June 11, 2010

Arexy and the baby go to San Pedro

Arexy's baby

This photo is Arexy's baby boy at 13 days old. I was able to snap two quick photos in the ambulance before he was taken to San Pedro Sula. I couldn't get close enough to get a good photo without tripping over feet in the ambulance and the driver was revving the engine to leave.

Arexy was so happy on Monday afternoon, when they finally allowed her to start feeding the baby, 11 days after his birth and 8 days after his surgery. She assured me that all was well, that he seemed normal, was eating normally, pooping normally (after the intestinal surgery). He had no more fever.

The doctors and nurses wouldn't tell her anything about when he would be able to go home but I was assuming maybe by Friday, or at least by next Monday. We called daily to check on her and made her promise to call us when the baby was ready to go home so she wouldn't have to take him in a bus or taxi. Everything seemed fine.

After the initial medically negligent treatment by Hospital Atlántida, everything was looking bright. The baby survived the worst efforts of the public hospital and was going to thrive.

But (there is always a but, isn't there?), Arexy called El Jefe in a panic around 1:30 on Wednesday saying that she was going to San Pedro with the baby. The 'licenciado', whoever the heck that is, told her that she had 30 minutes to go home to get some money and clothes, because they were sending the baby to a specialist at the public hospital in San Pedro. They did not tell Arexy why, what was wrong with the baby, nothing! Just that they have specialists in San Pedro that they don't have here in La Ceiba. Why he needed to be seen by a specialist was a mystery.

He called me with this news and we both panicked − I'll tell you why in a minute. I said to come and get me now and to call Arexy back to tell her we were coming. On the way I called her to ask her not to let them take her baby, to insist that they give her a reason why the baby needed to go to San Pedro. They couldn't tell her that the baby was "fine" but needed a two-hour ambulance ride to San Pedro − but that is exactly what they were telling her.

I told her that they had no right to treat her that way. A dozen things were flying through my mind. First I needed to talk to a doctor and find out if we could get a good baby doctor to go examine the baby. I didn't know if the hospital would even release the baby or if another hospital would accept him or if that was even what Arexy wanted. Would it be dangerous to move him or might it save his life to be under the care of a decent doctor who cared? I wanted to see what the doctor said.

On the way there I tried to call a OB-GYN who I assumed would know a good baby doctor and might be able to tell me what we could do. One number was out of service and the other went unanswered. I thought of neighbors who have small children, I thought of a hospital administrator that I know. I had no numbers on my phone! I tried to call Arexy again but there was no answer.

We got to the hospital and the guard would not let us in. It wasn't visiting hours (3:00 to 4:00 p.m.) and no amount of pleading, reasoning, explaining that someone inside urgently needed our help would move his cold heart. He sent us to Administration, a window outside on the sidewalk, jostling with people, to try to get permission to enter. Administration was kind enough to find out the name of the doctor − who had left at 1:00 p.m. − and to let us know that no one could or would talk to us and that everything had been explained to the mother.

I said that was not true, that they told her nothing and that we were there to help the mother find out what was wrong with the baby. We argued for a bit. When she assured me that they give good care to babies and that it was basically none of my business since I wasn't the mother, at that point I lost it and said, "Oh yeah? How many babies have you killed this week?" Exactly the wrong thing to say, but it did get some nods of agreement from the bystanders on the sidewalk. As a matter of fact, Arexy had told us that one of the three babies died yesterday. I don't know if it was the baby who was overdosed by a nurse or the one who "forgot to breathe".

We left that area and went back to the visitor entrance. The guard watched us suspiciously. I wanted to slap him. I called Arexy again and she was talking so fast that I couldn't understand her and had to put El Jefe on the phone. She still knew nothing about why they were moving her baby. J explained that we wanted to help, that we would try to find the best doctor and get the baby moved to a private hospital if that is what she wanted. She was worried about the cost, of course, but J told her that we would be responsible, and all she needed to do was to decide what she wanted to do.

Meanwhile, I called my doctor to ask what we could do, if we could get a doctor to examine the baby or get the baby moved. He couldn't have been nicer and more understanding. He instantly knew why I was in such a panic. He said that the hospital would not allow an outside doctor to examine the patient. He asked a lot of questions and tried to call the baby's doctor to see what he could find out but never got an answer from him.

Arexy decided to trust the public hospital system. I don't know how much her decision was based not wanting to make a fuss or how much it was based on "knowing her place" which is many, many rungs on the ladder below a doctor or nurse or even a guard in this horrible caste system of Honduras.

The most heartbreaking thing is that when we talked about moving the baby to a private hospital, she said, "that is for persons of a higher level, not for me."

Some of you may already know the reason that we were so panicked about sending the baby to San Pedro. As Hospital Atlántida sometimes does, after they have attempted to murder a patient through negligence or outright malicious acts, they send the patient to San Pedro so they don't get blamed for the death. Since according to Arexy, the baby had seemed fine, I was scared to death that they had overdosed him or given him the wrong medicine or something.

El Jefe's 18-year-old brother was killed by Hospital Atlántida when he received something like 10 times the dosage of the wrong medicine. We know that the doctor at Hospital Atlántida killed his brother because El Jefe heard the whole telephone conversation between the enraged doctor in San Pedro and the doctor in La Ceiba in which the SPS doctor accused him of killing J's brother. He went to the hospital a strong young man with a lump on his neck. He was dead two days later.

If you aren't from Honduras, right about now you are thinking "This is impossible. She's lost it." Nope. It's true, and there are tons of people who can verify it, including medical personnel. One woman has seen doctors drop babies on the floor because they didn't like the mother. My sister-in-law fainted in the hospital, fell and hit her head which knocked her out. They left her on the floor until she began giving birth there.

Arexy was treated like she was a dog who just had a litter and didn't need to know and was probably too stupid to understand what was going on with her baby − but Arexy has had worse treatment during her life and didn't have the expectations that I did. I wanted to advocate for her but the system was designed to make sure that everyone stays put in their place. I've never felt so helpless in my life. If only she had called me Sunday night when the hospital originally turned her away!

In the ambulance, I hugged Arexy, who by then was crying, and stepped out of it in tears, wondering if I had the only photo of the baby that there would ever be.

Next, good news-bad news at the San Pedro Sula public hospital.
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