Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Stealing Innocence

March 1, 2006

It is routine for three of us to sit at a one-person desk asking patients questions about their medical histories. I usually block out the many conversations around me so that I could pay full attention to the patient with whom I am talking. “Yes, she has always been epileptic,” a voice answered. Suddenly, I looked in my colleague’s direction to see a mother standing by her child, her concerned eyes fixed on her daughter’s innocent face.

The young girl, this woman’s daughter, sat awkwardly on a tan, metal, fold-out chair, not really knowing what was going on around her. Her hair was divided into eight big braids equipped with ribbons, resembling the childish do’s I wore until I begged my mother to let me do my own hair in fourth grade.

She wore a pink polo shirt, parts of it drenched with saliva that dripped down from her mouth uncontrollably. Her white ankle socks peeked out from her no-brand sneakers the same way waiting patients peeked at this unexpected mother, wondering how she ended up where she was, pregnant at 17 and mentally and physically unable to take care of her offspring.

I did not want to add another pair of eyes to the many that already glared at this mother and child, but I could not help myself. I wanted to know more. It was obvious that years of epileptic fits without proper medical treatment caused much damage on this girl’s body, so much that the nurses could not even weigh her because standing took too much effort for her. What was also obvious to everyone was that her fits were not the only threat this girl had experienced.

“She must have been raped,” the patient with whom I was working whispered. I nodded in agreement, trying to hide my disgust and anger for the sick man who saw no problem taking advantage of a vulnerable child and then leaving her and her mother with a baby they could not afford to care for. I wanted to leave the crammed desk and bolt pass the full-to-over-capacity waiting room to find this man, who for me, represented the men who raped the many women in my life, who stole their happiness. I wanted to avenge their rapes, their suffering, my suffering.

I looked at this poor teen mom again who, despite her expressionless face, said so much to me. I sensed her frustration of being constantly stared at and of being trapped in her own body, unable to articulate her feelings. I sensed the pain, the confusion, and the terror she must have felt as some man made her a woman and a mother too early, stealing her innocence from right in front of her face.