Stipulatons for inclusion: Male – 5 yrs old – Acid Attack – Lausanne, Switzerland
Dhane gripped his father’s hand as tightly as he had done Binimaya’s on that fateful day back in Kathmandu…
He’d cried when his mother had explained that a 5-year old could not go on the Class 10 outing to Godavari. Later, he had clung to Binimaya’s hand as she tried to climb onto the bus and then he had screamed when his mother paulled him away. His big sister was very special to Dhane. She was very clever, he told all his friends, and one day she was going to be a famous botanist – not that Dhane had any idea what a botanist was or did. She was also very pretty and many of the boys a lot older than Dhane – those in her class – were all too aware of this. Gopal and Krishna both had a crush on her, but Bini and her friends laughed this off. How they were to regret this.
Three hours later, while Prem Kumari, Bini and Dhane’s mother, was busy in her small shop, her phone rang. It was Susilla, Bini’s best friend. She was in tears.
“You must go to Patan Hospital immediately; we’re taking Bini there now.”
“What’s happened?” Prem Kumari asked, but the phone had gone dead.
She snatched up her purse and kashtho (shawl), and then, dragging Dhane after her, ran out to find a taxi, only just remembering in time to lock up the shop. Ten minutes’ later they were outside the Emergency Department, but happily Susilla saw them arrive and dashed over.
“Come this way.”
“What’s happened?” she again enquired, quite certain now that Bini was at death’s door.
“The boys threw acid in her face.”
Prem Kumari turned as white as a sheet: she had heard about these attacks and they were all very bad news.
“Gopal and Krishna?”
Prem Kumari groaned, but just then a white-coated doctor arrived and asked if she was Binimaya’s mother. She nodded. Then, putting his arm around her shoulders, he said,
“She’s in here; it looks really bad just now, but the teacher with them was very quick thinking and pushed your daughter’s head into the stream so that the acid was washed off quite quickly. It could have been a lot worse.”
As Prem Kumari caught a glimpse of Bini’s red and blistered face she could not imagine how much worse it could be: she just hoped the doctor was telling her the truth. Summoning all the strength she could muster, her mother smiled at Bini. She squeezed her hand and trying very hard to hold back her tears and not allow her voice to crack, repeated what the doctor had told her. Binimaya attempted to smile back but realised too late how painful that was and let out a strangled cry.
“We’ve just given her some pain medicine: don’t worry, she’ll feel better in a few minutes,” encouraged a pleasant-looking nurse.
Binimaya spent the next three months in hospital. At first, she had dressings two or three times a day to keep the area clean. They were excruciatingly painful as the gauze always seemed to stick to the raw tissues. She used to beg for pain killers and usually they gave them to her. But once the burnt surfaces started to heal, the pain started to subside – and that was when she began to realise the difference this was going to make to her life. The very worst day was the one when she caught sight of her face in a mirror for the first time. That was when she begged for something to end it all, but this time no one gave it to her. The nurses kept telling her that it would slowly improve, but Bini was bright enough to realise that it was never going to heal perfectly. As time passed, the skin healed; it lost much of its red and shiny look, but the right side of her face remained lop-sided due to tethering across her cheek, from the corner of her eyelid to the lip area. One day, the doctor announced that soon she would be able to go home, but Bini was unsure whether this was good news or bad news. All she was sure about, was that she couldn’t face meeting people looking as she did.
“Is there nothing more you can do?” she pleaded.
“Some specialised skin grafting might help but we do not have the facilities here, nor do we have a doctor who has specialised in that kind of operation.”
“Isn’t there anywhere else in Nepal I can go to?”
“I think they may do that kind of operation at Norvic Hospital in Thapathali or perhaps at the centre in Dhobighat.”
That afternoon, when her parents came to visit, Bini was unusually excited.
“The doctor says that maybe an operation might help. He mentioned the Norvic Hospital and a special plastic surgery clinic. He’s not sure but he says it’s worth asking.”
Her father looked at her mother. Her mother looked at her father. They both knew that these were private hospitals and that the charges were very high. Santosh worked in a government office, which by definition meant his salary was not very high. He doubted he could afford the treatment but looking at the expectant and once beautiful face of his oldest daughter, his heart began to break.
A week later, Binimaya was discharged, but before she left the hospital, she had an unexpected visitor. A Swiss nurse, who had been volunteering in Patan, and had heard Bini’s story, came looking for her. In faltering English, which Bini could understand far better than her parents, she explained how she might be able to help her.
“If you can afford to consult a private Nepali plastic surgeon and if he then considers an operation would make a big difference, then I think maybe my brother would be able to help you. He’s a plastic and reconstructive surgeon in my home country, Switzerland. If the doctors here refer you, he will do the surgery free and our family will pay for your air fares.”
And so it was that Bini and her mother found themselves a few weeks later in the Clinique Cecil in Lausanne. Dr Lucien was, as his sister had described, a skilled specialist in aesthetic surgery. The operation was immensely successful, even more so than he had anticipated. The very best day was the one when Bini was allowed to view the results in the mirror for the first time. She smiled – and preened. She had come to terms with the fact that some scarring would always be there, but this was far better than she’d dared to hope. Once again, she could blink properly, and she could smile without her mouth going lop-sided. Her skin was no longer puckered and Dr Lucien had said that with time the scars largely disappear. She was so happy and so thankful.
Almost a year to the day of the acid attack, while they were waiting at Tribhuvan International Airport for the arrival of the Swissair flight from Geneva, Dhane gripped his father’s hand as tightly as he had once done Binimaya’s. But when he spied his mother and sister, he dodged under the barrier and ran inside to greet them. He looked up at Binimaya’s new face and exclaimed,
“Didi (big sister) you look beautiful again.”