By Amanda Wong
“I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
It was mid September then. We were in the physiotherapy room of the hospital in Pokfulam at the western tip of Hong Kong Island. It was a spacious room with various training equipment for the patients, most of whom had difficulty walking or moving. Some patients were silently working on their exercises, while others were shuffling about with their therapists by their side.
At one end of the room, a little girl was sobbing. She was being coaxed to stand up and sit down on a little chair. Her mother was rewarding her every effort to stand with what looked like a piece of prawn cracker. This was against the rules but it was definitely helping. The therapist stood close by, encouraging the girl to stand up again, “Good girl, Tingting. Keep trying!”
Tingting, as I recalled, was not yet two years old. She was transferred here at the end of August, after being in a coma for three months due to viral encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, which is usually fatal. I have seen her disturbing brain MRI (Magnetic Ray Imaging) scans. There were gaps where there should have been brain tissue. As a result, she had to re-learn all the basic skills such as swallowing, turning over, sitting and crawling. Her mother likened the situation to having a brand new baby.
During Tingting’s rehabilitation, both she and her mother stayed in the rehabilitation ward for children with neurological problems. She was not the only encephalitis case at that time. There were two other young children who had been staying there since the beginning of the year. When Tingting first came in, all she could do was to lie in her cot. Then she started to turn over and pull herself up using the bars of the cot before falling over again. The nurses had to place a soft protector on her head to prevent injuries.
Not long after, Tingting was in the physiotherapy room learning how to stand up with her legs. She stood strapped to a standing support with a dual bar stand that has a tray on it. Some toys were placed on the tray to distract her, however she seemed disinterested. In her mouth, she had a drinking straw that she was chewing and biting, the way little babies do with their toys.
Tingting was a sweet looking child, chubby with big eyes and slightly curly hair despite her recent illness. Her apparent good health was due to the fact that she had been intubated throughout her coma and had been tube-fed with a high nutrition formula milk. The course of steroids given to her had added to her chubby look.
Two weeks later, I found myself in the physiotherapy room again. This time, she was sitting in a swing with her hands taped to the ropes for fear that she might let go and fall off. She was still unable to control the use of her hands. Her hips too were held secure by more straps. Despite being literally tied down, she seemed to enjoy the calming motions of the swing and was smiling broadly. Her parents were by her side encouraging and cheering her on. They looked weary, yet their eyes were full of love and pride for their daughter.
I did not see Tingting again until the middle of October. It was in the physiotherapy room again and this time, it was like finding a circus in the quietude of the room. Her mother was seated on a low stool with castors and she was sliding backwards with a bag of crisps in her hands. Tingting had on leg supports that were tightly strapped on with Velcro. Standing on her therapist’s shoes, they were doing a kind of four-legged walk. As the therapist moved forward, her feet lifted Tingting’s feet in tandem as they “walked” slowly toward her mum who rewarded her with a piece of crisp for every step taken. Tingting was crying from the effort of walking and her whimpering could be heard throughout the room. Her relatives were cheering her on, ignoring the sympathetic looks the other patients were giving them. It was a strange sight to behold, but a moving one too as I watched this little girl’s painful efforts to walk even when she could not.
After the session, I overheard the therapist encouraging her parents. “Let’s be positive about this. It is now October. Our target is to have Tingting walking by Christmas.” Heads nodded amid small brave smiles. Christmas gave a reason for this hope.
On October 22, we were doing a grand round of the wards with the head neurologist. As we entered Tingting’s room, her mum let go of her hands and Tingting walked straight toward us, without any support! The head neurologist gasped in surprise and delight. She immediately issued Tingting a partial discharge from the hospital, meaning that she could go home and return to the hospital solely for continued therapy.
I knew then that I had just witnessed God’s miracle and this miracle child would be returning home for Christmas, two months early.