Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The bells toll for Nicuta

Forty years ago, aunt Nicuta found a two month old baby discarded on a concrete slab at the farmer's market. It was late October, harvest time for grapes, apples, pears, quinces, and plums. She was swaddled in a dirty blanket that had seen better days. The stench of urine was overpowering - the cloth diapers must have been soaked. Nicuta asked about the baby's mother and an elderly man pointed to a young, pregnant peasant woman who was selling apples. She asked her gently about the name of the baby who was wailing pitifully - it had been crying for hours. It was very cold outside and she was very wet. The mother said she did not have a name yet, she was only two months old and she did not have time to name her, there were two others at home and one on the way. Nicuta approached her again and asked if she had considered adoption.

Aunt Nicuta could not have children of her own and longed to raise a baby. She and her husband Nicu were comfortable by Romanian standards, had a little house in the village, a small plot of land, a cow, a pig, chicken, a cat, a dog, and some money in the bank. She was a gifted weaver, made beautiful wool rugs and tapestries. She was certainly passed the age of caring for babies, but something tugged at her heart about this yet unnamed little girl. Nicuta felt that the child deserved a better life and she was just the woman to provide a happy home. She was told no but was undeterred.

She returned the second day to find the woman selling apples and ignoring the crying baby while tending to her stall of apples. She was oblivious to the needs of the child. She watched her for hours. The baby was never diapered, fed, or given milk the entire time. The tiny baby was so malnourished that her face was transparently ghostly white, with blue veins running across. Again, she was told no.

On the third day, Nicuta returned with a policeman and a representative of the local orphanage. Under communism, there were plenty orphanages for unwanted and abused children, as well as for those who truly did not have any parents or were abandoned because they were imperfect. My aunt, mom's oldest sister, wanted the baby to be taken to a proper home even though it might not have been hers. Questions were asked and the woman was invited to the police precinct the next day. Aunt Nicuta had to return home to Tirgsor that day. She was happy that she could help a neglected child. She left her address in case the police wanted to ask more questions.

She went home but the image of the baby was burned into her brain and could not sleep well the following nights. She told us about it, she wished she could have taken her home. She stopped talking about the incident but it remained in the back of her mind. She could not shake the feeling that she should have done more.

Two weeks later, a village policeman knocked on the door and told her that the baby she saw in Transylvania at the farmer's market was now under the custody of the state, and, if she was interested, she could apply for adoption. The mother had willingly given the baby up to the orphanage since she was overwhelmed and unable to care for it emotionally and financially. Aunt Nicuta could not say "yes" fast enough.

An attorney drew up the paperwork and before the ink was even dry, uncle Nicu and aunt Nicuta were back on the train on their way to Transylvania, to claim the baby from the orphanage. She was reunited with a slightly warmer baby but still very much underweight and malnourished. She had brought beautiful embroidered little hats, clothes, and blankets that she had sewn with her own hands years ago in expectation of a pregnancy of her own. The little baby was lost in so much lace and wild eyed from all the sudden attention, cuddling and forehead kissing. They named her Monica before they left the orphanage. She was to be baptized in two months when her overall health and weight had improved. A government worker was to supervise her mothering skills every day for the next six months to ensure the welfare of the child. The visits were impromptu and quite disruptive to their lives.

Monica grew up like a little princess, the apple of her parents eyes. She was sent to dental school and became a dental prosthesis technician. She married and had her own two children. She never searched for her biological mother, she always said Nicuta was her mom. Her siblings, after extensive search, found her recently, but, aside from meeting them, she had no interest to pursue a familial bond. She was totally devoted to her adoptive mom and dad. Nicu died a few years ago, he was partially deaf and blind but Monica and her husband took care of him until the end. He was the gentlest man I have ever met.

Two weeks ago, Nicuta, now 84 years old, with limited mobility from arthritis but otherwise healthy, was placed outside in the sun by her nurse who promised to return in 45 minutes to take her back into the house. Four and half hours later, when the nurse finally returned, without water and shade, my loving aunt had died of sun stroke. She had tried to get her walker which was leaning against the wall, but it was too far for her to reach. There was nobody around to ask for help, Monica and her husband were at work. She died in agony, alone.

The church bells toll for the beautiful life of Nicuta who died from socialized medicine nursing care neglect and abuse. Will the nurse be punished? No, human life has no value under socialized medicine. She was worth everything to us, her family, and especially to her loving and devoted daughter, Monica.

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