Friday, September 13, 2013

compassion and generosity connect

Thursday dawned cloudy and cold with a gusty wind, although the day eventually turned sunny and hot with a light breeze. After a restless night (jet lag?) I was up before sunrise, and ready to work. The first order of business was loading meds and supplies into a truck, getting them to the clinic (aka. tent), and organizing the duka la dawa (pharmacy). The sheets were flapping in the wind inside the tent, and it was cold while we set up, but before long the first patients appeared on the path.

One of the greatest things about returning to Loborsoit was reconnecting with our friends from last year. I was especially happy to see my translator, Isaya, again.

He speaks fluent English, and does a wonderful job of history taking despite the fact that he has no medical background. He also knows everyone in the village so they trust him, even with personal questions. He made my job much easier.

We were also privileged to see a couple of the patients we helped last year. Who can forget Samuel? He came in last year with an open fracture of the right tibia/fibula that had been festering for four months! I remember thinking I would see gangrene when I removed the rags from his leg. Instead, the wound was scarred and relatively clean, even though the bones still shifted painfully with every step. We arranged for his hospitalization and treatment, and he returned to thank us.

A child we referred for treatment of a traumatic injury to the eye returned with her father to say, "Thank you." She was seeing well and was at the top of her class in school.

When I say that we referred these patients, what I mean is that Christian Life Assembly made the arrangements and then covered all of their expenses...without which none of them would have received care. This is more than a kindness. When compassion and generosity connect, humanity is elevated a my humble opinion.

I remember seeing a relentless parade of villagers complaining of back pain, joint pain, cough, and conjuctivitis last year. This year was different. Right from the start we saw patients with urgent, challenging problems that needed immediate attention. Among them were:
  • a pregnant patient with symptoms of an STD, a difficult problem because there was no way to test for it, and the antibiotics we use to treat STDs are contraindicated in pregnancy 
  • an elderly man with a huge inguinal hernia that needed surgery
  • a baby with third degree burns of the wrist and hand after rolling into the family's cook fire

I cannot imagine the pain and suffering these people endure because they have no choice in the matter. They often rely on "traditional medicine" dispensed by a healer in the village because they can't get to a hospital and they have no way to pay for it if they could. We give them five days of our time, when they need 365 days of our care and attention...all day, every day. 

Today alone, we saw 158 patients. Our providers included nurse practitioner Diane Whitcomb, Dr. Boniface (the African doctor in residence), me, and Dr. Bill McLaughlin, an ophthalmologist/retinal surgeon who fielded most of the eye problems for us. 

Bill and one of his grateful patients with a new pair of glasses.

In Loborsoit the only available diagnostic tools are our eyes, our ears, and our hands. In a glance, we diagnose anemia. In a heartbeat, we identify the murmur. With a gentle touch, we find the sore spot. The people come filled with hope, trust, and gratitude. We have no choice but to think and to act outside of the box...doing the best we can where we are, with what we have, with what we know. And that seems to be the perfect combination.

At the end of the day, we loaded everything back into the truck and headed back to camp. I enjoyed a warm shower compliments of our hard working staff, who heated the water for our showers over a wood fire. 

I will never take running water or flushing toilets for granted again!

Supper tonight included pumpkin soup, pasta with a wonderful meat sauce, salad, papaya, and bite-sized samples of wildebeest liver (yuck) and meat...thanks to another successful hunt.

We spent the evening around a roaring campfire while Elias and several of the elders shared stories about Maasai traditions. At the tender age of four, children begin to herd cattle and goats. It is not unusual to see a child, all alone out in the vast empty grassland, driving a herd of cattle from place to place all day long, every day.

The role of women in the community is to care for the family, and to maintain the dwelling, tending the cook fir, and patching the walls. Just fetching water can take hours, standing in long lines at the nearest well.

Back when tribal conflict was rampant and lions roamed the area, the men trained as warriors to protect the village and their herds. They stood guard against intruding lions and elephants day and night and were seldom home. Once a year many of them still participate in a "strengthening" ritual which involves walking far into the bush for 48 days, eating only the meat they kill, and drinking what is referred to as "a traditional medicine"...but sounds an awful lot like a hallucinogen/stimulant. They return to the village lean and strong to take up their guard again. Nowadays, the men still hunt but more and more of them plant crops, or take chances on small business ventures.

Story telling ended with s'mores, a special treat for Talek who loved them last year. The smile on his face when he saw what we were making was were my comfy cot and cozy tent at the end of the day.     
"A generous heart, kind words,
and a life of service and compassion
are the things that renew humanity."
 Tomorrow...a new day of fun and adventure dawns early.

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