Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Suffer Little Children To Come Unto Me

Walking to work yesterday before my shift started a curious thing happened to me.

I saw an adorable blonde little girl near a very busy traffic roundabout looking rather forlorn. She flagged my attention and I approached her wondering what the matter was. Cars and trucks thundered past us. She had a significant amount of glistening green snot hanging from one nostril in this cold morning but otherwise neat in her school uniform with her tiny school bag. She diffidently expressed that she wanted someone to help her cross the busy roads so that she could attend her school nearby. I was taken aback. This was just shy of 09:15 and there were no other school children and the lollipop lady had long gone. Where’s your mummy or daddy? He is dead she said sadly. He died choking on a pizza. And mummy told me to go to school. She is sleeping at home. This little girl had made it as far as she could go. She was only 4 years old.

After explaining to her that she shouldn’t really be talking to strangers and that her mother should have been with her, I accompanied and navigated her across the roads explaining how traffic lights worked. She became grateful that finally there was help and started to talk in that animated way 4 year olds do. It was just only another 5 minutes walk to her primary school but it might as well have been another universe to her. I escorted her across the empty concrete playground towards the main entrance. She was safely taken in by two members of the teaching staff. I showed them my ID and explained whom I was. I explained I was rather disturbed at this highly irregular set of circumstances and pressed home that this should be investigated and that she must be looked after. They readily agreed to look into the matter.

It was that she was so vulnerable and utterly lovely that it hurt me to see her like that. What the hell was wrong with mother for leaving her own little daughter unsupervised like that? I genuinely feared for her that some other unscrupulous stranger could have easily taken advantage of her if I hadn’t chanced across her.

I had no legal obligation as she was not my patient but ethically and morally I found I could not ignore her plight. I had to be sure she was safe. Once at work it was luckily only a simple matter of knocking a nearby office door of the Child Protection Services and a quick word to get the ball rolling. I have seen too many vulnerable children at risk before and I know if you miss that one window of opportunity to intervene, they could come to serious harm or even be dead the next time. Phone calls were made and the child quickly identified and the school authorities and social services contacted. It turned out it was the right thing to do. Father had indeed died recently and there were bereavement issues at home that I won’t go into.

Oh yes, it’s been ├╝ber busy for me as usual. I aced the European Paediatric Life Support course in Edinburgh last week (98%). It was an excellent gentle introduction to the management of potential and actual life threatening conditions for children using logical and well-tested principals (there was a DVD too!). Bravo for the faculty for taking the time to share with us candidates their skills and experience. Now I want to up the ante and complete the Advanced Paediatric Life Support course next (!)

Talking about abducted children, and with the Madeleine McCann case still making the media rounds, this has reminded me of Ian McEwan’s novel, The Child in Time (winner of the Whitbread Prize), a remarkable examination of one man’s grief and coping of his faltering marriage after the abduction of his 3 year old daughter one busy Saturday morning. Again, the psychological inhabiting of the non-linearity of Time is a major theme where the past, present and future criss-cross each other. I liked how the emotional pay back of the novel’s ending was pitched at just the right level considering the rather melancholic tone of the whole work. There is an interesting side story of his friend Charles’ descent into manic-depression. The devastating analysis of his plight by Charles’ wife Thelma near the end of the novel was dead on what I would have said.

Anyway, knowing the fickleness and nastiness of the media and human nature, I was fascinated right from the very start of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance in guessing how long the publicity engine would last. Regardless of all the inherent privileges Madeleine’s parents already possess, I think they have done remarkably well in harnessing whatever resources they could access in order to locate their missing daughter.

I am surprised the lactic acidosis of media fatigue in the UK has not developed to toxic levels but snipping at the peripheries from other parties and media abroad have also been on-going, with criticisms and gossips fuelled by personal and institutional politics, attention seeking, frustration, boredom, idleness and jealousy at the excessive attention bestowed on this one child. Of course, a child that means the world to its parents, just like the multitude of other missing children to their parents around the world.

Reportage had veered from the positive to downright nasty. Nevertheless, the worst that can happen for Madeleine’s parents in their quest to locate their missing daughter is that she would be forgotten. To not know is already pure torture and although there is a significant chance Madeleine is dead, I still think the correct course is to never give up hope. To forget someone you loved is to spiritually bury and live a life bereft of beauty.


“Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see” ~ John W. Whitehead, The Stealing of America, 1983

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