Like parents, doctors probably aren't supposed to have favourites, but I do.
Nkosinphile is a 13 year old boy with learning difficulties who had a prolonged inpatient stay back when I was running male ward (oh yes, anyone over 9 years is no longer a child- if they can't sleep in a cot, they have to go to the adult ward). He'd come in with severe burns to his legs requiring skin grafts, but it then transpired that there was a fairly dire home situation. He and his 3 younger siblings were orphans under the care of an uncle who found Nkosinphile too difficult to manage so had farmed them out to an old gogo who wasn't really able to take care of the kids.
The social workers spent a long time negociating with the family, during which period Nkosin charmed everyone in the hospital, getting them to play ball games with him and eating so well that we had to find him some new clothes when he went home as he had gotten too fat for his own.
Eventually it was agreed that the family would build a hut about 200m away from the family home for the kids to live in, and they would pay a slightly younger gogo to stay with them and cook for them.
I visited the hut with the social workers as it was being built. It was a concrete two room affair, each about 4x4 metres, one large bed and some cooking utensils and a separate hole in the ground out the back to serve as the toilet. Quite a nice place by local standards. Once it was completed, the children moved in and a week or so later I saw Nkosinphile at his local clinic. He looked happy and well and was keen to play ball games.
When we drove by his hut today it was a very different story. He was sat outside, dirty and dishevelled with weightloss to make a WeightWatcher envious . He was with his younger brother who had had to stay home from school to look after him as the gogo hired to do so had gone off to visit someone. They told us that she only stayed with them during the day, leaving Nkosinphile in charge overnight. They also showed us their kitchen area where there was an array of empty shelves, their uncle who is supposed to buy food for them apparently isn't.
It was heartbreaking to see the dramatic changes in Nkosinphile and even more so when he, who had been desperate to come home to his family, asked me to take him back with me to Mosvold.
The social workers have made a plan to find a place of safety for him but in the short term, all I could offer him was my lunch for the day, which he gratefully took. It's not really a solution ("give a man a fish...") but faced with a child who is literally starving, it felt like the best thing I could do.