June 18, 2010

Events of the day the baby died

I'm going to back up to the events of Wednesday, June 16, for this article, because there are some things that I think you should know to understand the whole picture. Get your tissues ready.

We left for San Pedro about 4 p.m., picking up Arexy's sister-in-law Kenia on our way. We thought that Arexy might feel more comfortable with family with her. So with Kenia and a tiny blue casket tucked into the back seat, we sped off to San Pedro.

Kenia talked the whole three hours of the trip there, and basically no one spoke for most of the trip back to La Ceiba. Arexy was devastated.


Some of the things that we learned, mostly from Kenia on the trip there...

Arexy's baby died shortly after midnight but she was not informed until 'visiting hour' (11 a.m - 12 p.m.) the next day when she arrived and found that the baby's incubator was empty. After trying to find out where her baby was, she was told that he was dead and she was shown a paper-wrapped and taped up bundle that was the body of her dead baby.

What I didn't know was that after the baby's second surgery, he was kept in intensive care. Prior to that Arexy was able to stay with the baby 24 hours per day. From the day of the surgery onward, she was only allowed to visit him for an hour per day. So she really didn't know what kind of attention he was getting or really even how he was doing. She was continually told that he was "delicate" but doing fine.

Even though she was staying in the hospital and they had her phone number, no one called her, no one officially informed her, no one even told her how or why her baby had died, and the doctor never talked to her.

There were no sympathetic words and no offer of a few minutes in private to hold her baby to say goodbye − the baby that she has never been allowed to hold since she turned over his care to Hospital Atlántida on May 31.

She was only told that she could have the body when someone came to pick it up. She tried to call me several times. I had been leaving my phone on 24-hours a day but my battery went dead. The phone was turned upside down and I didn't notice it was dead! Of all days for that to happen. I felt so guilty.

She tried to arrange for transportation back to La Ceiba at the hospital but didn't have enough money. She had spent almost all of her money − a significant amount − on medicines for the baby which the hospital could not provide.

She called her sister-in-law Kenia and told her that she couldn't get in touch with me and that she was going to have to bring the baby home on the bus. She cried, "He's wrapped in paper like a loaf of bread!" Kenia told her that it was against the law to take a dead body on the bus, so she would have to wrap him in a blanket and pretend that he was still alive. Kenia told us, "I know you aren't supposed to, but what can a person do if you are poor?" [Are you crying yet? I can hardly see the computer screen as I write this.]

Kenia told her to wait while she tried to call Arexy's father. Her father said that he was busy and couldn't do anything. The baby's father couldn't/wouldn't help either. Then she tried to call me again with no success. Then she called Arexy back and said "what about el dueño (El Jefe), don't you have his phone number?" Yes, exclaimed the distraught Arexy, who for some reason had not thought of calling El Jefe, who was in town at the time.

By then I had discovered my dead phone and had plugged it in to charge, so I found out the tragic news about 3:00 p.m. Now what to do? Neither of us have had experience with arranging funerals or burials in Honduras and didn't know what the procedures are. I suggested that he go to a funeral home to make arrangements, since that is what you do in the US. That's all I know.

The funeral home was going to charge L.6,500 just to go to San Pedro to pick up the baby, thousands more for a cheap-looking casket, and thousands more for the funeral. Well, it turns out that procedures are quite a bit different than in the US − it isn't required that a funeral home transport the body, so J decided that we should bring them home. He went to a couple of places and was able to find a nice baby casket that was lined with white lace.


We got to the hospital about 7:30 p.m. which meant that poor Arexy had been waiting about 8 hours to leave the hospital. Of course, since it was not visiting hours, the guard did not want to let us in. EVERYTHING in Honduras has to be a huge struggle. EVERYTHING. And everyone who has the tiniest bit of power will try to exercise it over you.

After explaining the entire situation to two or three different people, of course it turned out that it was the wrong gate. After explaining again at the next gate, the second guard let us in and sent us to the morgue, which of course we couldn't find and when we did, of course no one was there. Then when we did find someone, of course they directed us to walk around the hospital (outside in the rain, because, of course, we were not allowed to enter the building). And of course, we ended up back in the original part where we had tried to enter to start with.

About half way across the second parking lot, we saw Arexy, standing outside, holding her little bag of clothes, the diaper bag, and her dead baby.

Kenia yelled her name and started running to her. Arexy started sobbing uncontrollably when she saw us. Who knows how many hours she had been waiting with the baby. We hugged. We cried. Even El Jefe couldn't help but to shed a few tears at the inhuman treatment of this mother and baby. We turned around and headed back around the hospital to where the car was parked.

I think Arexy was surprised and pleased with the casket. After we got to the car, Kenia took the baby, placed him into the casket, carefully unwrapped the paper, and dressed him before we left the parking lot. We were standing in the mist in the dark parking lot, crying by then at the indignities that this poor little baby had suffered.

We suffered more indignation trying to leave the hospital parking lot as the guard was expecting some piece of paper that a previous guard had already taken from Arexy. Without the paper, he was at a complete loss as to what to do and didn't want to open the gate to let us leave. On the verge of completely blowing up, I gave him the handwritten paper with the baby's name and time of death that had been taped to his chest. It wasn't the right one, but it was paper.


Other ways that funeral arrangements are different in Honduras is that the body is often displayed at home, where visitors are received around the clock and coffee, soft drinks, and sweet bread is served. If the family can afford it, other food might be provided. El Jefe asked Arexy if she wanted to take the baby home and she said yes.

I realized later that she was going to be much more comfortable with this arrangement than she would have been at a funeral parlor anyway. It was what they were used to and also was much more convenient for their friends to drop by rather than having to take buses or taxis to town.

J started talking about food and such and I asked "for tomorrow?" and they all said no, that people would be there tonight! I couldn't imagine trying to find food at midnight in La Ceiba so I asked if we could get Kenia's mother to buy whatever was necessary and we would pay her back when we got there. The call was made.

We arrived in La Ceiba at 11:30 p.m. and there were several people and children there. Some ladies were cooking chickens and making coffee. A table was set up on the terraza, covered in a white cloth waiting for the casket. Some of the older children went out and came back with beautiful flower arrangements, the blooms snatched from neighborhood gardens, shown in the photo above. It was a very touching scene, seeing so much dignity and caring among such poverty.

Arexy went straight to her room and lay prostrate on the bed sobbing. We stayed for about an hour and then said goodbye, leaving her in the hands of several kind and caring women who understood better than anyone the indignities and injustices suffered by poor women in Honduras. We know because some of them told us their stories.


The next day, I was going to ask Arexy if she wanted to fight back.


For all of the articles about Arexy's baby's story, see the article category 'Arexy's Story'.

For a summary of the errors made by the public health care system, see 'A tragic ending to the baby story'.
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