Options. And options that aren’t options.
My sweet girl Leah is very sick again. May of 2016 is when her ordeal began. Her most recent surgery was August 2018, and the infection came back in May 2019. Osteomyelitis can be difficult to treat, especially in a country like Malawi, where families like Leah’s live in remote villages scattered throughout low lying mountains, with no money, and an extremely fragile medical infrastructure. It’s nearly impossible for people living in these areas to get the medical care they need. Some options aren’t even options for them. Most villagers choose the option to walk (sometimes HOURS through the mountains), no matter how sick, to the free village clinic in their community for things like pain meds, anti-malarials, antibiotics or a referral to the hospital. But then you have to find a way to get to a hospital. I’ve seen people walking with people on their backs for hours, to get their loved one or neighbour medical help. Another village option is to walk to a witch doctor (like Leah has been taken to since her last surgery) for treatment that will “extract the teeth” that are causing the illness (teeth provided as proof 😬). However, if you can find the means to pay for motorbikes and minibuses, you can choose to make your way to a public hospital that is overrun, and under resourced. The wonderful private clinics and hospitals throughout the country are impossible for villagers to afford and access, so they’re usually not considered as an option.
Sometimes it’s hard to help
These last few years have been difficult and at times frustrating when helping Leah. Sometimes it's hard to help. Daniel, our Malawian partner, and I have tried hard, but not always with success nor without obstacles and unhindered cooperation. It’s been difficult to describe and explain Leah’s illness to her parents (whom I adore!) in a way that they can clearly understand its severity, how difficult osteomyelitis is to treat, and how imperative it is to seek help the moment she feels pain. Without a complete medical understanding of osteomyelitis, it’s been hard for Leah’s parents to make wise choices. Her medical needs have often been discovered only because Dan and Khezzie or I have personally checked on her. And for about the last 12 months her parents seemed to have hidden her from us, perhaps worried we wouldn’t help the way they wanted us to. Her parents, who like any other person, have grown up believing what their culture and society in the village has taught them to believe ... eg. traditional medicine witch doctors might actually have the answer and key to healing that modern medicine doesn’t offer. There’s very little education about health and modern medicine in the villages. I can understand how their way of thinking comes about, because people grow up naturally trusting the people who teach them, and what they are taught. It can be easy for someone on the outside like me, to say witch doctors are poppycock. But I know my western culture and society teaches us to believe things that are poppycock too. I may disagree with her parents’ choices, but understanding a little bit about why they make their choices has helped me be patient while they care for their daughter the way they have felt is right for them as a family. All I can ever do is pray that they will bring Leah to us for help with her leg before it’s too late.
The gentlemen who care for my girl
Such is the time right now. Leah has been brought by her dad to our partner Daniel as a very sick girl. As usual, Daniel quickly jumped into action and took Khezzie, Leah and her dad to Mzuzu to visit our familiar friend Dr. Muhone at his private clinic for an assessment. The doctor sent the three men with Leah to other medical offices around Mzuzu to have bloodwork and X-rays done. It has only cost us $80 to take her to a private clinic in Mzuzu, have these procedures done, and buy her the medication required for treatment (she has malaria, a high fever, a massive infection, and many bloodwork numbers that fall outside of the normal range, either well above or below normal). Now take a moment and think of all the possibilities that could be available to Malawians if they were able to afford the $80 for medical care like this.
I’m greatly impressed by the love, care and concern of these four men for one another, and especially for Leah. After hours of running around, they gathered back together, set up their impromptu discussion circle on the lawn of the office, and started discussions on the prognosis and way forward.
BUT FIRST, apologies from Leah’s dad to Daniel and the doctor for having taken Leah to a traditional healer and not to a doctor sooner. He realizes that he hasn’t understood how sick Leah is and that she needs medical care. Daniel and Dr. Muhone accepted his apologies, but the doctor pointed out that it wasn’t them that he needed to apologise to. He had one much more important apology to make. And that was to Leah. Leah was invited to join the men in their circle, and as her dad held back tears to be brave and strong for his beautiful little girl, he took the time to lovingly apologize.
The way forward
Beit CURE is an excellent orthopaedic children’s teaching hospital funded by the UK, and is a 12 hour bus ride away. It is Leah’s best option and hope. This is where she had her surgery in August 2018. Pray with us that the doctors at CURE will treat her again, before she ages out. And that they’ll have the wisdom on how to treat her. CURE is free while she is still a child. But chronic osteomyelitis is difficult to treat, and can require repeated surgeries for years. Further surgeries down the road, as an adult, will cost money her family doesn't have. All options need to be weighed carefully as soon as possible. At some point amputation might be the only route to go. But living in a village with a homemade leg of tree stump and a strap contraption to hold it on, poses its own health problems down the road (eg. the end of the stump of the leg could become infected from the friction against the handmade hard wooden prosthetic).
I don’t hold the answer. But I believe in a God who heals and can impart wisdom to the physicians who treat her. I have a faith and trust that whatever the outcome, Leah is God’s girl (not just mine 😉) and He will see her through.
Read our previous post about Leah
from November 22, 2018