It’s Ramadan and I’m Being Tested

A. Bennabi
Human Parts
Published in
5 min readApr 3, 2024

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Today is Monday. It’s the first day of Ramadan and my five-year-old son was admitted to the hospital for acute mastoiditis with suspicion of an intracranial infection. Yesterday, if you asked me what all that meant, I would not have known. But now I know. And I know it’s serious.

It began on Thursday with a slight complaint of ear pain. The typical concoction of rest and meds soothed the pain away. We even went on a hike on Friday. His temperature was low, his activity was normal, but there was the ear pain.

By Saturday morning I called the doctor. He said he’ll prescribe us some antibiotics. Great! I thought. It’s a little “extra,” but it’s been almost three days and this is the “good-mom” thing to do.

Saturday continued, and we finished preparing our home in anticipation of Ramadan. With nasheed full blast, we got to work. We scrubbed walls, washed all the house linens, deep cleaned the fridge and filled it with family favorites, we hung up lights and banners and lanterns, we stuffed the felt calendar with a treat for each passing day, and finally, we relished in our kid-perfect Ramadan-ready home while sipping on arguably too much chai.

That night, during my self-inflicted insomnia, I noticed my five year old flinch whenever his ear rubbed against his pillow. I gently placed my fingers behind his ear and he jolted from pain. So naturally, I consulted Dr. Google.

After going down a rabbit hole of ear infection complications, I decided to do the bravely foolish thing and text the doctor—a text, I supposed, was more polite than a frantic middle-of-the-night call for something that was likely nothing.

He told us to go to the emergency room.

The next 24 hours were a whirlwind.

Countless kind nurses; 4 pediatricians; 3 surgeons; an infectious disease specialist; a CT and MRI scan; an anesthesiologist; continuous IV’s with saline drips, pain meds, and antibiotics that he’ll have to be on for a month through a PIC line. And most worrying of all, a surgery still in debate on a 2cm bone that could affect my son’s hearing, balance, and facial nerves…all because of an ear infection.

Right now, I am scared.

We were supposed to go moon sighting yesterday. I was supposed to be cooking our first iftar today. We are supposed to be home.

But instead I am sitting by a hospital bed, holding my sons hand, and praying.

Family and friends keep calling, asking if my son is okay, asking if I am okay, asking how they can help. They’ve already setup a meal train, taken care of my carpools, covered for me at work, volunteered to take my children, and offered to travel to us and hold down the fort while my husband and I are at the hospital.

The care is endless. The love is endless. And the gratitude that comes with it turns every tear of fear into tears of shukr.

I see the ease.

I see my son comfortable. I see him nourished, warm, safe, and endlessly entertained. Every little while the nurses come in with new toys, new markers, and new books. There are magic shows and music shows that visit each room. Not to mention the unfettered access he has to cartoons on a personal bed screen—which my husband and I call the tranquilizer.

We are at a children’s hospital, and I have realized, it takes a uniquely compassionate human to be willing to work here, for we are surrounded by perpetual sadness and kindness.

My son is NPO for now (another word I did not know yesterday), which means he can’t eat until they determine if he needs surgery. Still, they handed us a colorful glossy menu with a long list of foods for him so his meal can be ready should he need it. We chose his favorites: mac n’ cheese, and strawberry jello; and what’s responsible: steamed veggies, soup, and yogurt. The tray has enough food to feed both him and me.

And they even decorated his room for Ramadan.

But why am I sharing all this? This is not a PSA (looking back, there is nothing I could have done differently), and aside from writing this as my own personal way of coping, I feel I need to share this.

Because all I see right now, all I feel right now, as I look onto my small sleeping child on this large hospital bed with wires and lines coming out of him, is gratitude …and guilt. Because I see the ease.

I am a mother and my child is sick. He is sick from such a simple and common condition that went wrong. When I noticed his pain, I called a doctor. I got in a car. Within minutes, I reached an excellent hospital and received the best medical care.

Where is the hardship? I am scared, but all I see is ease.

Because this is what I see and cannot unsee:

It’s the first day of Ramadan and a mother sees her child in pain. It’s only ear pain and he is safe in her lap. She’ll monitor the pain and hope it doesn’t get worse. She doesn’t have medicine to mute the pain, but again, it’s only ear pain.

As the night progresses her son’s pain will get worse. She won’t have a doctor to call, so she’ll try to keep him warm with whatever blankets she can find. She’ll try to keep him hydrated with whatever potable water she can find. She’ll try to give him food with whatever scraps she can find.

But she won’t find any. And she won’t find help.

The nearest hospital is under siege.

Whatever medicine can be found is being used for the burns, the lost limbs, the missing eyes.

Her son has ear pain and a low grade fever. And there is no medicine. Not for the burns. Not for the lost limbs. Not for the missing eyes.

She does not know the infection is spreading past the middle ear, and into the mastoid bone. There is no CT scan to show her that. She does not know the infection is spreading beyond the mastoid bone and into the cranium. There is no MRI to show her that. She does not know that as it spreads, it will eventually form an abscess in the brain, her son will have seizures, sepsis, and die.

Her son has ear pain, and she considers herself blessed it’s not worse.

And when it does get worse, the only medicine she has is the medicine of the heart. It is Allah.

After all, that is the strongest medicine anyone can have.

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A. Bennabi
Human Parts

published in McSweeny’s Internet Tendency; Anchor Magazine | recipient of the 2018 SCBWI Emerging Voices Award