment of a tantrum and flailing hands and trying to hit somebody when too many students had crowded around him to 'examine' him, 'see' his eyes – as if he were some curio and Bitot's spots some special display, he was a smiley, happy appearing child, unknowing of the injustice and neglect and suffering he's been subjected to.
He's eight years old, stands as high as a tall 2 1/2 or 3 year old, can't understand the world. Has no idea that he's in a hospital, sick, and has been underfed since he was a baby.
His mother lay on his bed, smiling for some reason. She didn't look too old. She said she'd been to a doctor when he was 4 months old and that had been told he would get al-right and that she never bothered to go again. She left unsaid why. She didn't look worried.
I've seen other sick children's parents. They might talk normally, but one can tell their anxiety from their faces. She was just – I don't know.
I told my mother about the child. I could hear her perturbation. I thought of my aunt's son – my little brother. I can't till this moment stop thanking whatever forces – call it God's grace, call it Karma or just anything on earth – for the impeccable, wonderfully ordinary childhood we've had.
I can't stop. I wanted to take a picture of his, the child's, I for some reason stopped short. Maybe I will tomorrow.
His mother probably isn't much older than my 20 years. Or wasn't when she had him. Barely world savvy, poor, married to a man who is in all probability not very nurturing. I still don't think any of that is an excuse to have left him to deteriorate to mere skin and bone. I mean to say, if she could come now, she could've earlier.
I remind myself not to blame her. I have absolutely no right to.
He's eight years old, and the parts of his cortex responsible for speech and understanding, and even hearing and comprehension are probably not only underdeveloped, but also degenerated to some degree.
I remember studying about how speech and hearing if not developed by a certain age -giving it a maximum of around 5 yrs- won't develop. And I'm pretty sure that understanding and cognition also need similar early stimuli when the neuronal plasticity is still high for complete normal development.
And here I am, sitting day after day, feeling bad about my own 'short comings'
He might be dependent life long. Being poor, and having a pathetic family (I'm sorry, I'm angry. It's not my place, but I can't help it right now), he's not likely to get support. Even if our doctors manage to get him to put on weight, I don't know how his hypothalamo-pituitary and other such hormonal pathways and complex neuronal circuits will ever just overcome the immense early neglect.
I don't understand what he'll do when he's older. When his parents decide they can't support him anymore.
Tomorrow I'll find out about his siblings. I was too scared to find out today.
But today, regardless of what he may have to face tomorrow, he was an active child -probably because of the food he's been getting in the hospital for the past couple of days.
When I was 8, I'd known for atleast 2 years that I wanted to be a docotr. I was reading a Harry Potter book, loads of Enid Blytons and in general having parents, grand parents, aunts and uncles all tecahing me things and caring for me.
To all urban Indian children who go to the 'prestigious' schools, and well, live like all the well to do poeple in the world, here's a very sombre reminder – you're in the top less than 2% of India as far as income goes. The poverty that everyone showcases? It's bloody darned well real. There's no getting around that.
This is not just one case. I found out that the average rate of admission of such cases is 2-3 per month in the hospital where I study. And this is supposedly one of the health wise 'better' regions of the nation.
I'm afraid I've digressed. It's about this child for now. I hope he does well.