Tuesday, March 27, 2012

We Saw It All

Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Day Nine

The day dawned under a hazy sun, warmer than it has been. The construction team left camp early to take advantage of the cool morning air...and because they were worried that time would run out before they could raise all the trusses for the roof over the school building, their goal for this trip.

Making progress
That gave the medical team a few minutes to reflect on our experience and to share some of our thoughts about the work we have accomplished and the problems we have encountered...so breakfast ran a little long. Even so, we had to wait for the translators to arrive before we began seeing patients. And again, it was a joy to see the smiles on the villagers' faces when we arrived to open the clinic.

The first order of business was to dispose of a baby bat we found resting on one of the benches when we walked in.

Among the patients we saw today, several stood out. The first was an eleven-year old boy complaining of "leg pain" when what he had was mild cerebral palsy, with a spastic gait, ankle clonus, and joint contractures. We decided that the best management for him was a program of stretching exercises for his tight heel cords and hips. Our physical therapists worked patiently with him for almost an hour, and even drew pictures for him, until he was able to demonstrate the proper technique. He seemed frustrated at first, but left with his drawings in hand and a smile on his face.

We saw a baby with a large cystic mass overlying the anterior fontanel. Except for its appearance, it was causing no symptoms. There was nothing we could do but refer her to a specialist in Arusha.

I also saw a young man with a laceration on his forehead, sustained in a fight the day before. Dried blood still covered his face. I simply cleaned him up, dressed the wound, and gave him a tetanus booster. Boys will be boys.

Next was a developmentally delayed two year-old who was not yet walking or talking, presumably the result of a febrile illness at five months of age. When I suggested that he might have had encephalitis, his mother remembered the word. It turned out that she'd been to numerous doctors seeking help for her child to no avail...nor could we offer any hope to her.

Finally, there was a timid thirteen year-old girl with symptoms of a yeast infection, the result of having been treated with antibiotics a month earlier for G.C. and syphillis. I guess you could say, "We saw it all." Unfortunately.

It seemed as though the patients with the most serious problems were the ones we could help the least. This sounds counterintuitive given the superior medical care we take for granted in the West. In fact, it sounds downright counterproductive...until you realize that the vast majority of the patients we saw in Africa suffered from illnesses that were easily and effectively treated...if only the people had access to basic health care.

Back at camp, two surprises awaited us. First, we were treated to the performance of a traditional Maasai warrior dance, the "jumping dance", which can go on for hours. It is a male seduction dance challenging the strength and stamina of the young men to jump the highest in order to win the favor of a woman.

You can view a version of the dance on YouTube (type in "Maasai jumping dance").

After supper, we gathered around the fire and Elias, our host in Lobosoit, shared his story with the group. Elias was born with a birth defect. He is missing his right forearm and hand.

This is a problem in Africa because the right hand is considered to be the "clean" hand, used for eating and greeting. The left hand is considered to be "dirty"...and that is all Elias has. His story is that of a man struggling to prove himself capable of working and therefore, worthy of a wife. At an early age, he was somehow empowered to overcome his shame and refused to hide his deformity. He sought the humblest jobs and gradually worked his way up by demonstrating his ability and intellect. His family made sure he was educated in Arusha, and in church, his deep, resonating voice became a powerful tool as he turned to teaching.

Nevertheless, he was rejected over and over again by the women he wooed, until he abandonned the notion of marriage and family altogether. He was teaching a class when he met Happiness, the woman he would eventually marry. He wrote her a note inviting her to see him but then left to return to his assignment in his village...and simply dropped the idea of ever seeing her again. Then, one day, a note arrived from her asking where he had gone and why he'd forgotten her. So began an arduous courtship, requiring him to make the 40 km. bike ride in order to see her regularly...until they were married.

Elias is now a strong advocate for the church and community, a liason between the village and international visitors, because of his fluent command of several languages. He overcame not only a personal disability, but a cultural handicap, in order to become a successful community leader, husband and father.

Our closing devotions that night included recitation of our favorite lines from scripture. I offered mine, "Be still and know that I am God," which launched the group into a hymn by that title. And then...one of the team members spoke in tongues. At first I thought he was reciting a prayer in Swahili...until it occurred to me what was happening. This is a gift I do not fully understand...except to say that the words were fluent and beautiful as they came forth.

Settling down for the night was difficult. We had just one more day of clinic and then we would be finished! On Thursday we planned to clean up, and to sort out and organize all the meds and supplies we were leaving behind for Dr. Boniface. On Friday, we planned to break camp and move on into the Tarangire National Park for a day on Safari before heading home...even though there is so much more we could do here...so much left undone.

This is when the count down began and mixed emotions emerged--the desire to get home to friends and family mingled with reluctance to leave...tempered with the hope...the promise, actually...of returning again one day.

"A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward
a human being who affectionately waits for him,
or to an unfinished work,
will never be able to throw away his life.
  He knows the "why" for his existence,
and will be able to bear almost any "how."
--Viktor Frankl--
In my next post I'll tell you about our last day of clinic and the ritual goat slaying.
Be still,

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