Then one of the older boys told me that Paul was very ill and had been vomiting blood. He said there had been an X Ray which showed a hole in Paul’s lung and that it was really serious. I was very upset as I was close to him by this point. Later that day, I was coming out of the mall, with my “Halo halo,” (a mixture of all types of food including beans, sweetcorn, jelly, milk and ice-cream and a dessert delicacy in the Philippines!) which I bought for lunch every day, and I saw Paul standing at the entrance. He was leaning inside the door but he knew that he wasn’t allowed to go in as the security guards would stop him. He wasn’t focusing on me as I was coming towards him because he was obviously high on solvents, but as I got nearer he saw me and acknowledged me. He then put my arm around his neck, a practice the older boys adopted as a more manly sign of affection than the younger ones cuddles.
We walked together back towards the bridge and I decided to broach the subject of his illness with him. I had already determined to make him go to the hospital but knew I had to handle it carefully as he might refuse if I put pressure on him. I said, “I hear that you are ill and have been coughing blood.” He just nodded. I told him that it made me sad as I didn’t want something bad to happen to him. I asked him if he would come to the hospital with me. He didn’t want to go, but when we got back to the bridge he pointed at my “Halo halo” and asked me to give it to him. This was my lunch every day and I never gave it away, the boys knew this and didn’t ask me for it. In fact, if a new boy who didn’t know the rules came and asked me for my “halo halo” the other boys told him off and said it was my lunch.
On this day, I was so upset about Paul’s illness that I gave it to him. His eyes brightened and he seemed surprised as he wasn’t really expecting me to give it to him. He then got the spoon and started feeding all of the other younger boys with bits from it before having any himself. It was quite a sight as they all sat on the floor waiting to be fed with a spoon, even though they were eleven and twelve years old. I then asked him again about the hospital and later, with the help of his friends, persuaded him to go. He agreed, but only if Mark accompanied him.
At the hospital, I decided it was time that he really understood the Gospel. I really wasn’t sure if he had been listening before and I wasn’t sure how ill he really was. Arlene translated the discussion. The first things we established were that he thought it would make him a better person if he went to church. He said this with such sincerity and I could see that he really thought he was a terrible person in the sight of God. He then said that he couldn’t go into church because he didn’t know how to pray and that he couldn’t pray as he was too dirty. Later I kept thinking about Paul’s sincere (but wrong) beliefs about God and I wondered how many others felt like this. Here we are in the West arrogantly ignoring God and acting as if he doesn’t exist, but Paul didn’t dare to approach God, thinking he would be rejected. I explained the truth to Paul, and when I told him how Jesus died on the cross for his sin, he immediately said that he knew about this already because I had taught it to them on the bridge, which was encouraging.
When we went in to see the Doctor, Paul and Mark both had tests and X Rays. They weren’t very well behaved and kept messing around with equipment, leaving and going outside and wandering around. When the Nurse couldn’t find Paul’s pulse the two boys thought this was hilarious and Paul grabbed his heart and acted as if he was about to keel over and die. I was unhappy with the Doctor’s attitude as she looked at the boys with distaste throughout the proceedings, and spoke about them as if they weren’t there, when giving their results.
Mark’s X-ray was completely clear, again evidencing his lack of long term drug abuse. Paul’s X-ray showed deep scar tissue on his lung and the Doctor told us he had Tuberculosis (TB.) I asked her if it was advanced and she said yes. She didn’t show any compassion or any love towards him at all. I was left to ask the questions about what would happen and, not really knowing anything about the disease, I was really concerned. She gave us a prescription for Paul and we left. Paul and Mark were joking around, but I knew it had to be false bravado on Paul’s part as this was serious. I was annoyed with Mark for making it so trivial, but realised that his immaturity meant that he didn’t know any better.
It also hit me that TB is very contagious and that Paul often shared his food with the other boys, and was even eating from the same spoon. I too had not really taken extra precautions with the boys, but I was less worried about that as I had been vaccinated and was always careful not to eat from or drink from the same things as them, which is the main way the disease is spread. I told him that he mustn’t now share his food, but it took a while for him to remember this as this had always been his practice. To start with I reminded him, but on occasions I forgot and one day I even encouraged him to share with another boy. He looked surprised and I thought he was being less than generous until he gave the water to the other boy and then said to me, “But I’m sick.” I tried to stop the other boy from drinking it, but it was too late. As far as I’m aware, none of the others caught TB from Paul.
In any event, after leaving the hospital we went to a pharmacy to buy Paul’s medicine. I looked him in the eyes and told him that whilst taking the medicine he mustn’t take any drugs or it could kill him. He promised me but then said, “But I will be hungry.” I responded, “Right, if that’s the reason I promise you that I will make sure you have enough food every day until the ship leaves.”
To prove we were serious about this, we took Paul and Mark to a restaurant and said they could order what they wanted. They both ate a lot and asked for more rice. Later Arlene and Mark were outside and I was left with Paul who was finishing his rice. He looked at me and said seriously, “Ma’am Natalie, thank you for trying to help us.” I nodded, but had to look away because the tears came again. Here was a hardened street boy saying thank you, maybe for the first time in many years. He finished his rice and put his thumb up to indicate that he had enjoyed it. When we got outside they both said they were full so we went back to the ship, leaving them to go and find somewhere to sleep.
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