Different Worlds

My child is so young, too young for such suffering. He sleeps in the George Town Hospital bed with his eyes only half shut. It seems he is too exhausted to fully close them. The six-year-old boy was so strong and fast just a day ago. But some unknown microscopic monster has invaded his body and set up camp. The medical people tell me it is a gastrointestinal bug.

In developing countries, 20 percent of all children do not have access to safe drinking water.

He is dehydrated but will be fine, the doctor says. Despite reassurances, however, I imagine the worst.

About 30,000 children in poverty die every day, most of them from illnesses that could have been easily prevented or treated in developed nations.

My little boy moans and I hurt in the deep and indescribable way that only a parent can. Unable to turn off his pain, I begin to feel irritated by my inability to help him. I resent sitting in the hospital room watching him suffer. But then I begin to look closer at the room. I see things that I had not noticed earlier. The computerized IV device seeps measured fluids into my son’s body. Cool air flows out of a vent in the ceiling. A TV and VCR in the room offer distraction when my son is awake. Clean sheets cover my son’s body. His head rests on a soft pillow. The floor is clean. A sink with clean water is in the room. A clean and working toilet is ten feet from the bed. A storeroom just 20 feet down the hall is stocked with numerous medicines. A nurse checks my son every 30 minutes or so.

One out of seven children in developing countries does not have access to healthcare.

The tapping of raindrops draws me to the window while my son continues to sleep. The sky is gray and thunder rattles the glass. But it is of no concern. We are in a peaceful country. I do not see smoke from burning buildings or hear bombs in the distance. We are safe.

Since 1990, 45 percent of all deaths in wars have been children.

A couple of days later my son has improved and is smiling again. I am relieved and, as the drama fades, I already begin to process the event in my head as just another tiny speed bump in life. I laugh at myself for being so worried. I imagine him growing up, having a family and going through the same experience with his child. He will be a great father and grandfather one day.

Life expectancy for a child in Zambia is 33 years.

I talk with my son, joke with him, and tell him stories. I tell him not to worry, that he is getting better. I also hug him and tell him that I love him. He smiles as if he was never sick.

15 million children have been orphaned by AIDS.

As we leave the hospital I think about how fortunate I am to still have my son. Hundreds of thousands of fathers lose their children every year from the same type of illness that my son was able to overcome in a few days. The benefit of living in one of the world’s wealthy societies has never been so clear. I would like to imagine that I somehow earned our good fortune but I know I did not. My son was just lucky. He was born into a different world, one far different from the world of extreme poverty that about half of the world’s children live-and die-in. Why won’t we, the nations with money and power, find a way to solve this daily disaster?

Driving home, I think about the fathers who have no hospital, no smiling nurses and no storeroom filled with medicine for their child. I wonder how they cope with their pain and tears fill my eyes. I find it difficult to think about their world. I wonder what they think of mine.

In 2005, more than 10 million impoverished children will die from mostly preventable causes.

World news editor Guy P. Harrison is at [email protected].

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