When I met five-year-old Fandresena he couldn’t use his right hand to give me a fist bump – a popular greeting similar in meaning to a high five. Two years earlier the cheeky little boy was caught in a house fire that severely burned his right hand.
If Fandresena had lived in the western world, he would have been treated immediately with proper wound care. But when you live among the poorest of the poor in Madagascar, adequate healthcare isn’t always an option. So, Fandresena’s father, Gabriel, took his son to traditional healers. They applied oils to the burns and bandaged the little boy’s hand. Gabriel can still remember his son’s cries of pain.
Slowly the hand began to heal, but the healing came at a price. The skin surrounding the burn began to pull together, contracting. Three of his fingers on his right hand were bent at the joint, unable to move.
Imagine yourself as a five-year-old boy with only one good hand. You can’t play catch. You can’t pick up a pencil or a crayon. You can’t participate in many of the games the other boys play.
Gabriel found help for his son when Mercy Ships arrived in Madagascar. Dr. Tertius Venter, volunteer plastics surgeon, released the little boy’s contracted fingers. Fandresena endured a few weeks of heavy bandaging and dressing changes. After his hand healed sufficiently, the focus shifted to therapy – stretching exercises and lots of encouragement to use his hand.
It was during this time that I decided to introduce Fandresena to a popular American greeting – the fist bump. Most of the time, he would give me a fist bump with his left hand. Then I would ask him to do it with his right. He would concentrate very hard to make his hand into a fist, and then he would bump my fist ever so gently, afraid he would damage his newly repaired hand.
But, little by little, Fandresena’s hand got stronger and gained more flexibility. Finally, the day came when he gave me a fist bump with his right hand! He didn’t even think about it. He just did it! His face lit up when he realized what he had done.
It was a fist bump full of pure joy – courtesy of wonderful volunteers onboard a floating hospital.