Sunday, August 1, 2010

Keeping my day job: Writing about mortality in café: a short though on excess

Many of us have day job. Some feel fortunate enough to have it, the others may say they do it because it pays.

My day job is research. I am nutritionist working on the issues around world hunger, particularly on the issues around child survival. Though the numbers are looking better everyday, I always feel that I am not doing very good job on saving them whenever I look into the figures and statistics on under five mortality.

Here is little venting I did while I was writing small report on diarrhea and zinc.

Writing about mortality in café: a short though on excess

It is mid June, one of the slow weekend. Though drizzled with rain, the air is in full of life. People talking, laughing, tending small children, good food, good coffee. Everything seems peaceful and happy.

And here I am, like a dark spot on the perfectly white wall, a blue corner in this cheerful café. Not because I am bitter and lousy person. Just because what I do for living is not so happy one: I write about mortality and morbidity of the immature ones. Children should be sparkling with life. They are never meant to be lifeless or dieing. But I do write about their death and dieing. I try to think about their survival and small victory along the battle of survival but never the war. But even with all of my optimism, it is quite difficult to stay positive.

Human body is resilient. It can endure unbelievable degree of insult. Fetus will survive and be born from the mother whose BMI (an index that measures how well nourished you are) is way below that anyone can imagine. And against all odds, AKA high infant and child mortality rate, many survive to see the days as adults. But with what cost?

When a child experience nutritional distress, it gears itself into survival mode: every luxury such as intelligence is placed in second. It does not seem to concern about the long term consequences, either. Being alive now is more important than what may happen in ten years later. And quite frankly, I do not see what is the point of being tall or witty or anything later if you don’t survive today. But don’t get me wrong here. The child pays a big price. There are empirical evidences show permanent physiologic changes their small and fragile body goes through. The damage appeared as having very small stature. However, that is telltale sign of many things that went wrong and keep going wrong. The stunted child has higher probability to develop obesity and many other chronic disease. And it does not end their. The curse of childhood undernutrition continues into the second generation and the next and the next. The stunted mother will produce smaller, low birth weight babies who is more likely to die or suffer from chronic disease. If the child is lucky enough to be born in the country with good health care. Most of them do recover and catch up the growth or at least they will not suffer from the chronic condition or permanent damage as many of the infants in developing country do. Imagine a child who will never know what would like to be fully grow. Though they survive, and I cheer their triumphant, still the lingering darkness shadow over them. They may wear it as banner of their victory. They beat the odds. They are still here. But with what cost? My emotions and feelings whenever I calculate excessive death caused by anemia or vitamin A deficiency, being just ‘sad’ seems to almost arrogant.

You may noticed the term ‘excessive’ I used. It is epidemiological term to describe how much risk of mortality one society suffer from the exposure to certain risk factors such as under nutrition. Well, the common sense in English works here. It is excess. It is unnecessary. It is all preventable.

The baby, across from my table, surrounded by her family and their friends, bursts into laughter. Her chicks are rosy and her eyes spark with curiosity and her smile is full of energy: she is everything how a baby should be. Is wanting that for every one outside of this land of excess too much to ask?

In my quite lonely corner, sitting among the papers with lots of gruesome numbers of mortality, I try to imagine hope. Hope for those, who deserve much more than my arrogant sympathy.