In Septemeber 2008, I traveled 6000 miles to Haiti's Kenscoff mountains. My mission: to care for some of the orphaned and abandoned, the sick, malnourished and premature infants of this beautiful but beleagured Caribbean nation.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

An Auspicious Sign

Haitian society has a rich oral tradition that has given rise to hundreds of Kreyol proverbs and sayings, containing a wisdom that is simple, without being simplistic. There is depth also, to Haiti's folktales. I will call them folk tales, and not old wives tales, as they are known in the part of the world I am from, because there are few old women in Haiti to propagate these beliefs.

One of the newest arrivals to the NICU is 2 month old Steevenson. When I checked him over, the day he arrived, it was immediately obvious that Steevenson had very special hands, with 6 fingers and not 5 on each hand. 

This is a condition, known as polydactaly. It is my understanding that polydactaly can sometimes present with other congenital problems - malformations that babies are born with. I examined Steevenson top to toe, and found nothing to be concerned about. He was perfectly proportioned, with symetrical features. Everything was just where is should be. I shared these findings with the Haitian staff. 'Of course!' The mirth in their 'of course,' told me that the Haitian understanding of Polydactaly was quite different to my own. 

'Ate his twin?' I repeated. 'Really?' I was dressing Steevenson, in the back, upstairs hallway of the main house, in an area that has been set up for medical consultations. I was genuinely interested to hear the pediatrician's explanation: that many Haitian's do not believe that polydactaly is an anomoly, but rather an indication of a twin pregnancy. They believe that the baby with polydactaly consumed his or her twin, giving rise to a few extra digits, as a sign to the parents of this momentous prenatal event. 

Rather than be alarmed or concerned at the presence of a 6th finger, many people in this country look upon Steevenson with pride, believing that he is a strong boy, and a victor. I think that if I really believed Steevenson ate his twin, (and I don't) I might be a little bit wary of him! I am glad Haitians are not. Some cultures hold very negative beliefs about the presence of polydactaly.

 When the baby arrived, his 6th fingers, which were not fully formed and which were attached to the 5th fingers by a piece of skin, had been tied of with thread. The extra fingers, having lost their blood supply, have since shrivelled and fallen off.  The are gone, but no-one here will forget the auspicious sign that accompanied the arrival of this baby. They expect big things from him.
Steevenson is shown above in a purple butterly-monographed sleeper: tough and tender :-)

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