A Vulnerable Boy

Earlier this month I ended up hospitalizing one of the older boys at Aunty’s.  He was  already in a government hospital, refusing to eat, and no one seemed to know what was wrong.  Aunty took him out of that hospital and brought him for me to see, and I sent him to a nursing home where Shanti Devi used to work.  The doctor there is not only respectful of me, but seeks my advice.  I’ve used that home as respite care for girls who have become out of control — a stop short of mental hospitalization, which I’ve also done.   This boy was on anti-psychotics which had been discontinued several months ago. Then there had been staff problems and we presume he was beaten.  It’s what he kept gesturing to us.  When I saw him he was terrified and shaking.

We got him back on his medications, and other than the first night when he screamed all night, he did fine.  But then the question, what to do with him?  Over and over people would say to me, “But he will be beaten if you send him back there,” as if I had any other solutions.

The bill ran up, $12 a day for the bed and $6.00 for the 24 hour aides.  I had a CT scan done to be sure he didn’t have any acute head injury.  It showed only mild abnormalities associated with Schizophrenia.  I’ve been in crisis mode for multiple reasons, including money woes, school enrollments, grants, website development, doctor visits, and all the regular things that go on in a home with 14 children.   But basically I didn’t know what to do.  Then a sore on his foot became infected and swollen so we started him on antibiotics but also did some blood work checking liver and kidney function.  That added a few more days.

We have had occasional times of girls hitting or pinching others, and I deal with it harshly.  Last night after evening prayers we had a meeting and I talked about violence, torture, pinching…. I told them that this is a sad thing that happens in almost most homes.  I talked about the boy in the hospital, whom they have all met, and the problem of what to do with him.   And we talked about how even little things get out of hand.  I think our home is one of the safest places there is for children.    I have friends who beat their children, friends who pinch their children, friends who look away when one sibling hurts another.

I was the Director of a Tufts Day Hospital for mentally ill in Boston and our patients were sometimes beaten up on the street coming to the Center and going home.  We tried to get transportation but the politicians didn’t want to acknowledge the danger so the patients walked the gauntlet to come for care.  You see, Boston, New York, Kolkata, all on the same spectrum of human behavior particularly with respect to cruelty.

I lived part of my childhood on a farm.  My parents were city-dwellers who decided to be farmers.  We were poor; our crops didn’t do well; droughts came and then floods, but I loved that life.  I drove a tractor when I was 12.  I could manage a plow at 14.   I had a horse I rode in competitions of barrel racing and pole bending.  I also tamed horses for other people sometimes.  I kept a blanket roll under my bed so I could jump on my horse and run away from home in the night.  However I was sensible enough to know that a young girl wasn’t going to get very far on horseback in New Jersey.  It was a wonderful fantasy life I had.  One day when I was about thirteen, I was looking out the window to the field where Stormy (the colt) and Twinkle Toes (his mother) were grazing.  Suddenly Stormy playfully came up behind his mother and bit her hard on the rump.  She kicked out at him with both hooves.  Pow! He backed off!  I don’t think he ever bit her again.

Well, it was an epiphany for me, having been raised on Spock, and reason, and guilt, and suddenly I thought, “Wow, her job is to socialize him, and she just did it!  No scolding, no explanation of goodness, no guilt trip, no judgement that he was a bad colt who didn’t appreciate his mother…. No, just a good kick and he learned his lesson.  I believe there are times when this is appropriate.  But here in India, as a white woman raising Indian children, I can’t do it.

Today’s newspaper talked about torture in the schools.  Keeping children from going to the bathroom is replacing caning as corporal punishment is made illegal.  We had that, one of our girls who needed to go to the bathroom and was refused permission and soiled herself — that was in the school that had NO water in the bathrooms, and further humiliated her by telling her in front of others to ask her mother for Rs. 10 for the clean-up.  No mercy in the schools.

Well, back to today and bringing this boy out of the hospital.  To all the people who reminded me he may be beaten, I just asked if they would take him.  You see, I don’t know anyplace I could guarantee his safety.  He is vulnerable and has impairments and whether in a government institution, or NGO home or even in a family, he may not fare well.  The Child Welfare Committee was of no help.  The politicians walked away.   I can’t keep him in a nursing home forever, and nor can I bring him here.

Safe places…. the heart of the matter, so hard to find, to build, to maintain.  So this is part of what has been on my mind a lot.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jan Fondell
    Apr 01, 2012 @ 07:56:36

    I can only hope this all makes sense in a way that is beyond our understanding. Your efforts Michelle are nothing short of saintly. I know that your heart aches though and I am glad you share this. Love and comfort to you and to all of the neglected and betrayed children of the earth.

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  2. Dr. Michelle Harrison
    Apr 01, 2012 @ 08:50:26

    Thanks Jan, As I finished this post I wondered, “What kind of God….?” which is what I wonder a lot of the time. None of us has answers, but I keep trying to draw the picture, find the words to describe what exists. I’ve also used my (quickly disappearing) money to understand the limitations of money. When I first started coming to India I would think in my head how much good my airfare would do for the poor so maybe I should just send money instead of coming. I had to battle myself. But it isn’t about money. A design flaw? Heresy? Evil? Destiny? Often just to bear witness and give comfort is all we can do. But it’s not about money, not about poverty, and at least it feels good to know that and be able to say that because money could not help this boy. I have friends here with children with disabilities. They spend money to send their kids to school where their kids are not really safe from abuse either. Thanks for being with me.

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  3. IPSITA ROY
    Apr 02, 2012 @ 21:16:48

    Thank u Mam ,could u remember me ,I am Ipsita Sp.Educator ,u have done a wonderful job ,dont loose hope one day god will help u to solve this problem through us .love u

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