I met Maddie this summer while I was working on the wards. She had been admitted for her first does of chemotherapy after a diagnosis of Burkitt’s Lymphoma was made, and I was assigned to her that first night.
I still would argue to this day that I have never met a more strong-willed, stubborn, attitude-filled child in my life.
And she was only 2.
She is one of the 4 children I took care of that week who all had their newly diagnosed Burkitt’s and first dose of chemo down. I told you about Aime, how we didn’t catch it in time, how he went to be with Jesus.
And then there were three.
For months now we have trucked along, all meeting at the ship and heading to the local hospital for chemo treatments every three weeks. Ten days after each treatment, again all of the families and the three kids would head to the ship where they would take turns letting me:cough notmaddie cough: draw their blood and run it for routine tests. While we waited, we doled out stickers and all laughed about how Maddie would either yell or simply close her eyes if I went anywhere within two feet of her. After all, if she closed her eyes I wasn’t there.
Perfect logic, if you’re two.
On the weeks when they weren’t coming to the ship or getting their chemo, I visited them at their house. Even in the comfort of her home, Maddie never gave in and (openly) showed her love towards me. Actually, a few weeks ago she held my finger after I poked her for blood. Of course, when she realized it was my finger she was grasping, not her mothers, she promptly yelled about it.
She would always wave goodbye and say ‘Au revoir’ when we parted ways. I laugh thinking about it. The only thing she would say to us, ever, was goodbye. Typical Maddie.
Maddie is one of three reasons my heart carries so much hope, despite what I see here on a daily basis. Watching her cancer go into remission, praying like crazy for her little body, right down to her curly eyelashes, that is where so much of my joy comes from. My favorite day of the week is my ‘Burkitt’s day’, I just simply love it. I love those three kids so much it hurts. I wish there was a better way to explain how I feel, what’s in my heart, but there isn’t.
Yesterday Maddie was due to come to the ship for her lab work to be done. She fell a week behind the other two kids because her counts were off. Late last week she showed signs of an infection, but nothing to worry about. She looked good, wasn’t having any issues, and we sent her off with antibiotics. Yesterday when she came in it was evident something was seriously wrong. Through a series of events, which honestly was such a blur, she was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, a much more serious, often fatal, infection. She didn’t fight us through the testing, she didn’t cry, although I wish for once she had. She had stopped walking the day before, she couldn’t see, and she was mostly non-responsive to any stimulation.
Her first seizure was so surreal. This little girl in such a big bed. Little Maddie.
This isn’t supposed to be happening. Not to her.
With the second seizure, I found my way into nurse mode and stayed there. We started treatment, and for hours I managed beeping pumps, a confused dad, and my heart which broke for the condition Maddie was in.
After eight hours of watching her decline, the moment came. As her heart started to race, mine followed, beating loudly in my ears. As her lungs started to fail, I held my breath. As I had the translator quickly tell the dad what was happening, I was trying to grasp what exactly was going on myself. The doctor who has known Maddie, and was treating her came in just before we encouraged her dad to hold her for her last minutes. We took of the monitors and for the first time in my life I watched a child die.
As we started to pray, her dad let out a wail that came from a place most parents pray they never have to go. We all cried as we prayed. There’s nothing else you can do.
I don’t even know if I should be trying to write this right now. I can’t hold it together for more than an hour without tears rolling off my cheeks. Sometimes the tears come slowly, other times they come and rip at my stomach, threatening to double me over. Ever since that moment, and the moments that followed, every time I picture Maddie in my mind I cringe, then everything inside of me falls apart.
Yesterday I quietly cried while I gave her a bath and dressed her in a soft, pink dress. I cried when it was safe to cry, inside the hug of a friend who knows all too well the pain I was feeling. Every step of the way, the walk up the stairs through the ship while carrying her, walking down the gangplank to the car to bring her home, I took one step in front of the other, and not one of them was by my own strength.
Ali and I drove Maddie and her father back to her house. We walked through their yard, the news of her death with us. We sat side by side through the wailing and women on their knees crying out to God. We watched them check to make sure Maddie was really gone, and then again sat with tears in our eyes as they sang worship to a mighty God, the names Jesus on each one of their tongues. We interrupted after some time to explain news that we actually, and yes, right then, had to give them all medication due to the infectious disease Maddie had died from. We were brought to another room where we finally saw Maddie’s mother and infant brother. Like I explained before when I talked about Aime, parents are not meant to bury their children. In the Western world, we say that, but here, they mean it literally. I wrapped my arms around her and kissed her wet cheek. I told her I was sorry, and the tears again fell.
Ali set up shop and one by one, while sitting on a sandy cement floor, with the sun setting in the sky, with our heads throbbing, the two of us gave shots to every child who had been in contact with Maddie over the last few days.
There’s so much more, but I’m tired. I barely slept last night, my mind desperately trying to run through the days events, over and over. As I prayed this morning on deck 8, I cried while I listened to my song.
Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His love endures forever.
No it’s not easy, my heart is in a million pieces right now. I keep picking it up, making it a few steps, just to have it all fall again.
Yes, I will be ok. Yes, I believe God is faithful. I’ll talk to you later about just how amazing He actually is, how I stand firm in my belief that Maddie is with Him right now. For now though, I’m just too tired.
2 Corinthians 4:7-9
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
(Thanks for the verse, mom. And for being you.)