Too Late

By Carmen Denia, Yale-NUS College ’17 – See bio

One of my aunt’s patients at the charity hospital passed away yesterday. I’d seen him once in the paediatric ICU, an infant boy, barely a year old, strapped to a dextrose and whimpering.

He was not quite my aunt’s patient – he had been referred to her for the burns on his face and terrible diaper rashes. Originally, he was admitted to the hospital for severe dehydration and malnutrition. He was too weak to move as babies his age should; he didn’t react to stimuli as he should have. The other doctors later discovered the baby’s eardrums were shattered and he was blinded by thermal burns.  All the skin within the diaper area was red and raw. The deep wounds on his cheek had the perfect circular shape of cigarette burns, like potholes in the ground. It was left unsaid, but there was much reason to suspect parental neglect.

I was planning to use the money from my birthday hong bao in a fortnight to buy him diaper cream. It’s too late now.

I wanted to demonise those who had – for want of a better word – cared for the boy before he was hospitalised. My imagination turned them into hateful, horrible, fanged beings, but I know it’s not completely true. I could go on and on about poverty in this country or what a lack of education does, but it feels pointless right now. A child has died – what else can I say to his parents?

I remember when my literature teacher would take us through Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha. (Brilliant book by Roddy Doyle, by the way. You should definitely give it a go, if you haven’t yet.) There were snippets where the protagonist would witness, participate in, or be a victim of childhood brutality. My teacher mentioned that many students would write their essays with a tone that distanced themselves from the text as if bullying or cruelty between children was only present among the Irish kids Paddy played with. A silly approach, of course, because, as much as I don’t mean to force themes into another writer’s work, the snippets in Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha really felt like they reflected the human capacity for cruelty and Doyle emphasised this by describing inhumanity between children.

That baby from the ICU has born the brunt of such cruelty. It’s some consolation that he will never have to again. Seeing him reminded me of how close to home human brutality can actually be. I believe that the Department of Social Welfare and Development was planning to take him into custody once he was discharged from confinement. It’s too late now.

He’s not the only baby of his kind, of course. There must be dozens of them in this city, hundreds in the country, thousands in Asia and millions in the world suffering from abuse and neglect. If not suffering from those then from starvation, war, poverty, disease, drought, natural calamities, human trafficking, slavery, or illiteracy. Then, of course, there are all the adults suffering from those, too.

We all know that many of the problems the world is facing aren’t new. Great thinkers, scientists, artists, historians, philanthropists, and other have spent decades trying to solve our dilemmas. I remember when I was young, lying in bed, imagining relocating people from city to city in Metro Manila, peeling off the problematic infrastructure and pollution like old plasters off skin. I thought that I could fix everything.

These problems are partly why I want to go to university. (Shameless plug for YNC right there ☺) Not that the act of going to university is going to make me the next president of the Philippines or something, but I’d like to be able to learn new things, synthesise these and talk to people on how we can solve some of these issues. I’m not an idealist, but I think we need fresh insights to solve the still growing, age-old problems.

It helps to remember that just as much as education is for personal development, it is a privilege. (It shouldn’t be, but that’s a topic for another day.) And as my grandfather always says, having privileges means having responsibilities – in this case, the responsibility to use our greater knowledge and skills to help others, too.

So I hope I don’t forget the boy. I hope I don’t lose sight of him and kids like him in the rat race and paper chase. I hope going to university really equips me to exercise that responsibility to do something for them, especially when I enter the working world.

Then maybe one day, I’ll be able to say that this time, I’m not too late.

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