You Can't Be Naked in the Hall


I've been living on a floating hospital in Liberia for the past nine months now. Coming from a PICU background, I started out completely daunted at the thought of caring for more than two patients.

by AliRae

Specializes in PICU, surgical post-op. Has 4 years experience.

You Can't Be Naked in the Hall

Now, I barely blink when my report sheet has ten names on it, and I've embraced the slower pace of life here. It seems that a lot of my favorite moments on the wards involve little-naked kids running around. Last week was no exception.

The wards are full of kids right now. Dr. Jose is a new pediatric surgeon on board who mainly operates on babies who were born with gastrointestinal malformations and kids who drank caustic liquids. This latter bunch are a sad lot. They usually go wandering to a neighbor's house and see a cup sitting on the ground. Not knowing that it contains lye, a horribly corrosive liquid used for making soap, they pick it up and take a drink. The resulting scar tissue and destruction of their esophagus condemns them to a life of feeding tubes and hard-fought sips of water.

Mark is one of these cases. He's two-and-a-half and he's been in a few times in the past weeks for Dr. Jose to dilate his esophagus. He's not a big fan of us, but he's comforted by the fact that he's got friends here, other babies and their mamas who have all been doing the round of local hospitals, trying to find a treatment that will prevent their children from starving to death.

Yesterday, close to the end of my shift, Mark was running around the ward, stark naked. Before you call me a bad nurse for letting my children hang out like that (pun most definitely intended) you have to know a little background. We're on a water restriction on the ship right now. The water we use for drinking, bathing, flushing toilets and everything else is supplied from a hydro plant here in Liberia. Recently, the supply has dropped drastically, and so we get announcements at community meeting reminding us that we really can't use more than two minutes in the shower and the tap needs to be shut off when we brush our teeth. We've had low reserves before, and it always resolved within a few days. This time it's different. As of Monday, we had about six days worth of water left on the ship. We're in crisis mode. No one is allowed to do laundry. We're using disposable plates and cups at meals so we don't have to run the dishwashers. It's been suggested that daily showers aren't a necessity. We have no idea what we'll do if the situation doesn't improve.

However drastic this might sound, it did provide the basis for my incredible amusement. Mark had been drinking a cup of water. He's not really the best at drinking anything, and the majority of the precious liquid ended up poured down the front of him. When his mama went to the cart to get a new gown, I gently reminded her that we have no water to do laundry and so he needed to keep that gown. He, however, didn't feel like wearing a sopping wet garment, and so we took it off him and draped it over the end of the bed to dry.

Which is why, as his little friend from the next bed packed up to leave, Mark was running around in nothing but his birthday suit, absolutely content. It was only when his own mama left the ward to say farewell to her friend that Mark realized the truth; not only was his little friend, Momo, leaving, but his mama was disappearing for a while too.

He bolted through the half-open door and took off down the hallway with me in hot pursuit. What followed was enough to make me laugh for days. As his mama and his friend disappeared through the door to the aft gangway, he started yelling and stomping around, flip-flops slapping the floor, NG tube, and all his little dangly bits ... well ... dangling. Mama-o! Mama-o! Mama-o! I was trying to hold in my giggles while trying, unsuccessfully, to herd him back into A Ward. He, in turn, was trying, also unsuccessfully, to fend me off with small, flailing arms.

It turns out that it's nearly impossible to reason with a distraught, naked two-year-old, especially when you're trying to do it in Liberian English. I varied my tactics as he ran in circles around me and we both got out of breath. Hey man, come inside. I will get your gown. You can't be naked in the hall. Don't beat me, man! You're alright. Mama will come back. You're alright. Come inside. You can't be naked. Don't beat me. You beat me, I will beat you. (As an aside, I would never beat a kid. But people were staring, I was desperate, and it's a threat the mamas tell me to use that, while never carried out, generally has enough weight to ensure compliance.)

Eventually, he ran out of steam. I knelt next to him in the hallway as he dropped his tired head onto my shoulder. With one last half-hearted call for his mama, he gave up the fight. I carried him inside, found some PJ bottoms for him to wear until his gown dried and climbed into his bed. He nestled into me, head on my chest and little arms wrapped tight around me, and fell asleep.

I think I won that battle, but it's hard to tell. Maybe it wasn't one I should have picked to begin with.

You just can't be naked in the hall. That's all.

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3 Comment(s)

NotReady4PrimeTime, RN

Specializes in NICU, PICU, PCVICU and peds oncology. Has 25 years experience. 16 Articles; 7,358 Posts

What a lovely story, Ali. How I wish I could join you there for a while...

NurseCard, ADN

Specializes in Med/Surge, Psych, LTC, Home Health. Has 13 years experience. 2 Articles; 2,844 Posts

SURE you can!!!! =) :)

Elvish, BSN, DNP, RN, NP

Specializes in Community, OB, Nursery. 17 Articles; 5,259 Posts

What an adorable story, AliRae. You have a wonderful soul and you are doing wonderful work. :) Funny funny story!