I bit all my fingernails off yesterday. Just when I thought I’d kicked my ugly habit, I got stressed and bit them all off again, right down to the skin. My nails are always a good gage of where my emotions are at.
I was having a normal day at school in my office working on a grant application when I got a phone call from someone waiting for me at home. It was an appointment with a guy I’ve been trying to connect with all week so I rushed back to the house to meet him. When I walked through the gate the first thing I saw was baby Monica in her mother Basanti’s arms running towards me. Monica's body was limp and I could tell by the look on Basanti's face that something was wrong. For whatever reason, all of our staff happened to be in the same place at the same moment gathered around the front of the house. I looked at Monica. Her lips were totally blue and moving ever so slightly as if she was gasping for air. In a span of 5 seconds every single thought went through my head. Is she choking? Did she fall? Is she going into anaphylactic shock? Is she dying? I couldn't get my head around it because I knew I had seen her at the school playing all morning with Namraj. I grabbed Monica to start the Heimlich Maneuver or CPR and started asking Basanti questions. She was understandably beside herself, screaming and crying and down on her knees but no, she hadn't had anything in her mouth and she hadn't fallen down. She was just taking a nap.
I could feel the adrenaline pumping through my body. I checked for a pulse and could see that Monica was still breathing. She felt hot, like she had a fever and that’s when everything clicked and I realized she must be having a seizure. I kept yelling for someone to call an ambulance when I realized that I wasn’t in the U.S., and that Scorpio was right there and I had the keys in the fanny pack I always carry around and I could drive. We jumped in the car and rushed to the ER. I stalled the jeep 3 times on the way in a panic while shifting gears. Darn stick shifts.
Monica’s body looked so small on the hospital bed. I remembered the last time we’d been at the hospital together was the day she was born. I called to the ER staff and they left what they were doing and came right to us. They assured me her vitals were stable, and doused her in cool water. They pulled the oxygen right out of the woman's nose in the bed next to us and put it in Monica's. I ran to the Operating Theatre to see if I could find a free doctor, just to be sure, and in a matter of minutes a great doctor came to our side and told me she'd be just fine. It was a febrile seizure and very common among kids her age. The physician looked at me like I should have known that and I told him that yes, I’d read about febrile seizures. I told him about the other kids being sick and how it took me a while to realize that Monica must have come down with the same fever that the rest of the kids had.
Within hours Monica was back to her normal self and we waited for the evening to come when the doctor could do rounds and discharge us. I sat outside the ER on the only bench watching the rain and running the day's events through my head. I was totally spent. How doctors and nurses do this stuff everyday, I have no idea.
Just then a police car pulled up with a bunch of male officers holding their guns. I noticed a little girl come out of the back seat. I watched her closely. The police officers sat the little girl down next to me on the bench and told her to wait, most likely I thought, for the same doctor. She looked to be about the same age as my older girls, Goma, Karma, Anjali, and Nisha. I asked her how old she was and she told me 13. I also realized she was from the same village Goma came from. I asked her if she knew Goma but she said no. Then she told me why she was with the police and why she was at the hospital. She was hiding most of her face with her shawl and when she let it fall, I couldn't help but notice how pretty she was. The kind of pretty that makes you stare, even if you try not to.
She told me her aunt had married her off to an older man to pay a debt. She did not want to be married. She did not know the man and she was tricked into going to his house. She stayed at the man’s house for 5 days until early that morning when she gathered her courage to run away to the police and make a case against her family and the man. I told the little girl how brave I thought she was. I asked if she was scared and wanted me to stay with her. She nodded yes and I quietly thanked God that I was exactly where I needed to be, at the hospital in that moment. The universe works in mysterious ways sometimes. We talked and talked. I told her about what I was doing in Surkhet and about my kids and my girls who were all her age. I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. Child marriage is real. It's still happening. How can we do more to stop this? How can we create a world where our little girls are safe? I couldn't stop thinking about how that little girl could have been me, or one of my sisters, or one of the girls I used to babysit for, or one of my own daughters or students, or friends, about how this just has got to stop. This has to stop now. I also thought about how things in the world could be changing because this little girl knew to go to the police and she knew to get help. She knew she had rights. I’m not sure that would have happened five years or ten years ago. I couldn't stop telling her how brave I thought she was.
I came home last night, had some bean soup and told all the kids about the brave little girl I met. Sometimes I keep things like this from them, but I decided I really wanted them to know about my day and the girl and what they could learn from her. I decided to write it here because I want you to know too.
Monica is all better today. I read about febrile seizures on the internet this morning. We’ll need to keep a watchful eye on her temperature. I am back in my office working on the grant application again. I am wishing I didn't bite off all my nails yesterday because now my fingers hurt when I type. I am on the phone with the chief of police checking in on the brave little girl I met yesterday and seeing if she wants to come to our school. I have a school full of brave little girls over here and I have a good feeling she’ll fit right in.