In September 2005, my son Calvin was a four-month-old infant at the time. Both Calvin and I caught meningitis, later we would come to learn that in both cases we had caught the viral form, the type of meningitis that tends to be less severe and less potentially life-threatening than that of the bacterial form. However, before the particular determination could be made as to what kind of meningitis it was, a spinal tap needed to be performed and a spinal fluid sample needed to incubate before determining if there was bacteria in the spinal fluid. Meanwhile, antibiotics were fed into the system as a precaution against the potentially-deadly bacterial form of meningitis growing within. Needless to say, the spinal tap was extremely painful and it just about "killed" us to give permission to have it done to our four-month-old baby but we felt that we really had no choice in the matter.
As painful as the spinal tap was for me (and I assume Calvin), we were both well-fed.
In a bed by the door of the hospital lies a moaning thirteen-year-old girl, just arrived by donkey ambulance. Two young Haitian doctors- one is just an intern- stand beside her bed, eyes half-lowered, lips pursed, as Farmer makes the Haitian hand slap, saying, “Doktè-m yo, doktè-m yo, sa k’ap pase-n”- “Doctors, doctors, what’s going on with you?” His voice sounds plaintive, not angry, as he lectures: You do not administer an antibiotic to a person with meningitis until you have done a spinal tap and know the variety of meningitis and thus which drug will work.
Then he does the job himself, the young doctors looking on, holding the girl down.
“I’m very good at spinal taps,” he’s told me. He seems to be, and besides, he’s left-handed, and to my eyes left-handers at work have always looked adroit. The veins stand out on Farmer’s thin neck as he eases the needle in. Wild cries erupt from the child: “Li fe-m mal, mwen grangou!” Farmer looks up, and for a moment he’s narrating Haiti again. “She’s crying, ‘It hurts, I’m hungry.’ Can you believe it? Only in Haiti would a child cry out that she’s hungry during a spinal tap.”
Mountains Beyond Mountains, p. 32