Journey to Judah: Part 8 - The Hospital, 1
May 16, 2018
This hospital had agreed to admit Judah, even though they didn’t typically treat tourists. After 3 other hospitals had declined to treat him, we were desperate for some medical care.
We sat on a cot in the triage area, waiting for someone to take a look at Judah. He had fallen asleep in my arms. As I held him, I noticed that the sheets of the bed we were on were covered in stains- red and brown and yellow. I tried not to think about how many people had sat there before us. I tried not to think about the reasons that would bring those people to the hospital. I tried to pretend that the sheets just didn’t come clean when they washed them, and I tried not to think about when that might have been. At one point, after texting my mom, I sat Marcus’s phone down on the bed. He immediately picked it up and said, “Don’t set my phone on that bed,” and (while his son and I sat on that bed),
I knew that he had the same thoughts as me.
There were two doctors in the Emergency area, and they spoke English well. They began asking us a lot of questions about his symptoms, the seizure, and his medical history. I was able to answer the first 2 categories easily, but that third one - his medical history - was pretty scarce. It was the first time I really came face to face with the fact that we did not know family medical history, we did not know the last time he’d had a checkup, we did not know if he was allergic to any medications...we honestly didn’t know much about him at all yet because he’d only been with us for 10 days. Everything we knew about his medical history was on 4 pieces of paper that we had gotten 5 months prior to that date. Our in-country advocate, Minal, was trying to find out from the orphanage if he’d ever had a seizure before, but we hadn’t heard back yet. We knew one thing for sure though, we knew that he was loved fiercely and that we would do everything we could to protect our son and get him the best medical care.
After answering those questions, the doctor told the nurses to take some blood. I hated that he was going to have to get poked with a needle, but I had no idea what was really coming....
The nurses asked us to step on the other side of the curtain. They explained that we were not allowed to be present for any procedure. I tried to push back on that, telling them I wanted to stay with him, but I was told again to step out of the area.
I begrudgingly complied with their request. They pulled the curtain shut but left a small crack, just big enough for me to see what was happening. For thirty-five minutes, we stood on the other side of that curtain, listening to our baby scream in fear and pain...and we were not allowed to comfort him. For thirty-five minutes they attempted and reattempted to put in an IV line and take 3 small vials of blood. When all was said and done, he had 8 puncture marks, was bleeding from both hands and both feet, and had an IV hook-up in his left foot.
Somehow, once the IV was in, they flipped him upside down and dripped blood - one drop at a time - until those small vials were filled with blood. Do you know how long it takes to collect 3 samples of blood, one drip at a time? Forever. It takes forever.
I stood outside that curtain and sobbed right along with my son. Once a nurse noticed, she looked at me and pulled the curtain closed completely. Even though I could no longer see what was happening, it did nothing to muffle the sounds of distress coming from my 13-month-old baby boy inside. So I just kept sobbing. The nurses on the outside of the curtain didn’t seem to know what to do with this over-emotional American, so they just wheeled me over a chair and let me sit there and cry.
As I sat there, I continued to hear the monitors scream alarms. I was sure it was just because he was mad and scared, which was just making his heart rate a little high...but it’s still a terrible sound to hear when your child is hooked up to it. I wondered if they’d take his temperature again soon. They hadn’t taken it since we arrived, even though I told them his temperature had been 105 just an hour and a half ago and 103 two hospitals ago. In fact, they hadn’t done much at all since we arrived, other than put a monitor on his big toe and now torture him. Thankfully, I’ve never been to the emergency room with a child in the US, so maybe that is protocol- minus the less efficient blood draw.
So many questions raced through my mind: Had he swallowed enough Motrin? Was his fever going to rise rapidly again? What was making him sick? Would he have another seizure? Was he going to be the same happy, silly baby we knew yesterday? WHAT WERE THEY DOING TO HIM IN THERE!?
Finally, someone pulled the curtain open, and we were able to step inside to see the aftermath: 8 battle wounds, more stains on the sheets, and a very upset baby boy. Marcus grabbed him immediately and rocked him in his arms. He even sat on that stained hospital cot because his son needed comfort, and he would do anything for that little boy. Judah settled into his daddy’s arms and went to sleep.
We continued to sit there, waiting to hear something from someone. As we waited, I battled more tough internal questions. Why would God allow this to happen? Hadn’t we walked a hard enough road for the last 5 years? What was God calling us to? But I knew, no matter what road God was asking us to walk, we would walk it with as much grace and trust as He would give us. But, I still begged God to allow Judah to be okay.
