It is always interesting to reckon what a child is thinking, but when the child has been born into a world utterly incomprehensible to the American child, the exercise gets really interesting.
As he is being transferred from the bed to the operating table, Mohammed is looking stoic and brave and very much a child who wants to make his father proud. I can only imagine that he does. But Mohammed, at eight years old, lived through a brutal civil war at about the same age that I was contemplating a career as Spiderman.
Libya is a country where hope is still so fragile that isn’t really given to flights of fancy. The parents know it, and as is always the case, the children know it too even if they can’t say why. But there is hope: the war is over now. For Mohammed, however, a danger lurks that is not from above but from inside. The boy has a hole in his heart.
His hopes, and those of his parents, are pinned on an Iranian-born Swiss surgeon, Dr. Ali Dodge-Khatami. He is performing the ASD closure in an operating theater that is better equipped than I was expecting. The issue in Benghazi is not one of equipment but of education and training, and that is why the ICHF has come. The Libyans know this and have sent staff from Tripoli to take part in the training.
In situations like these, there is always a mild dose of culture shock: in the scrub room the Libyan anesthesiologist kneels on a small rug, making his 5:00 prayers. The bypass machine to be used for the procedure is maneuvered quietly around him and into the theater. Mohammed’s chart has his nutritional status listed as “Normal” but from across the room nearly every rib in his chest can be counted. And he is. An American who could once believe that he’d have spidey-senses can afford to get fat, but this is a different world.
What he thought, as he woke in the long quiet of the night shift, was “Is the surgery over yet?” Those were the first words he uttered to his mother and veteran ICHF volunteer Andrea Hiebert. It was over, and it was a success. He’d be sore, but was well. He went back to sleep.
What then, did the boy think when he awoke to the handover from night shift to day, drifting out of a groggy sleep to find a dozen doctors and nurses from around looking, smiling and chatting away in a incomprehensible babble? Were they discussing him? They are friendly faces, ones that – so his mother says – are telling him that he is well now, he will live and play soccer and, if the mood hits, can consider a career as a superhero as long as he has a sensible backup plan.
I took his picture, and with now prompting gave me a thumbs up. I think we understood each other. He walked out of the ICU a few hours later on his own. He has hope and a realistic one at that.