My daughter is healthy; some kids aren't–UPDATED

Happy, healthy Eleanor RougeHospital interpretation for two Japanese families.

At St. Vincent’s on 86th, both kids have pneumonia and asthma. The four-year-old boy gets to leave with one inhaled drug. The girl is worse and stays in for several more days. She leaves with two inhaled drugs and an oral steroid. Again and again and for several days I go over the doctors’ instructions about which drug is which, what they do. This family will be okay: the asthma is going to be a pain, but there is the hope that it won’t affect the kids that much in the future; after all, it was only after they had gotten really sick that it was noticed they had the condition.

At Riley closer to Downtown, a fragile-looking eight-week-old baby has jaundice. He also has two holes in his heart, but they aren’t the immediate worry. The parents have just become parents, but their reality is a thick pack of problems, actual and potential, with obscure names. The doctor fears biliary atresia: no path for bile from the liver to the intestine, treatable with a Kasai procedure (a Japanese doctor’s discovery might save the infant), but many thus treated still need a transplant later. The father’s face grows dark from the burdens the future is pressing upon his child, his wife, him. But an ultrasound reveals that a heart hole has closed up, and suddenly the biopsy is saying that atresia seems highly unlikely. Things will probably be okay. Today I am going back to interpret for another test, and I hope the okay-ness progresses.

Japanese people quite often possess a wonderful stoicism, and it’s painful for me to see the pain and fear ready to breach the barrier of strength. I want to do something to help, and I end up being a kind of therapist. I explain that, in the US, doctors feel obligated to describe every risk, to consider every possibility, no matter how slight or remote. I tell them I’m praying for a swift recovery.

Riley Hospital for Children is big. All around me are children whose diseases seek to define them or even take them from the world. I pray, “Let this cup pass them by,” but my intention is so small in comparison to those of the parents, the doctors, the nurses, and the children themselves.

My daughter Ellie is happy and healthy. This is something I have never taken for granted and never will. She’s in Japan and I miss her.

UPDATE (12.18.08)

I interpreted for the family whose baby had the liver problem again yesterday, and the plan was to discharge them today. The doctor thought that the child did not have biliary atresia, liver function had been compromised by a virus, and time would fix the problem. I’m hoping she was right!

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