From Shanghai With Love
For almost two years, I have had the incredible opportunity to get to know the LWB-sponsored children who have come to Shanghai to receive medical care at the top pediatric hospital in China: Children’s Hospital of Fudan University.
I visit the hospital two or three days per week where I hold and comfort the children who are there to face some pretty scary medical procedures. My 15-year-old daughter Kelci spends almost every Saturday at the hospital helping to bring hugs and smiles to the children and nannies.
When I started volunteering with LWB, I quickly learned that hospitals in China expect more from the patient’s family than hospitals in the West. Here, a member of the patient’s family must stay at the hospital around the clock to provide food/formula and feed the child, change diapers and bedding, administer medicines, take the child’s temperature, and bathe and dress the child.
If the child is an orphan, an orphanage nanny must stay with the child to do these tasks. If the orphanage cannot spare a nanny, LWB hires one for each child.
In each hospital room, there are five beds, each flanked by one chair that folds out into a small cot.
This hospital is almost always filled to capacity, which means that there are at least ten, and usually around fifteen, people sharing a room since most children have two or three family members staying with them. Sometimes, when the hospital is stretched beyond its capacity, beds with sick children line the hallways.
Each hospital room also has one toilet and sink but no tub or shower. The caretakers wash their clothes in the sink and hang them around the room to dry.
As you can imagine, there is rarely a private or quiet moment in this busy hospital, where each nanny works extremely hard taking care of a sick child, 24 hours/day, 7 days a week. Kelci and I try to support the nannies and show our appreciation by bringing them fresh food, toiletries, warm blankets, etc. My favorite text messages I receive are those where the nanny requests some soft little cakes or other indulgence for herself or the child.
When we visit, we temporarily relieve the nannies of their childcare responsibilities so they can go outside and take a walk, have lunch at a nearby restaurant, or wash their clothes. We work together with the nannies to brainstorm solutions to the children’s needs. Sometimes, a baby with feeding issues needs a different type of bottle or nipple; sometimes, our little patients need mittens to keep their tiny hands from pulling out oxygen tubes or IV lines. I provide these items without the use of LWB funds by reaching out to Shanghai’s generous international community for donations.
Every child is unique and makes a lasting impression on us. I wish I had space to share some of the precious moments we have spent with every child, but I will only share a few highlights.
I will always remember Alissa’s expression of awe when we gave her a book. Alissa looked mesmerized as Kelci read it to her the first time, and then she insisted that Kelci read it to her over and over. She relished having a “big sister” to read to her, and it finally occurred to me that this book was perhaps the first one she had ever owned.
Celia touched me with her open and loving heart. As soon as she saw me entering her room on my third visit, she broke into a huge smile and ran straight into my outstretched arms. For the next hour, Celia snuggled against my chest and hugged me. If I ever needed any motivation to keep returning to the hospital, Celia certainly provided it.
Luna arrived in Shanghai looking as if the pain and struggle of her heart disease were about to break her spirit. One day, as I stroked her face while we silently held each other’s gaze, a couple of tears suddenly slid down her cheek. In that moment, I glimpsed the depth of her sadness, and I felt a deep ache in my soul. I still cannot think about that moment without crying. I am so grateful that this baby girl found the strength to survive her complex and risky heart surgery and the weeks of isolation in ICU. She is currently back on the regular ward and healing both physically and emotionally. Now when I stroke her face, she smiles at me, and my heart soars.
Cornelius is the little guy who is responsible for my recent fitness gains. Over the six weeks he was in the hospital here, I racked up some miles carrying him up and down the corridors because he loved being held and seeing what was going on in the world beyond his room.
I realized that Cornelius had stolen a lot of hearts the day that a group of parents gathered around me to talk about his charm and intelligence and to dream about his future. One person predicted that Cornelius will become an athlete because he is so strong and tall for his age, while another believes that he will be a pianist because of his long and graceful fingers. I am afraid that Cornelius will not have the long and bright future we all wish for him if he is not soon adopted so that he can have the liver transplant he needs.
The painful reality of comforting and caring for critically-ill children is that sometimes we must cope with loss. We grieved for Bridget, Bobby, and Joel, whose lives ended way too soon. Kelci had become especially attached to Bobby, who was always so full of smiles that it was hard to believe he was truly very sick. After his death, Kelci’s first reaction was to distance herself from the hospital. However, as we worked through Bobby’s loss together, Kelci and I talked about how it would be even more heartbreaking if a child’s death went completely unnoticed, with no one to grieve or miss that child. With that in mind, we both went back to the hospital ready to embrace all the other children who also deserve to be loved and to know that they matter.
While we have faced sorrow, we have also known boundless joy. We held and comforted Amanda, Fabian, and Colin — babies who struggled to breathe and were extremely weak and blue (cyanotic) prior to their heart surgeries. We cheered when each pulled through their surgeries and began to heal, and we celebrated when we learned that each of them had been adopted into families that adore them.
I am grateful for the heart-stretching experience of getting to know these children who have been through so much and who inspire me with their courage. As I hold the children, I imagine the love that brought them to that hospital room, love from people who will likely never meet them, and I feel humbled. It takes an incredible amount of faith and compassion to invest in a child’s life when you can’t see firsthand how that money is being used.
I wish the donors and sponsors could exchange places with me for a little while to see how they are transforming the lives of these children. It’s such a beautiful thing to see love in action.
~Sherri Cox, Shanghai Medical Coordinator for Love Without Boundaries