"Dirty filthy stinking ants! Look, they're all over the operating room! How am I supposed to operate in these conditions?"
“Hey Jack, what did you put in your Wheaties this morning?” Lou tried to tease Jack out of his tirade. “The working conditions are deplorable––even primitive, but we all know that the rewards are sweet and worth every sacrifice we make for these kids.”
Lou felt the sticky sweat as it poured down her back––just another hot day in Ghana. She enjoyed being in this remote village in Africa with these doctors. This too would pass.
Lou looked at the sedated little patient she'd held in her lap earlier that day. Unable to eat. Like the other children in her family, she was fragile and timid from the negative treatment of her peers. Lack of nourishment caused from the cleft pallet and lip had left this eight year old small for her age.
Afyea held out a single folded piece of paper to Lou.
"Pretty lady." Her luminous eyes pleaded for Lou to accept her gift.
Lou grasped it in her hand. "Now what is this?" Upon opening the paper, she discovered a beautiful picture of a golden haired nurse holding a beautiful ebony child with large soft brown eyes. The best part was the smile on the child's lips. It was brilliant and perfect.
"Afryea smile." Hope filled the little angel's eyes. The mother standing beside Lou wrung her hands and wiped a face that was swollen with tears. Lou knew too well they had been standing in line all day in the hot sun, praying they would be chosen for this life changing surgery.
"Yes, this will be Afryea's smile tomorrow my friend." She spoke in the child's native tongue. "Thank you. I'll keep your gift close to my heart always." Lou folded up the precious piece of art as if it were a Rembrandt and poked it in her scrubs' chest pocket over her heart. She patted it as tears formed in her own eyes. The familiar lump of joy and sorrow clamped down on her chest. She prayed this little one would survive the surgery.
There were three tiny metal coffins already lining the wall of the next room--the latest victims of complications that little ones couldn't survive. Prayer was all that stood between them and death's doorstep at times. This child would make it.
Now the doctor was fussing over the ants again, stomping at a few, then he laughed when everyone else did. "I must look like a fool. I'm done fussing now, let's give this child a beautiful smile."
She was able to assist him, mopping his brow as she spoke to the unconscious little girl, "This kind man, with God’s help is going to help you smile, my little artist." Right before this surgery, she had pinned the picture from her pocket on the sheet that formed the surgical wall.
“Jack, do you see that picture I pinned on the curtain?”
He looked at the portrait. “I wondered about that.”
Lou whispered, "This child drew it for me. I know you can do this, Doc. She has faith in you and so do we."
He lifted a single brow as if considering her words carefully. She willed him some of her own stamina to continue with the seventeenth patient of the day. The damage was severe. It was amazing this frail child had survived the first week of life. Eight years was miraculous.
In Africa this surgery would increase the chances of a future - a husband and children to comfort her in old age. Or perhaps Afryea might become the first doctor in her village to teach about nutrition so that this deformity would no longer be an every-day occurrence. Now that would be a blessing, Lou thought.
As she wheeled her charge into recovery, she snatched one more glance at the picture. This child had faith that they would give her a beautiful smile. Lou left the child’s precious picture to remind the next surgeon, of a child’s faith to be healed. She’d come back later and pin a snap-shot of Afryea’s smile. She was certain that it would inspire everyone in the mission.
The curtain parted, ants and all, to the next stage of Afryea’s recovery and a fulfilling life full of smiles.
Afryea (a-FRY-ya): born during good times
Read more articles by Valora Otis or search for articles on the same topic or others.
Really great story! Too bad you weren't five minutes earlier...; but the story touched my heart, and very well written. Glad you shared it with us even though it won't be in the running. Thanks! It was lovely.
Another "winner," Valora! What a precious child, and you write about her so well that she has wrapped my heart around her. I'm glad you're giving us a chance to read your Art entry, even though the numbers ran out before you got to add this to the challenge.
"The familiar lump of joy and sorrow clamped down on her chest." This is the line that jumped out at me as being so descriptive of that sensation.
I thank the Lord for your talent.
Val, Awesome story. I could hear the doctor's frustration and feel the smoothing effects of Lou's gentle spirit. Great illustration of the true inspiration of art.
I really like how you point out what is at stake with the surgery -- the risk of death vs certain social death without it.