I had been warned. I had watched the 20/20 episode over and over again. I had spoken directly to a handful of people who had been there before. I had read countless blogs and websites. But nothing prepared me for what I experienced my first day at the children’s hospital. I left utterly horrified.
As we walked from the parking lot to the guardhouse located on the hospital perimeter, I remember being the most worried that we weren’t going to be granted access into the hospital. The hospital staff was extremely skeptical about giving outsiders, especially Americans, an insider look at the goings on behind the closed doors. I’m not exactly sure what Michelle (the American missionary we were working with that summer) said to the guard in Romanian, but I can assure you allowing us access was of no benefit to him since as we did not offer him any bribes or money to let us through. Finally, after much hesitation, we were miraculously allowed to enter.
As I walked through the double set of glass doors, I remember thinking how eerily quiet it seemed. Where were all the people? And why were all the lights off? Didn’t they have electricity? And why was it so hot? I didn’t expect air conditioning but couldn’t we at least open a window? (I later learned Romanians don’t like to open windows because they believe the cross-breeze can cause illness).
As we made our way up the hospital stairs I couldn’t believe that we had to step around cigarette butts and broken windowpane glass. Wasn’t that a hazard to patient safety? That would never fly in America!
Alas, we arrived on the 7th floor – our home away from home for the rest of the summer. The walls were sea-foam green, the curtains dark brown and heavy, the rubber tiles on the floor were pealing away, cockroaches were scurrying around the baseboards, the white paint was chipping off the metal cribs, the en-suite bathrooms had scant running water, no soap, and barely usable cabinets.
The babies…oh, the poor babies were all lying there lifeless. I didn’t hear any of them cry. It was as if they were far beyond that…they had already reached a point where they knew their cries would get them nowhere so they stopped trying. Some of them also shared a tiny crib with another abandoned baby. They were covered in mosquito bites and dripping sweat from head to toe. It was SO HOT!!!! They were literally dressed in rags and wrapped in about 3-4 inch thick cloth diapers (which forced them to lay 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with arched backs). It was obvious the purpose of the layers and layers of cloth was so that the babies could lie there for 12 hours in soiled diapers but not soak through the bed sheets.
Not only were the babies not stimulated by sound, touch, sight, or smell, but when it came time to feeding, they were all fed via glass bottles propped up by the bed sheets. If the bottle slipped or if the baby wasn’t able to catch all of the rice cereal/milk that was coming out of the enormously large nipple, they were simply out of luck. Feeding time was over and they’d have to wait again until the next scheduled feeding. I also witnessed toddlers attempting to rock themselves to sleep since they knew no one else would. And I saw kids slamming their heads as hard as they could against the metal cribs over and over again just so that they could get some sort of stimulation.
The tears started to well. It was all way too much and way too much to take in at once. But I KNEW I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t let the nurses see me upset. If they did, they wouldn’t let me back, and these abandoned babies needed me and all the loving they could get.
I left the hospital that day with a very heavy heart but excited at the same time for how God was going to use me that summer. I knew he had incredible plans in store…