Thursday, March 22, 2012

Habari! Hujambo?

Friday, March 2, 2012
Day Five

Habari! Hujambo? Hello! How are you?

As you can see, I've learned a few words in Swahili. I've also mastered a couple of other survival skills:
  • checking outside before stepping out of the tent to avoid the fresh droppings that were deposited on our doorstep over night
  • brushing my teeth with Listerine (I was positive I'd packed toothpaste...somewhere.)
  • applying make-up by the light of an LED flashlight
That accomplished, we gathered for breakfast, discussed plans for the day, and we were headed out to the worksite by 8:30. The "waiting room" was already crowded.

Today my translator was Isaya:


Although he had no medical background he quickly learned to ask patients about their symptoms and, because he was familiar to the villagers, they felt comfortable around him. Among the problems we saw today were the unbiquitous coughs and back pain, as well as a few unfamiliar rashes, urinary tract infections, mastitis, conjunctivitis, and worms. A mother brought her daughter in, blind in one eye because of a thick corneal scar, probably the result of  an infection at birth. Sadly, we had nothing to offer her.

The case of the day though was something of a medical miracle, an older gentleman who, four months earlier, had suffered an "open fracture" of the tibia and fibula in his lower leg...meaning that the bones were so displaced they broke through the skin.

He arrived with a pair of crude crutches. The wound was wrapped in rags. I dreaded uncovering it, expecting to see gangrene by this time, but miraculously, there was no sign of infection. The injury had closed over with a thick scar...although whenever he attempted to bear weight on the leg, he felt the bones shifting...with excruciating pain. Glenn, one of our physical therapists, was so touched by the man's predicament...and survival...that he looked into the cost of an Xray, orthopedic referral in Arusha, and eventual surgery. Literally, a pittance! The team contributed the necessary funds and Glenn made certain the man would receive follow-up care after our departure. It's likely he'll end up with an amputation and a prosthesis which would enable him to walk again without pain.

Our therapists also took an extended period of time with a boy who presented with "leg pain" but actually had mild cerebral palsy with a spastic gait. They taught him some stretching exercises for his tight heel cords and hips. Many thanks to Glenn and Kim for their patience and dedication!

Today we saw over 100 patients in the clinic...and we tended to a couple of team members as of whom tripped on a vine and took a bad tumble, one with an eye infection, a couple of rashes, and one of our builders who suffered with a cervical radiculopathy...meaning severe pain in his neck running all the way down his left arm, not conducive to hammering, sawing, and heavy lifting...which he insisted upon doing against medical advice--mine! You know who you are...

Back at the camp in the afternoon, I sorted and washed dirty clothes (in a bucket), and hung them out to dry. Finally the sun came out and the we were able to enjoy the warmth.

The game hunters brought in an Impala today. It appeared at supper and will grace various dishes over the next few days, including stews and sauces.

But before we gathered for supper one of the village elders was invited to share his story with us, a matter of great pride to him. It was the story of a lion attack he survived...and he had the scars on his leg to prove it. As he was describing the attack, he was laughing...about how the lion had been surrounded, how it paced and growled as it sought a way out of the circle of warriors, and finally made a break for it, attacking as it ran. It was as though he were amused by the lion's antics...even though he nearly lost his leg in the attack. It seems as though pain is borne as an inevitablilty here, something to be expected, tolerated, even celebrated. I wonder what ever became of PTSD among these people.

After supper, we gathered around the fire as usual. This time, though,we roasted marshmallows. Oh, the simple, sweet pleasures we take for granted!

The night sky was hazy but the moon was full, casting an eerie light over the landscape and whatever was lurking there...

I still haven't gotten a glimpse of the Milky Way...stretching in a bright arc from horizon to horizon, the way I remember it from my visit to Zambia a few years ago. Like Mt. Kilimanjaro, I'll be disappointed if I don't get to see it again on this trip. 

It stayed dry all night for the first time since our arrival. Instead, our sleep was interrupted by the night noises...animals baying in the distance, the rustle of branches behind the tent, the footsteps of the warrior checking for nocturnal predators. Even so, one woman was surprised by a hyena behind her tent when she stepped outside to relieve herself! The hunting team had reported cheetahs, giraffes, and water buffalo not far away. Still, I never sensed that we were any real danger. Life was simply carrying on as usual despite our arrival.

We enjoyed another (relatively) quiet night.
"There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle."
--Albert Einstein--
Tomorrow we are promised entertainment by the Masai warriors.
Be still--

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