I was sure that in Congo where I was probably many stories like the one of Emmanuel Jal were happening around me…and for that reason, his book, his story touch me very deeply….
When we see our kids, playing football, laughing, enjoying their young years, still so naïve, and then we imagine that there kids the same age that are starting to get used to carry a Kalashnikov , and whose mind is being set to kill….hard to imagine, but its true….War Child !!
My friend, was 10 years old (whose name I don’t know), was not a war child, not that I know of….and he was not even a war victim, the reason why he was in the hospital was a very bad infection of the fingers of his hand, that needed surgical cleaning and treatment…. And this young friend reminded me so much of Emmanuel Jal….. Why?
The same age of Emmanuel Jal, when he started shooting, …the same easy smile and charm that later on saved the life of Emmanuel, and the same courage….he was tough, he was brave, I am sure that he would be tough enough to deal with things that I couldn’t imagine…..maybe he saw something, or he lived experiences that I had no idea….
When I first saw him, I saw this shinning eyes, with a suspicious look telling me … “ I don’t trust you!” “ We can either be best friends or worst enemies!! “… Like in all the other stories, I couldn’t talk to them due to language barrier, so, playing, smiling and non-verbal language played a very important role in gaining trust, something so important to the doctor-patient relationship…. After exchanging a few smiles and hand shakes, I started boxing with him for fun…and he loved it, he laughed so much…. Its hard to describe the difference between our kids and those kids….their laugh is so strong, so genuine, so pure, so warm, so full of life ….. like many other things in Africa they do it not knowing if it will be the last time….And this kids laughing makes you feel that special power….
The first time he went to the operating room, in other to perform the surgery that was not so complicated, I was going to give him a shot of Ketamine Intra-muscular…. And I was going to do it in the anterior part of his thigh ….ufffff….it was tough there were 4 men holding him, and me to inject the Ketamine, he was stronger than many men…..he was tough !! And willing to fight…. In the end of the surgery I performed and an Axillary Brachial Plexus Block, witch means that I injected local anesthetic in his armpit , to block the nerves of the arm, so he wouldn’t have pain after the surgery (that can be very painful)…. And usually we do it with a nerve stimulator, but I didn’t have one in Masisi, Congo, so I had to use a old fashion way of doing it that I have only read in anesthesiology books, but never used it before…. And because when you block the nerves its normal to have some motor block ( difficulty in moving that arm for some hours)… I explain that to the mother, of course with a local nurse translating French to Swahili…. The next day that I arrived to the hospital, the first thing I did was to check on him… And with no translator, I was able to ask if he had pain, and I was glad to see that he had not ….and then I wanted to see if his muscular activity of that arm was not still decreased (witch wouldn’t be a good sign 24 hours later)…..So I asked him to stand on his bed, and then I opened my arms so he would imitate me and open his arms (to see if he had the power to have both arms elevated at the same level)…..but he saw that sign in a different way, so when I was with my arms opened, while he was standing on his bed he took a step forward and hugged me very tight….. It was so, so sweet …. And what I wanted to evaluate was already done, no pain, and normal muscular activity!
After this operation I also gave him this hat made of this fabric....and he was really happy using it for many days .....
Few more days, playing with him, and boxing with him ….he loved that….and he had to go to the operating room again…. And his attitude was something that I have never seen even in an adult … I think that because of our strong connection he trusted me quite a lot…. But he is a kid and nobody likes needles …. And I was about to do the same thing as before, injecting Ketamine in the muscle of his thigh, and I explained him that, with the nurse translating, and I told him to lie down on the operation table…. And he refused… I thought it was strange, and I insisted ….but he refused, and I told the nurse to tell him that if he is sitting it hurts more because the muscle is not relaxed…. But he told the nurse: “ He can inject it in my leg but I want to see!” …. And so I did, injecting the Ketamine, while he was looking at the needle with an expression of strong pain , but not moving and no sounds of complaining what so ever…..he was tough….he was a fighter !! Brave as they come!
Few days after, I went to the hospital during the night for a Cesarean Section, and after I went to the surgical ward to check on my patients to see if there was anything new, anything wrong, or if the nurses needed some help…. But besides that I got another lesson for life…. It was around 3 a.m., and my young best friend was not sleeping like he should, he was standing next to another patient´s bed…. What was he doing??.... The other patient was a soldier with a horrible gun shot wound in his leg….but when I say horrible, you have no idea how impressive it is to look at this wounds where you see all the muscles it smells really bad from the infection that is always there….its impressive even for somebody that saw a lot of those there…. But my friend was not so impressed or repelled by that, he was helping this young man to urinate , right next to him…holding the potty, showing me how big his heart was….brave enough to be there, and good enough to help the ones that couldn’t move…
Its strange to say this, but its what it happens when you live day by day in a hospital and get really close to your patients, but when he was healed and was released I was sad to see him go… He was my friend and I missed him after that….
These is a story of a brave and good kid that remind me so much Emmanuel Jal….but Emmanuel had not many options in life but to kill to survive and my friend hopefully will not be caught by the war lords….because I am sure that he was tough enough….
Its very different the childhood for some in Congo or in Sudan….Many kids don’t know what is SpiderMan or Avatar….but they know how to clean, set and shoot a Kalashnikov…. The most common toy in Africa…