Saturday, March 6, 2012
When I started to journal this week I had no idea how difficult it would be...for lack of words as much as lack of time and energy by the end of the day. Which is why I was running a day behind in my journal by Saturday. It took a while to process this experience from day to day...it took time and, for me--solitude, both of which were hard to come by.
I can honestly say that I witnessed suffering this week...and in my own way, endured it--emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. To begin with, the lifestyle of this tribe is difficult...from the harsh, though breath-taking landscape to the cruel weather that challenges the survival of traditionally nomadic cultures--hunger during the dry season, impassable mud during the rainy season, extremes of heat and cold, the wear and tear of hard physical labor--the daily plight of the Masai. There are the rites of birth, puberty, and marriage--and attendant pain that is borne with determination, pride, and courage. And then there is illness that is borne quietly, with a pervasive sense of surrender and resignation...even among the children.
|Some of our patient patients|
The people came to us full of hope, bursting with gratitude, making it all the more difficult to acknowledge the fact that, in many cases, we could not help them at all. In some cases we lacked the necessary services or medications that might have helped. In others, the condition was untreatable even under the best of circumstances (mental retardation resulting from encephalitis, blindness from remote injuries or infections, traumatic amputations, to name a few).
|A cystic mass overlying the anterior fontanelle|
And so, we shared the same sense of helplessness and hopelessness that drew the patients to us in the first place.
Our entire effort might have seemed a great defeat...except for a couple of indisputable victories:
In my medical practice, I rarely observed an infant with severe dehydration. It never got to that point. Children were seen early and treated intravenously without a second thought. I knew what to look for--elevated heart and respiratory rates, dry skin and tongue, a depressed fontanelle, and lethargy--but it wasn't until I saw a three-month old Masai infant with a 2 week history of vomiting and diarrhea that I observed all the classic signs. And it scared me...because we had no way of measuring sodium and potassium levels or monitoring urine output, information that is important in the care of these infants. And we had only oral rehydrating packets with us...packets that required clean water that could be measured and mixed. We had to brainstorm for a few minutes. Eventually we estimated what strength solution we should use and simply mixed it up in a couple of discarded containers for the mother to carry home with her. Then we taught her how to measure and deliver the solution to her baby through a syringe. To our delight, the child eagerly sucked it down without any trouble before we sent her on her way.
In another case, a young boy presented with a limp, the result of cellulitis (infection) involving both legs from festering sores. Both legs were red, hot, and swollen by the time we saw him and provided the antibiotics he needed. God knows what would have become of him otherwise. Sepsis? Osteomyelitis? Death?
Access to timely and competent medical care is considered an imperative in our culture
...though it remains an impossibility in many Third World countries, in remote villages like Lobosoit. Yet, sometimes the simplest intervention can be life-saving. Why would we want anything less for these children than we expect for our own? How can we endure their suffering when we can't bear our own? In places like Lobosoit, compassion is rewarded with heartache...and heartache compels us to care.
Today we joined the construction team for lunch which consisted of a traditional dish, "green banana stew." In case you were wondering, green bananas taste just like potatoes when prepared this way.
We saw almost one hundred patients again today--all of them stoic and solemn, hopeful, and appreciative. Oh, and playful. At the end of the day, while waiting for our ride back to camp, we engaged a few loitering children in games of jump rope and "follow-the-leader". First, work...then play.
Back at the camp, we showered, and took our nice dry laundry in off the lines we had hung. The hunt brought in a water buffalo today...with a 39 inch horn spread. It was butchered on site. You can imagine my reaction when one of the Masai took one of the kidneys, sliced it in half, and popped it into his mouth raw! Euwww! At least ours would be roasted before it appeared on our plates...like the marshmallows we enjoyed around the fire again before heading to bed.
All night long we were serenaded by the night sounds arising from the bush. We awoke during a passing thunderstorm and then slept until daybreak.
Tomorrow is Sunday--though NOT a day of rest--closing out Week One of our adventures in Lobosoit.
"Without suffering there is no compassion,
and without compassion, there is no hope..."
In my next post, I'll tell you how to enjoy Sundays without access to professional sportscasting.