For those of you who keep up with my blog you will remember me writing about six year old Lisa. A very sick little girl who was suffering from HIV, TB and heart disease. Sadly Lisa passed away on Friday 19 November. One of my staff, Fleur has written a letter to Lisa whilst sitting with her in hospital. I was deeply touched by what Fleur wrote and with Fleur's permission would like to share it with you.
Today you are in hospital. As I watch you sleep struggling for each breath, I wonder if you’ve ever had a happy day in your life, a day free from all the pain and misery. How tiny you look, even though you are six years old, your wrist is just slightly thicker than my thumb. What unimaginable pain you must be in. I wish I could do something to ease your pain, but for now all I can do is sit with you and hold your hand. Even though we cannot communicate and we’ve only known each other for a little while, I want you to know that you are so special and for as long as I live, I will never forget you”.
Seeing Lisa through God’s Eyes
Lisa was referred to Yfc through the OI clinic (a clinic which deals counsels and treats HIV / AIDS patients). The message we got was “if you do not take this child, she will die. So I thought then, “of course we will take her”. It was so obvious.
“I was not prepared when I first saw her and to be honest, I was terrified. So many questions popped into my head. Is she contagious? Why is she coughing so much? Will she give me TB and will I get sick? What about my child, and the other babies in the home, the mothers and the other staff members? Her uncle had already been to other places, including a social worker at the hospital and the Social Welfare. He had been turned away from both of them. I asked around for referrals to convalescent homes but there were no answers - no one was prepared to help. All I heard was “We cannot deal with such a sick child” and “we are not qualified to do this”!
I hesitated, I apologised to her uncle and told him we were not in a position to take her. I saw the despair in his eyes as they grew moist. He opened the car door, grabbed her and walked away without saying a word. I turned to Portia. “What do we do?” “No one wants to help this man”.
Together we try to reason. “Open all the windows”, “did you hear the way she coughed”? We can’t risk taking this child! We’ve already had 2 babies die this year and two seriously ill with TB.
I had a nagging thought in the back of my mind. “What would Jesus do?” We went back to the office to talk to Debbie. She confirmed she would fully support whatever decision we made, but I knew she would never turn a child away. Portia got on the phone to tell her uncle to get out of the taxi”.
I asked Buhe to please go and collect Lisa and her uncle. She hesitates, she’s also afraid!! Pull yourself together Buhe! “What would Jesus do”?
“We do end up taking her into our family. Des, wonderful Des, accepts her immediately, but the rest of us still hesitate. She is so sad, so angry, so sick. She fights us all the way. I promise $10 to the first person who makes her smile. Everyone comes to me of course, all claiming to have made her smile, but I don’t believe it. Let me give it a go! I get the camera. “Smile Lisa” I say. ...... she looks at me like I’m crazy. I take the photo anyway. I say to her “look at this dudla mafehlefehle” (fat person) and then she smiles. I get the picture I wanted and show it off to the rest of the staff.
The doctor tells us she has heart failure, her lungs and liver are damaged. She is coughing up blood. To make matters worse, the TB treatment she has been given before she came to us was the wrong medication (her uncle had to walk 7 kms every day to collect it). So now she has to restart the treatment. The doctor also immediately starts her on antiretroviral drugs (ARV’s). We pray it is not too late”.
In her 6 years of life, Lisa has been through what many of us will never go through in a lifetime. She was an HIV orphan, with twin brothers who are also HIV positive, and both have TB.
Her uncle took them into his care when his brother and sister-in-law died. Lisa considered him as a father. Although they lived in abject poverty, their uncle is so attached to them. What pain he must feel.
Many of you reading this may never give Lisa a second thought, but to us she is now a part of our family.
Why does she have to suffer for the mistakes of her parents? Will Lisa ever know what it feels like to ride a bicycle, run a race at school with everyone cheering her on, shouting out her name? Will she ever jump on a trampoline and imagine she can touch the sky? Will she ever get to play dress-up? Will she get to blow out 7 candles on her birthday cake in December?
I don’t know the answer to these questions BUT what I do know is that we are better people for having had the privilege of caring for her. She taught us that mothering a sick child - a child who is HIV positive and has T.B is just the same as mothering a healthy child.
We nourish them and shelter them, we hold their hands for safety and protection and sometimes to just let them know we are by their sides.
“God Bless and protect her Lisa, I will always remember that “first” smile. (dudla mafehlefehle)”
To the two wonderful women Des and Debbie it is an honour knowing and working with them.
How blessed we all are!
Lisa is now safely in the arms of Jesus.