We have tried to help our Filipino friends as much as possible during our two-plus year stay, and one ongoing effort is about an adorable young boy with a pellet in his ear.
I met Narbin, 6, on the way to the doctor. I took him and his mother to the same ear, nose, and throat specialist I’d taken my husband to see for something stuck in his throat more than a year prior. Her office is on Boracay Island.
On the ferry ride from the mainland, Narbin had weary, watchful eyes over his pandemic face mask. He took everything in – the ferry crew, the seating arrangements with numbers for social distancing, what I was doing and where I was looking. I gave him a small, cheap superhero figurine toy. I’d hoped to gain his trust quickly. I knew the doctor would poke around inside his ear and he wouldn’t like it. I’d likely be remembered as the Can’aa (white, American woman) who took him to the torture chamber on Boracay.
Narbin somehow got a small toy pellet lodged in his ear a couple of years earlier. His parents took him to the local hospital back then, but the doctor couldn’t remove it without anesthesia. The parents didn’t want to put their young child under, so the only other option was to wait until he was older and might listen to adults tell him to “hold still” during extraction efforts.
Fast forward a few years. Narbin’s dad approached Theo for help. The man explained the situation. Was there any financial help we could give for the boy to see a doctor? Yes. Earth Vagabonds to the rescue – again!
It was arranged I’d go with Narbin and his mom to the specialist.
The doctor tried everything to get out the tiny piece of plastic. She used methods to ‘wash’ it out, she used clamps, she used prodding instruments.
Narbin kept his cool through those efforts, sitting on his mom’s lap, with his head tilted, but he kept shrugging to protect his ear – a natural self-preservation move.
However, the doctor declared she couldn’t get a good grip on the pellet because he kept shrugging, and she chastised Narbin’s mom for not holding him still enough, and for not scolding her son to stay motionless. Eventually, the doctor formed a new plan: restraint.
First, a break. We went to a playground on the doctor’s property, and I bought Narbin some candy. Finally, some smiles from the adorable boy!
When we returned to the office, an off-duty police officer introduced himself and told Narbin he was there to help – that he would be wrapped in a blanket for his comfort, and so the doctor could get the pellet out. I tried to bribe him with more candy. The doctor told him he would need his hearing saved to get a wife.
Everyone tried to soothe the boy and get him into position. Narbin wasn’t having it. He punched his mom on the cheek with his small 6-year-old fist. She was devastated.
So the cop and other adults grabbed him and wrapped him, and wrestled him down onto the exam table. His mom had to look away as the doctor again tried to extract the pellet.
The child screamed as if he was having his beating heart removed while fully conscious. I will never forget the horrific screams. I glanced back out into the waiting room, and three women were aghast – all three ladies with hands over the mouths.
The doctor said she was sooooo close! But she gave up before the boy started bleeding. Children’s ear canals are exceptionally sensitive, she explained. And so she wrote prescriptions for ear drops to loosen the pellet (which had skin grown onto one side) and medicine to prevent infection.
We were to come back in one week.
The next week, Theo came with us. Theo is a goofball with kids, and the plan was to distract our young friend from the serious business at hand.
Theo was unable to relax Narbin with his antics. He ended up trying to hold Narbin down with other adults. He said the tiny kid gave him a workout – the boy struggled that much!
After several unsuccessful tries, the doctor called me over to look. The pellet had freed from ear canal skin, but it was too big to be pulled out. There was no room for the instrument to reach in.
New plan. The boy’s ear could be severed off, and the pellet removed, and the ear stitched back on. Surgery. Big, big bills, and the poor family was not registered with the Philippine health insurance – PhilHealth.
The kind doctor wouldn’t even take payment the second time.
This was all back in November and early December. Since then, we have waited while goodhearted local Filipinos work to get the family some health insurance coverage, and find a doctor in Kalibo who will do this surgery.
Today: we hope to help Narbin before we leave. We can cover the difference on what the national health insurance will not cover, along with medicine and travel costs for his parents to get the family to Kalibo. The surgery must be done within the coming several months to ensure Narbin’s hearing is saved.
Putting a child under anesthesia is not something we want to pay for. God forbid something goes wrong, we don’t want that responsibility. Also, this family is entitled to health care — they just have to register.
Narbin’s family is poor. They live in a nipa hut in Malay, they don’t have college degrees. But they sure do have an adorable, brave young son and we hope we can help save the hearing in his right ear.
If the surgery is done relatively soon, there’s a good chance this story will have a happy ending. Stay tuned.
As always, be grateful and generous – and happy trails! More Serenity!
Other charitable efforts by Earth Vagabonds include electric and water service to a remote Ati village in Malay, Aklan, Philippines. Visit the special Ati page to read those stories.