I was allowed to stay in hospital at my son’s bedside not as his mother but as a doctor. He was taken into care in a special room in the hospital, along with other children also thought to be affected by the polio epidemic.
I could hear the voices of children crying in the ward at the other end of the corridor. My own poor child could only say ‘mum’ in fear while he was being examined. A little later, he fell asleep. After the examination the specialist took me aside. He had a look of deep concern and sorrow on his face:
-‘I am very sorry, doctor. It could be polio,’ he said.
I stared at him blankly, not believing what I was hearing. I could believe that some other mother’s child caught polio but I could never imagine that such a disaster would touch my own child. I no longer felt like a doctor but like a mother, waiting at her child’s bedside in an agony of anxiety.
-‘But he has not caught polio yet, has he?’ I asked again.
-‘No, not yet. I hope he will not’, the specialist answered. When he looked at my face, he noticed my worry and went on:
-‘He is sleeping now. You’d better go and get some sleep, too. I’ll call you if there is any change.’
I decided to do as I was advised. It was already very late, past midnight. I had been very busy since five o’clock in the morning, along with the other doctors. Everyone had been working very hard as the epidemic had got worse. I looked at my son’s red lace, longing to help him, to take away his pain, but there was nothing I could do except wait. I wanted to take him in my arms and surround him with all my love. But that was not possible then, so after a time I left his bedside and headed home.
The house was still and quiet when I opened the door. My husband had gone to Chicago on business. I did not tell him about our son’s condition. I did not want him to panic. Besides, if there was no change in his condition overnight, chances of his not getting polio would be very high.
I had to take some pills to help me sleep. I was deep in sleep when I heard the phone ringing. I got out of bed. It was four o’clock. The person on the phone was a woman, obviously very agitated and anxious.
-‘Is that the doctor?’ she asked.
I heaved a sigh of relief as I understood that I was being called out to visit a patient. As the woman described her son’s condition, I realized that it was probably another case of polio. After taking a note of her name and address. I couldn’t help taking a minute to phone the hospital to find out about my son: luckily, there was no change.
I felt utterly alone as I drove through the streets of the silent, sleeping city to the woman’s home. After some time, I noticed that this was the poorest part of town. On reaching the address, I stopped the car and got out. The desperate woman had been waiting and ran out to me, holding a candle. She grabbed my hand and said urgently, almost shouting:
-‘Be quick doctor! Be quick!’
I looked at her face, which was wet with crying. I couldn’t tell in the dark if the woman was young or old. I was quite shocked when I stepped into the cold one-room house. Even though I saw lots of different kinds of patients in my job, I had not seen poverty such as this before. Three thin children with pale, bony faces were sitting around an empty table in the corner of the room dimly lit by the one candle the mother was holding. The rest of the room was quite dark. However, I could just make out a child doubled up in pain at the other end of the room, moaning under a very old, patched blanket. The boy was about five years old, very thin and very weak. I told the woman I must go out to call the hospital. I did so from a telephone box in the market near the house and asked them to send an ambulance at once.
I went back and examined the other children. They were very weak but not in danger of polio. Just then the sick boy started to cry. The mother held my hand pleadingly. She wanted to learn what the illness was and how serious it was. I did not have the courage to tell her the truth.
-‘Your child is very ill, but we will do whatever we can,’ I said.
After lovingly caressing her son’s hair, the woman turned to me and said:
Although I had been visiting patients for years, I had never met one who offered to pray. I felt this woman must know something that I did not, so I agreed. I joined the children and the mother in their prayer. As the woman prayed, her mild soft voice pleading so sincerely touched me to the heart.
For a moment the hospital corridor came to mind again, the worried face of the specialist, my own dear son’s lovely face. Though far from the hospital, I felt just as if I was at my son’s bedside. I saw him as if standing in front of me and smiling. I tried to clear my mind of this picture. I watched the woman and the children still praying, now silently. The sincerity of their faith moved me so much that I could not help saying out loud and with utmost sincerity:
-‘Our Lord, do please accept these prayers!’
The mother then went over to the bedside of her sick child. The boy was sleeping peacefully. She straight away turned towards me and said joyfully:
-‘Do you see? Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate, has accepted our prayer.’
I was totally lost for words. The boy did not even wake up while being carried to the ambulance. By the time we got to the hospital, his breathing and pulse had returned to normal. I drove back to the woman’s home with the good news and, before leaving again for my day’s work at hospital, I gave her what money I had.
-‘I’ll call back again tomorrow evening,’ I said.
As I walked to my car, I looked up at the sky. The sun was rising and everything was becoming lit up. I was not worried this time as I drove to the hospital. A voice inside me was saying that my son would meet me smiling when I next saw him.