Archive for July 26th, 2010



He was standing up in his crib, eyes glued to the door when I walked in. His face lighting up in a bright smile as soon as he saw me; jumping up and down in joy, his little hands holding on to the sides of his castle, he welcomed me into his kingdom — the hospital room that has been his home since he was a few months old. At last, after tiring of all the silly toys in his crib, he had seen a relatively new one. His little hands reached out for my stethoscope, ready to grab it and fling it inside his crib.

Meet Ruslan. Born two and a half years ago and abandoned at birth by his mother. He had endured a difficult passage into this world from the warm confines of the womb, primarily due to the plethora of infections that his mother had suffered from during her pregnancy. And the drugs and alcohol she had continued to consume even after the doctors explained to her the lasting effects they will have on her baby. As a result Ruslan was born following prolonged labour that deprived his brain of oxygen for longer than it could compensate for. And quite a few infections ravaging his little body. The infections were controlled, but the damage to the brain was irreversible.

In room #7, Ruslan had four other children for company. All abandoned, with varying degrees of psychomotor developmental problems and additional, potentially life-threatening congenital defects. All cared for by the ward nurses. All with a minimum of social contact except for their carers. And all cursed to live a lifetime in sterile hospital rooms.

Most abandoned babies would go to care homes as a rule, but these little ones were the exceptions. No children’s home wants a toddler who may turn out to be violent and disruptive later. With serious birth defects that destroyed any chance of adoption. They had their hands full with trying to find homes for the babies already in their care. The government and social services in Russia are not as sympathetic or organised in adoption and child placement procedures as their counterparts in the west. And the kids’ homes certainly can do without another few mentally challenged and physically challenging children that no prospective parent would want to take home.

So Ruslan stays in his crib all day long, longing for the little things kids his age will wish for. New toys, playmates, a run around the room, maybe even outside in the open air. A hug, a cuddle, a tweaked nose, a kiss. A few nonsense words in his ear. A pick up and throw in the air. A twirl round and round, till his head swims in giddy happiness.

He has plenty of clothes donated by people who feel guilty for their children’s relative fortune. And plenty of food, children’s formula and medicines the hospital is willing to offer, no matter the cost. And round-the-clock healthcare without insurance, of course.

But these things are mundane, of no interest to the little child. He still lacks the social interaction, the human contact, the warmth and love and security that he needs.

Of course it can be argued that Ruslan does not really appreciate his predicament like a “normal” child his age would. His brain is quite damaged, after all. At two and half, he still doesn’t talk – at all. He is unpredictable. He can be smiling and cooing one minute, then something will make him moody and violent; he will throw all his toys out of the crib, bang his head against the padded side rails. He may sleep all day and stay awake all night, crying and shouting, prompting his room mates to join in the ruckus.

But today, he was quite content to play with my stethoscope as I dangled it in front of him, not letting him grasp it. His shrieks were loud as he stood on his toes, arms held high, trying to stretch his fingers to get hold of it. His roommates stayed in their cribs, looking on passively.

I stayed with them for a long time, enjoying this little oasis in the middle of malaise and misery.


July 2010
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