Finally, a nurse came over and told us we were being moved to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. I was surprised because no one had really even examined Judah. I guess a seizure gets you a one-way ticket to the ICU at this hospital. We followed her out into the hallway and up the stairs. When we reached the top of the stairs, the whole wing looked abandoned. We were faced with empty, dark rooms and 0 people in sight, other than our escort. The nurse asked us to remove our shoes before walking down the hallway. As my bare feet padded across the hospital floor, I really wished I had socks. We stopped outside the PICU and were asked to put on some robes over our clothes. They were thick, flannel-like material but lined inside with plastic. It’s good that they were being cautious to protect the sick patients from germs, right? We learned a little later that when you were done with those robes, you just hung them back up on the wall for someone else to wear. I tried not to think about how many people wore it before me or what might have brought them to visit someone in the PICU.
We walked into the Pediatric ICU, and I took in my surroundings. It was a little cool when we walked into the room, but as soon as they saw Judah, they shut the air off. There seems to be this consensus in India that babies should be very warm at all times. It’s common to see babies in long sleeves and long pants, wrapped in a blanket in the 110 degree heat. With the air off, those plastic-flannel robes became unbearably hot very quickly. I wanted to remove it, but I’m a rule follower, so I just sweat in it for hours and then hung it back up for someone else to wear. I was also concerned about Judah’s temperature in this heat.
I looked around. The room was large and open. There were no dividers or curtains. 4 beds lined the back wall, 1 bed was in the front, and some cabinets were on the sides of the room. Other than that, the room was pretty bare. There were two nurses sitting at a table. We were the only other people in this room, and we saw no other patients the entire time that we were there. I wondered if it was because of this hospital’s reputation, because it’s not common to take children to the hospital in India, or because there were just no other kids sick enough to be put in the ICU.
Judah was still asleep, so Marcus placed him in one of the 5 beds. The beds were tall, adult-sized beds with no railings, and I wondered how they kept young kids in those things since this was supposed to be a pediatric room. I sat in the bed beside him, and Marcus sat in a chair on the other side. Thankfully, these sheets had fewer stains. One of the nurses brought a blanket to cover Judah up, and as she placed it on him, I wondered again when they’d take his temperature or check his vitals or look in ears or give him a flu test or SOMETHING to figure out what was making his fever so high. I also wondered if they’d hook anything up to that IV they placed in his foot, or if it had served its purpose once they got blood from it.
None of us had eaten breakfast, and I knew Judah would probably be hungry when he woke up. I asked the nurses at the desk about food. Only 1 of them spoke English. She said that Mahesh (because they refused to call him Judah there, even though the court order clearly stated Judah Mahesh Mackey) wouldn’t be allowed to eat for a few hours, and then we would only be able to give him a bottle. In our rush to get out the door and get to a hospital, I hadn’t grabbed a bottle or formula. They didn’t have either of those things at the hospital. They didn’t have diapers either. Or anything to entertain children. Or any food at all. But, they did have WiFi. We were told we could walk a few blocks to get food and get the baby supplies from a pharmacy. I had no idea how long we’d be there because we still hadn’t talked to anyone about Judah’s care or any sort of a plan, but we went ahead and got a bottle and some formula from the pharmacy.
The nurse asked us if we wanted some water. When I said yes, she opened the mini-fridge and got out a pink reusable water bottle that was half full and sat it on the table in front of me. We were told by our agency to only drink bottled water in India, and to always make sure the seal broke when we opened the bottle to ensure that it was actually a new, filtered bottle of water. This would keep us from getting sick. Not knowing where that water had come from, or who drank the other half of that bottle, I just left it sitting on the table. Every once in a while, the nurses would come over and take a drink from the bottle though.
The 2 nurses were more like baby-sitters for us. They just sat at the desk in the front and watched videos or googled things on the desktop computer. Sometimes they answered the phone too. I wasn’t sure if they were leaving us alone because Judah was sleeping or because that’s just how things worked here, but even after he woke up, I saw that was just typical behavior for them. Finally, I asked the nurse when we might see a doctor. She said, “The doctor will see you when we get the blood tests.” I asked when that might be, and she said, “48 hours.”
I took a deep breath and said, “We have to stay here for 48 hours?”
“You will stay 24, and then we will see. Maybe 48. Or maybe you will come back to get the results.”
