Well, at least I was for about 24 hours. I allowed my life to be disrupted in a sudden, profound, and beautiful way. I did something uncharacteristically Katherine when I brought an orphan boy home to stay with me.
I first met Zhi Xian nearly a year ago during our monthly trips to a countryside community with a foster care program – you have seen this featured in other posts. At that time we noticed clinical evidence of thrombocytopenia (low platelets in the blood) and have been working on getting more tests for him out there. Unfortunately, he started bleeding and came to us, in a way.
Monday, during our routine visit to the city child welfare institution, our nurse told me that Zhi Xian had come back from his village family because he started bleeding. A pathetic lump of a boy was lying prone, alone, on the cushioned floor, with blood-tinged saliva drooling out his mouth. He was not where the other kids live, presumably because of the bleeding, and I’m not sure that he even in a bed. The ayi’s seemed to regard him only as extra work – he was not one of theirs.
My team arranged with the welfare institution for me and my Chinese colleague to pick him up the next day and take him to the hospital for treatment. This was fantastic! As long as we paid for everything, we had no resistance, so away we went. From here, I will spare you the ugly details of all the lines and the waiting and crowds, and general inconvenience of health care in China – I’ll only mention some of the especially negative parts of this experience.
First we took him to the hospital for children – a natural choice. However, after waiting to see a doctor, waiting again for another doctor, and waiting some more to confirm it, we were told that they in fact could not treat him at that hospital. OK… So on to the next hospital where we thought we had a decent chance of getting treatment. We went through the same rigmarole – waited, saw a doctor, waited some more, tracked down the head doctor, etc. In the end we told that they thought they may be able to help us, but there were no inpatient beds available; and that we may have to wait three days before one opened up. Were we willing to stay in the clinic waiting area? We asked if they were willing to treat him on an outpatient basis reasonable and possible in the States) – get some labs, come back for procedures in the morning? Not so much.
We called around to figure out where to go next – which hospital could treat him but also have an available bed? Pediatric beds are very full this time of year, and we didn’t have much encouragement. It was around 4pm and we were tired. Many clinics start closing down around that time and we knew we weren’t going to get very far dealing with the after-hours doctors dealing with the daytime patient overflow.
What to do? No way was I going to take him back to the welfare institute! When I picked him up that morning, he was listless and despondent. In the taxi on the way to the first hospital, I offered him some of my apple and that seemed to warm him up a bit. He even cracked a bit of a smile. When we got to the first hospital, I broke apart pieces of homemade granola bar – yum! More smiles. We called his foster mom and got her on the speaker phone and he started to light up even more. I carried him nearly everywhere, I fed him, I held his hand, cradled him. The more comfortable he felt, the more active he became. By the end of the day’s clinic saga, we had bonded.
There was only one thing to do and that was to abscond with him to my house. Actually, abscond is technically not correct – I did ask permission, but not until I was already in the taxi on the way home. When it is the right thing to do, you just know it, even if it is a bit crazy. Was I prepared? Not at all – but I knew that I could figure it out. I had considered asking my friends with kids, but I just didn’t think that was right. I just wanted to continue loving on him.
Zhi Xian has Down Syndrome, and is significantly developmentally delayed – as a four-and-a-half year old, developmentally he is at nearly a two year old level. But he is such a happy guy, and so trusting. He doesn’t speak, and he communicates more clearly about what he doesn’t want than what he wants. I hadn’t learned all his cues for bathroom, hungry, etc, but we did just fine together. He had grown increasingly interactive and playful through the day. After sitting around hospitals all day, he was ready to tear loose for a bit.
The first things he found in my apartment were my remote controls – of course! I pulled out the “toys” I had – empty CD cases, pillows, old magazines he loved to rip up, sticky notes. He was more interested in the things that were definitely NOT toys – I promptly moved all that stuff up HIGH!
My friends brought over a few things for the guy. They were astonished (and pleased) at the status of my apartment – already a tornado had run through it! They laughed at me being a foster mom – even if only for a night. They asked if I needed anything else and I (jokingly) suggested that they come over early in the morning so I could go for a run. The mothers of four kids apiece just laughed. They laughed a lot! I willingly gave up a run for him (but I have to admit that I did squeeze in a weight and core work out while he slept in the morning).
Zhi Xian finally let me know he was ready for bed by lying down and pulling a blanket over him. I picked him up and put him in the bed I fashioned for him next to mine. I crawled into bed myself but I couldn’t sleep. Something between anxiety and excitement kept me up for a long while. There’s a little boy sleeping in my room. Will he be OK all night? Is he scared? Am I missing anything?
He had required my constant attention all day and I couldn’t even let go of him at night. The work I had to do that day, the journals I brought to read for all the waiting I knew we had to do? Yeah right – wishful thinking. But somehow I wasn’t frustrated. This little man had invaded my life unbidden, unexpected, but I allowed it – and I was blessed by it.
…This story has been getting longer – the second day of hospital trials continues in another post…