About a week ago while making rounds at the hospital, I noticed this girl that was lying sideways in her hospital bed, left elbow firmed against her mattress, as both hands cooperated in knitting a pink piece of rag. “Hm, interesting!” I thought. A quick memory of a time in my early 20s came rushing. My sister had tried to teach me how to knit, but no. Connecting loop to loop or knot to loop, as I believe the craft entails, was too complex an endeavor for me. A few trials, which always ended with my sister frustrated at my insanely poor skill, were enough to let me know that knitting wasn’t for me. Seeing this young girl do it, therefore, intrigued me. I had to go close and see. Was it too late for me to restart my learning? Maybe or maybe not, but that doesn’t matter today.
The 13-year-old knitting pro, Valentine, is a beautiful dark-skinned girl who is somewhere on the lower end of 5ft tall… maybe 5ft 1in or 5ft 2in. She is a charismatic, smiley, and smart little lady, who is very drawn to creative art. One of the art-related things she does is knit things that she gifts to her siblings and school friends. Recently, Valentine decided to start knitting shower clothes for her friends at the hospital. In fact, when I met her, the piece she was working on was for Sharon, a girl 6 beds over from hers. “I like to ask what color they like as well as the shape they’d like for their clothes. This way, I am sure that the person I am knitting it for will like it,” she said.
“How long have you been knitting?” I asked, after noticing how refined her end products and knitting pace were. She definitely had a knack for it. “I started after my first hospital discharge in June 2020,” she said, “and did it full time before I resumed school in July 2021. Because of hospital visits, I am becoming quite efficient at my knitting skills. Why not use my time here if I am bedridden?”
Valentine had been briefly admitted to our hospital, first, in November 2019, and later from February to May 2020, but never again until this year.
Mama Valentine, her mom, as she’s commonly referred to within Ushindi Ward (translates as Prevail, to conquer), says that her daughter’s illness started as an everyday stomachache. After seeking pain medication at a nearby health center, the pain subsided for a few hours before recurring, this time very severely. “I remember very clearly that it was around midnight of November 6, 2019, when the pain abruptly went from zero to critical.” Quickly, amid Valentine’s screams of pain, her father called several neighbors requesting a car ride to the hospital. Four neighbors in, and he got one who was willing to lend them. Quickly, they arrived at our facility. Unfortunately, the 15-minute drive was simply too long. As they drove, her entire lower body from the navel down went into paralysis. Along with the paralysis, came a lack of appetite, and an inability to sit, or relieve herself.
“Your daughter has Guillain-Barré syndrome [GBS – a condition where the immune system attacks the nerves],” Dr. Mildred said to Mama Valentine after several MRIs and a lumbar puncture (a procedure of removing and checking spinal fluid). Two weeks later, she was discharged after the sessions of immunoglobulin therapy, plasma exchange and physiotherapy changed a significant lot. She was finally able to eat, regained the ability to relieve herself unaided, and sit. Later treatments, however, included debridement, a surgical procedure for cleaning wounds because, being confined to bed or her wheelchair, she developed bedsores. In fact, between February and May 2020, the reason why she was back in the hospital was her bedsores. Even today, Mama Valentine says that Valentine has been recovering well, except for the bedsores, which once again, sent her back here.
Mama Valentine fears that “the bedsores might become a trend since Valentine will likely never walk again.” There’s no telling whether or not this will be it, especially given that she is yet to get her daughter a comfortable wheelchair. Being a parent to two other children, she has other responsibilities, which have been difficult to manage especially since she has no source of income, and neither does her husband. Therefore, balancing providing for Valentine and her other children has been challenging. “Sisi ni mahustler tu,” she said, meaning, “We have no source of income, and essentially depend on a day’s luck.”
Her other kids sometimes have to miss school when their dad cannot afford to buy them the mandatory stationery, like a pen or pencil. However, compared to the frustration Mama Valentine feels when she cannot afford to get diapers for Valentine when she is driven to school by their kind neighbor, her other kids’ missing school is no match. But these are struggles she is learning to accept, provided her child continues to get better. Our doctors, led by Dr. Mildred, certainly, have seen to it that Valentine’s life is as easy as they can help make it. Their insistence on checkups, strict adherence to medication, and the regular rounds to check on her whenever she is admitted, have played a key role in Valentine’s ability to crawl on the floor and turn over in bed; things she might never have dreamt of before, otherwise.
Next week, Valentine gets discharged as Dr. Mildred says that the bedsores are well under control. This news is the greatest Valentine has received since this year’s start. She looks forward to being back in school, hoping to catch up as fast as she can, now that she is already three classes behind her age mates. While looping and knotting the last bits of Sharon’s shower cloth, Valentine said, “I am super excited to open school this coming month with the rest of my friends. I cannot wait to get back to my divisions, subtractions, and additions!”
Often when something is taken away the will to get it back is greater. Another healed patient and a patient who has used her time wisely on homed in on her knitting skills – smart Valentine!