About that time, Kady messaged me and asked us if we needed anything. I hated to bother her, but we actually DID need things if we were going to have to stay here for 24-48 hours. We had no food, no drinkable water, no diapers, no way to keep Judah entertained and in bed. They didn’t even have any toilette paper at this hospital because most people in India use the sprayers. Kady, the amazing person that she is, was more than willing to help us, so I made her as short of a packing list as I could: bottled water, our tub of snacks, formula, diapers, tissues, a toy, hand sanitizer, phone chargers. I apologized that I couldn’t tell her exactly where everything was located in our messy room at the apartment, and I hoped it wouldn’t take her long to find those things. Kady said she’d be there as soon as she could.
Judah had been asleep about an hour when he woke up crying. We weren’t sure if he was hurting or hungry or overwhelmed or all of the above, but he was pretty distraught. The nurses rushed over to his side, and I thought maybe they would examine him. Instead, one of them got out her phone and pulled up a video on YouTube. The video was a cartoon where characters were singing in English (with an Indian accent) about a little boy who was lying about eating sugar. It’s called Johnny, Johnny, and I would provide you with the link, but I’m pretty sure hearing the song would evoke feelings of anxiety and frustration within me. You see, from that day forward, every time Judah cried anywhere in public, strangers would rush over with “Johnny, Johnny,” playing on YouTube. We were forced to watch it at the hospital, restaurants, the airport, on the airplane, our hotel, all over the place. It was almost comical because Judah, who had never seen TV or really listened to music before, cared nothing for it. Yet, that was EVERYONE in India’s solution to fixing a crying baby...even here at the hospital. When it wasn’t working, Marcus picked Judah up and walked him around the small room to calm him down.
Once he was calm, I asked the nurse if she could take Judah’s temperature because he felt warm. She gave me a strange look, but she went to find a thermometer. She took his temperature, which was just over 101. I asked her if he could have something for his fever, and she said not yet. Knowing that my girls get high fevers with ear infections, and thinking that might be the source of his fever, I asked her if a doctor could look in his ears to see if he had an infection. She started clapping, and Judah jerked his head to look at her. She said, “He can hear. Why would we look in his ears? Are you worried about his hearing?” I was stunned into silence but shook my head no.
Judah still wasn’t happy, so the nurse said we could go ahead and give him a bottle, even though originally she had told us to wait. He drank it all very quickly, and I hoped it was okay that he was having it early. Then, for the first time in several hours, Judah gave us a smile. Next, he babbled a little. My heart leaped at the tiny signs that maybe, just maybe, our baby was okay.
Kady and 2 of her kids arrived with one of our carry-on suitcases and a reusable grocery bag filled with some of our belongings. She had thought of everything we might need: clothes, toiletries, energy drink mixes, our Bibles & journals, all the stuff on the list I sent to her, and even more. She had also brought us McDonalds for lunch. (I'm telling you, the woman is a saint!) As soon as she came through the door, one of the nurses said, “You can’t be in here!”
Kady said, “I’m just bringing them their stuff.”
The nurse said, “We don’t have room for that stuff,” as Kady and I both looked around the bare, empty room with zero other patients.
Kady said, “If they’re staying overnight here, they need food and water and things for the baby.” Then she walked out the door before they could say anything else.
The nurse looked at us and said, “You have to keep it all over here,” as she pointed to a chair on the other side of the room. “You also cannot eat in here.” Marcus took the food out into the dark, empty waiting area down the hall while I immediately texted Kady and apologized for how she had been treated and thanked her for everything. Then I got some toys out of the bag to help keep Judah entertained and in that bed without rails. Marcus and I switched places after he had eaten.
A little later, a nurse came over with a hard pill and asked if Judah could chew it. When I told her no (ummm, he only has 3 front teeth...), she crushed it and swished it in some water. I asked her if it was for his fever, and she said no. When I asked what it was, she didn’t seem to know. She tried to make Judah drink some of the liquid mixture from a small cup, but he spit it out, cried, and fought her. So, she just looked at him and said, “Fine, you don’t have to take it.” Because I had no idea what it was, I wasn’t sure if I was happy or frustrated that he didn’t have to take his medicine. I was definitely concerned either way.
