Debi’s Diary

As the missions official Historian, I’ve been writing thus far in 3rd person. Today’s blog is my own personal story about a 5 year old boy named Joshua who stole my heart.

The hospital has no central air conditioning, unless you count all of the open windows that provided more humid air. It was almost the end of the first day of Pre-Clinic. I was hot. I was sweaty. I was irritated. All I wanted to do was take off the required N95 mask and have AC blast on me.

I had just taken a picture of Joshua to be printed and placed into his medical records file. As I waited for the print to finish processing, I felt a tap on my leg…it was Joshua trying to get my attention. He had the biggest crooked smile and somewhat crossed eyes. To me, he was the cutest kid ever as he hugged my leg.

I started playing a combination of peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek. He was giggling the whole time. He was full of energy, so I tried to get him to expend some of that by encouraging him to “shake his sillies out”. He thought this was hilarious. Then he started getting mischievous.

He kept trying to press the elevator button. I told him no. He kept trying to run through the hallway. I told him no. He kept trying to grab more crazy straws. I told him no. One of the straws had a monkey on it, so I distracted him from all of the “no” activities by acting like a monkey. He joined in and soon we were both giggling.

At this point, he had been with me a while and I wondered where his mother was. All the other mothers had their child either on their lap, sitting next to them, or holding their hand. Finally, one of the volunteers asked him where his mom was. He ran all the way to the other end of the hallway to her and his grandmother. His mom was looking at her phone. I don’t think she realized (or cared) that her son was unsupervised. His grandmother was staring straight ahead.

No sooner was he back with his family when he reappeared at my side. We played silly games and hugged a lot. Other volunteers were trying to get him back to his mother, but I really didn’t mind him being with me. At one point, our Mission Director joked that his mom was going to go get a massage and a pedicure since I was providing childcare. I was still hot and sweaty, but no longer irritated. In fact, I was in my glory enjoying the adoration of this little boy. It didn’t dawn on me until the next day that he spoke no words to me. He communicated with his eyes, his smile and his hugs. In fact, I didn’t even know if he spoke or understood English.

The children and one parent come to the clinic the day before surgery. I was elated when I saw Joshua with his mom and gave him a big hug, some monkey noises and a high five. Then I moved on to other kids in the pre-op ward and then over to the post-op ward. Next thing I knew, there was Joshua at my side.

I was trying to do my “job” by taking pictures and talking with parents. The volunteers kept steering Joshua back to his mother. Again, she was looking at her phone, oblivious to the fact that her son was not within eyesight. It pained me to see this woman outright ignore her son and pay him zero attention. I decided then and there that I would be Joshua’s support during his entire procedure.

I asked him if he could say “Miss Debi”. He smiled shyly at me and kind of shook his head. I asked him again and then a third time. Very quietly, he said “Meh Ebby.” My heart melted, especially when I realized that his cleft palate made normal speech nearly impossible. I said “When I see you tomorrow morning, I want to hear you say my name and give me a hug, deal?” He nodded his head with that big goofy smile of his.

The next morning, I boarded the early bus to the hospital so that I could make sure I would be with Joshua. He was in the group of first surgeries for the day. When I looked for him on the cot that had been assigned to him, the cot was empty. I looked around and found him in his mother’s arms on the overhang outside. I snapped a photo from behind and wondered what was going through that mother’s mind. I had a local volunteer ask her if it was ok for me to accompany them down to surgery. Thankfully, she said yes. As I moved on to say good morning to another child, he followed me. He did not like me giving attention to anyone else.

He took my hand as we all walked from the ward to the pre-op waiting room. When we were in the room, we colored together and played with cars. He found a sheet of dinosaur tattoos and motioned to me that he wanted one. I put it on his forearm just moments before he was called in.

The OR team knew how much of my heart Joshua had captured and allowed me to take him from him mother’s arms into the surgical room. I stayed with him as he got anesthesia. I stayed with him as he got intubated. I stayed with him as the surgeon tied his last stitch. After he was brought out of anesthesia, I wrapped him in a quilt and carried him to the PACU. I was prepared to be there with him for a while, as I didn’t think his mother would be in the waiting area when her name was called. Surprisingly, she was and sat by Joshua’s side trying to comfort him.

I was with him when he was brought to the post-op ward. He was still pretty out of it and wasn’t engaging with me. That was ok, I understood. I went back several times during the course of the day to check on him. He was sleeping peacefully.

The next morning, I saw that he had been moved to an area of the ward where patients with fevers were separated. He was awake, but wanted absolutely nothing to do with me. That was ok, I understood. His mother would smile, get Joshua’s attention and point to me, expecting him to be excited to see me. But still, no reaction.

On the morning of his discharge, the nurses told me that he had been up and active. I was excited to finally goof around with him and get a hug. He was alert, but kept hiding behind his mother and shaking his head when he saw me. That was ok, I understood. I moved on to other families, hoping that if I ignored him, he would react.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t there when he and his mother left the hospital, but another member of Joshua’s fan club, Bob, snapped a picture that expressed Joshua’s spirit. I knew that I would see him again for Post-Clinic and would be able to give him a hug then.

When I saw him at Post-Clinic, he was still a little shy, but I was able to coax a smile out of him. Hesitantly, he let me hug him. Right before they walked out the door, I whispered in his ear “I love you”. I was rewarded with his big crooked smile and bright shiny eyes.

As I put this blog entry together, I can’t help but smile and feel warmth spread through my heart every time I look at a picture of him.