Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Tea is for Tuberculosis


These are maybe the first words I hear sitting in this hospital, the first sounds that aren’t machines beeping and babies crying. In the case of my baby, the sound of breath gurgling through a nose tube. The sounds of exhausted mothers cooing to piles of blankets. These are the words I hear.

I am at the Red Cross Hospital in Rosebank, South Africa. This is a suburb of Cape Town where I am living, and I find myself in the dehydration ward with a tiny child sleeping under my palm. To this day, five months later, I don’t know his name because the records in the hospital are so poorly kept.
After all, it’s hard to keep track of orphans.

This baby is a charge at Baphumelele, the orphanage I work with while living in Cape Town, and he has arrived at Red Cross severely dehydrated. Without fluids he can’t receive his TB medication. He is almost six months old. When babies get sick at Bap, they are dropped off at the hospital and volunteers stay in shifts until the child is admitted and treated. More often than not, the waiting period takes days. By the time I get there, my baby has been waiting for 30 hours.

I use the phrase ‘my baby’ very deliberately. While I am with him, he is my child. I have the authority to sign forms as his guardian and advise on his treatment. His medical history is entirely available to me. My first job upon releasing the exhausted-looking volunteers from last night is to pester a nurse until she replaces the nose tube the baby has pulled out. For the third time. It hurts him, and the tube gets caught in the IV through his hand.

I hate that IV.

Two weeks before my night at Red Cross I was in a hospital in Botswana, this time as a patient. I had an IV in my hand and was in fact, like this boy, severely dehydrated. That needle was excruciating. I take shots very well, but something about this needle taped to the veins in my hand was different. And here is this tiny little being, this sick baby, this love of mine, and he has grown accustomed. I would not tell you for a second I am the stronger of the two of us.

So here we sit. I am watching him sleep and occasionally glancing over at the woman to my left who has fallen asleep with her head bent into the crib holding her little girl. And then I hear the tea lady.


She said mommies. I clearly stayed seated. No one’s mother am I. A few other women, the ones who are awake, shuffle up. One woman has three children here in one crib. They are attached to a vitals monitor. They are clasped to each other as they sleep.

The baby stirs under my hand, starting to sweat under his blankets. He hasn’t slept more than six hours since he’s been here. I hope to all there is that he doesn’t wake up. For now, he does not. For now, there is only tea and bread.

She really wants me to take some.

“My lovely, you want tea and bread?” She asks me specifically, as her cart is parked in front of our crib. I am not a mother. But there is this baby here below me who pulls at my hair and stares so deeply. Today we have each other, and today I am sleeping with my head bent into his crib.

The tea tasted sweet. The bread was buttered.

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