On 1st September 2011, the day that most children in Belarus go back to school after the long summer holidays, the Belarusian Children’s Hospice took on a new patient, a little girl called Angelika. She had had her 7th birthday in April and if it hadn’t been for her illness she would have been joining the other children who, at age 7, start school for the first time.
Angelika came to us from the Cancer Hospital where she had spent several months being treated for cancer of the brain stem. The story of her short life is not a happy one. She was born in a tiny provincial town in the Vitebsk region of Belarus to a single mother. It was not long before the authorities took her away from her mother who was a heavy drinker and unable to care for her properly. Some distant relatives took her in. At first Angelika was happy with them and even started calling her aunt 'Mummy'. Some years later the aunt had her own baby and started paying less and less attention to Angelika.
When the little girl was diagnosed with cancer of the brain, she was transferred to Minsk for treatment. In all those months nobody came to see her in hospital. As soon as BCH took her on as one of its patients, her adopted family contacted us and said that they did not want to be responsible for her any longer and did not want her back home. However, the question did not arise, for on 29th November little Angelika died, having spent the last three months of her life as an in-patient at the hospice.
For three months hospice staff did everything they could so that this little girl, who had not known the love of others, should feel loved, should feel that somebody wanted her. During her short time in the hospice she made more friends than at any other time in her life. The resident child therapist spent a lot of time with her drawing and chatting, volunteers came to see her and thought up all sorts of treats, told her stories and once even gave her a manicure. There was always someone with Angelika and medical help was always close at hand. She had a special mattress to make her more comfortable, oxygen and an inhaler.
When Angelika died it was a blow to everyone who had spent time with her although they knew that they had done everything they could. It is one of those situations where your conscience is clear but your heart aches and not so easy to explain things logically to one’s heart. This, of course, is the trouble with working at a children’s hospice. You do everything you can and you do it well, with love, but the final, end result is that the child dies and you are left feeling that it is not fair. Children should not suffer and die.
Albert Einstein said that each of us chooses his or her own attitude to life. At BCH the staff try to make each life a miracle. During her last days Angelika said, 'Thank you for making my dream come true'. At BCH the carers really do believe in these fairytale worlds, these dreams that they create for the children do come true.
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