Judah was very cranky. He was exhausted, and he wasn’t really comfortable in our arms yet. He wasn’t used to people holding him very much, but there wasn’t really anywhere to put him down. I didn’t want to put him on the ground, even though someone came in to mop it every hour, just like clockwork. (They would actually just mop right over the feet of anyone standing or sitting in the way.) Judah needed to go to sleep, but he didn’t like to be rocked yet, and with his IV port on his foot, he couldn’t really rock himself like he had been used to doing in the orphanage. Marcus tried to just rock him and get him to sleep, despite the crying. Every time he cried, though, a nurse would stop searching google and rush over with a phone again. Or they would take him from our arms and hold him up to the window. Or they would try to give him another bottle, which he would just spit out. Some of these things worked momentarily, but really, he just needed to sleep, and we wanted them to leave us alone. The nurses just couldn’t handle a crying baby, though, so this cycle repeated for hours.
I took Judah’s temperature again (for about the 100th time - which I admit, was excessive - because no one else here was concerned about it at all), and it was steadily increasing. When his temperature reached 102.5, I told the nurse I was giving him medicine for his fever. She said, “No, you cannot.”
“He’s my son, and I can give him medicine,” I said.
“We just like to watch and see,” said the nurse.
“I’m not going to watch and see and risk him having another seizure,” I replied.
She took him from me and said they would cool him with a bath.
Y’all, I’m not opposed to natural health remedies, but in this situation, when we had no idea what was wrong with our son, when we had watched him have a 4-5 minute seizure, when his temperature was rising again, and when we were so far from home, I was not about that life. That’s when I messaged Kady and said, “They aren’t examining him or treating him here. Do you know of somewhere else we can take him?”
While the nurses sponged him off with cotton dipped in water, Kady messaged a few of her Indian contacts and wrote me back pretty quickly. “Yes, you need to get him out of there. That’s not a hospital you want to be at. My friend, who is a nurse, said to take him to the Children’s Hospital. Tell them you want to be transferred. I’m going to have Ernest come and get you.”
In the middle of the sponge bath, I told the nurse that we wanted to be transferred. She immediately went to the phone and called someone. A few minutes later, a doctor came down to speak with us. This was the first doctor we’d seen since speaking with the ones who had admitted him 6 hours earlier, although no doctors had examined him yet.
“Why do you want to leave?” the doctor demanded.
“We were told to take him to a children’s hospital,” I answered.
“Why would you do that? His care is not being compromised here.”
I wanted to argue, but instead, I said, “That is just the place that was recommended to us by our American contacts, and that is where we’d like to go since they are familiar with it.”
“Some hospitals just medicate patients unnecessarily. That is not what we do here. We are not compromising his health,” said the doctor.
“We understand, but we would like to be transferred,” Marcus said.
The doctor angrily stated, “We do not transfer patients. If you leave, you will leave against our wishes, and you will not get any papers to take with you. I will let you think about it, and you can tell the nurse if you want to leave against our advice.”
Then she walked out the door, without even looking at our son.
We went ahead and told the nurse that we wanted to leave, and we began packing up our stuff. I finally took off that awful robe and hung it back up. The nurse made a phone call again and told us that it would be several hours before they would discharge us. Knowing he still had a fever and being unsure how long we would be there, I did what any mom would do in that situation, I gave my son some Motrin....against the nurse’s orders.
Thankfully, Ernest and his brother-in-law showed up a few minutes later. Judah pointed to them, said “do” (which was what he said when he pointed to anything), and smiled. More good signs, but we still wanted out of there. Ernest could speak to the hospital staff in Telugu, and he began asking for us to be discharged. The nurse told him it would be a few hours too, and he said that we wanted to leave right away. When she told him that was impossible, he asked Marcus if he had already paid. Marcus had made a payment when we arrived, but he wasn’t sure if it covered everything. Honestly, we weren’t sure what we would even need to pay for other than the blood tests, which were incomplete, and the bed we sat on for hours. Ernest said, “Well then, let’s just leave with him.”
I contemplated it. It wasn’t kidnapping if you were taking your own child, right? But then I looked at his foot. “He still has that IV in, though,” I said.
“Does that matter?” Ernest said, shrugging his shoulders.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure because we were just taking him to another hospital. They could remove it there....or use it....I wasn’t sure how that worked. Marcus, who is not the rule follower in the family, said, “Let’s go.”
We started to walk out the door but got stopped by a nurse, “You can’t take him. We need to remove that from his foot.” I was starting to feel like we were being held hostage at this hospital. Finally, after several more minutes, someone came to remove the IV from Judah’s foot. They gave me some cotton to hold on it, and we walked out the door with no record of our visit. Marcus stopped by a desk on the way out and asked him he needed to pay anything else. The man seemed confused, but he said we didn’t owe anything.
We turned and walked out the door hoping the next hospital would give us some answers.