Dear ____ (yes you),
Turning my head to avoid breathing in the direction of the cough – not like it mattered, if they had TB my lungs would be full of the airborne bacteria by now – I sipped my hot tea. Kenyans sure like their tea, I thought. They like it hot and brimming with sugar and they like it often. Sometimes from tea leaves and sometimes powdered chocolate with an added heaping scoop of sugar. ‘Tea.’ More of a customary social norm than an accurate description of what’s in the cup.
In the back of my mind I reminded myself of the things that can’t be spread sharing dishes; also, the journey through the bush I’d soon be making without a headlamp and the nice lady who I’d passed on the way and promised I’d have tea with on the return. Inside the mud hut it was dark, lit by fire, the smokey aura consumed gradually by inky blackness in each corner away from the glowing embers.
All the wrong kids are coughing, I thought. I clenched the empty container I’d be taking to the lab in the morning and waited for the right one to arch her head back. She couldn’t be trusted with the container. It needed to remain sterile and there was no way the blind girl could understand how to not cross contaminate the specimen. Instead, with the cup open in my hands and the scalding drink on the bench, I could watch her and spring into action at the slightest indication of a sneeze. While inches away from my face a group of small goobery-grinning siblings stared with keen interest and breathed hot through open mouths, I related simple and silly observations understood by no one and appreciated by only myself, tongue firmly in cheek.
In the other mud hut outside, a little boy slept with a swollen wrist. At least that’s what I could determine from the mother, so after sealing the sputum inside the container and sanitizing my hands, I went to see him, not thinking much about an apparent minor bruise or sprain from a fall. “I’m not a doctor, why do they always think I’m a doctor?” I thought with a bounce in my step. It’s funny that I’m viewed here as a kind of paramedic when really the only thing I can prescribe is a Tylenol and the only treatment I can administer is a basic Polysporin band-aid combo. Maybe a sweet for a fever. I’m a shmuck, it’s funny.
I looked at the boy lying on the dry-stretched goat hide and was surprised he could be asleep. Aside from the uncomfortably hot and claustrophobic air quality that formed beads of sweat on my face, he appeared quite content, sleeping next to 2 newborn kittens, a busted s-shaped arm slung over his belly. Nope, not a band-aid kinda fix.
“This isn’t just a sprain, this is serious,” I said to a visiting older boy from another family. “He needs a doctor.”
He translated what the mother said in response. “She says, the Maasai healer can fix this. He is very trained and can bend it and make it straight.”
“No,” I said. “He needs to go to a hospital and receive an X-ray. No Maasai healer can see the bones and it’s very important to have it realigned properly. The boy’s bones are growing and if his arm doesn’t heal properly, it can be permanently disfigured. It can become useless, you understand?”
The mother was very skeptical and said to just see what the Maasai doctor could do. I tried explaining all the reasons why it’d just be better to have a medical professional handle the arm, and how happy I’d be to take the boy to a clinic. I was going to the clinic’s lab anyways in the morning to deliver the sputum sample. There was really no problem: hakuna matata. I insisted.
Soon a couple older Maasai men entered from the night, draped in purple blankets and holding long smooth walking sticks, their stretched ears dangling as they shone lights at the boy who only stirred slightly in the commotion. A tough kid, I thought.
They appeared to council the mother on what to do and soon it was translated to me how the elders believed the Maasai healer could fix it fine and to not worry about the hospital. Even the older boy translating seemed to agree with their advice. I tried to convey how important having a professional handle the injury was and how there was no good reason to not let me take the boy and his mother early in the morning – there was nothing to lose for them. I insisted and they agreed to allow me if the Maasai healer deemed it necessary, spouting great confidence in his practice. “He’s very good.” It was getting late.
I was careful not to overturn the sealed sputum sample as I hiked through the bush down the rocks, back over a ridge and through bushy and spiky red-earthed fields under the moonless sky. I phoned to arrange for an off-road vehicle to come from the town over the mountain and pick us up at the injured boy’s home and had tea with the lady and her husband I’d promised, being careful not to overturn the sample and ruin it.
Laying in bed later I wished the boy would sleep though the night without a single stir and soon the wish was granted upon myself.
At 6:00 AM the sky began poking holes through the ceiling, morphing from dusky blue to a yellowish white and I prepared myself to walk back. Upon arriving, stalking the blind girl and discreetly collecting sample number two without her ever knowing, the boy, dirty, emerged in nothing but a sheet and disappeared fearfully back into his hut.
The sun was up and it was already getting hot when my driver arrived with a flat tire. I prodded to no avail that the boy come with me and to let me see his hand. The mother seemed uncertain about them joining us and my driver attempted to convince her before giving up and attending to the tire while she disappeared somewhere. I felt myself becoming frustrated not understanding her thought process so resolved to go with the flow.
In time, as I played with the other pant-less kids and the blind girl listened, the boy with the broken arm made his way out and I saw his wrist bound floppily in a ripped cloth over a piece of old cardboard. I could see the wrist had indeed been sloppily straitened by someone in the night. Keeping my persona jovial and in good spirits, I bribed the kid with the promise of sweets. The mother and a couple Maasai men who stopped by to join the party clearly expressed their satisfaction with the condition of the wrist but through the broken Swahili she understands, my driver and I and the lady I’d had tea with the previous night successfully persuaded them to come along. If for nothing else, to simply humour me. They dressed in their best clothes and his wrist flopped unnaturally climbing inside the vehicle.
Bumping over the land and down the rocky hill, we made our way to the dirt road leading to town; the mother and son chewing sweets and I conversing with the driver who lately I’ve been using often for these kinds of things. We met a young man, a friend of mine and cousin of the young boy (I’m convinced all Maasai are cousins) to come translate and hopefully spare me hassling with Mazoongo hospital rates.
Dealing with hospitals and clinics more and more as different situations like this one arise, I’m better understanding the confusing processes involved in one recieving actual treatment. The best clinics are private and if you need anything beyond a doctor, you best detour the ambulance along the way to the ER and pick it up yourself. Whether you’ve been shot or you’re feeling like a shot of something nice, you won’t have any problems picking up your morphine supply at a pharmacist with or without prescription. Save yourself the trouble of losing your place in line and pick up the medicine or stichtes you’ll need before arriving to the clinic.
Many people waited for their X-ray and we let a middle-aged lady who’d left her place and missed her call go ahead of us. To pass the time and lighten the mood I picked up some juice boxes and sweet bread from a store and bananas from a lady selling them for 10 cents each. The driver slept in the Land Rover and when we were up for the X-ray, some man forcefully limped past us on the shoulders of his support crew.
“Excuse me, but this boy’s been waiting here a long time, he was next up,” I said to a member of the posse while others laid the construction labourer down on the X-ray table.
“Yes ok, but he has accident,” he said.
“Well we all have accidents here,” I said, “but nobody’s pushing in front, we’re each waiting for our turn because that’s fair.” It was like explaining to the kids at school who all want me to mark their math exercises first and so fight, stacking and restacking their books on-top of one another’s, thinking that’ll get theirs marked first.
“But he has an accident,” the man stated.
I looked at the stubbed toe as they rolled up his pants. “You think this boy broke his arm on purpose? Look at it. Sawa? We all have accidents. You should wait your turn, you see?”
“Yes I can see, but you see, I have paid allot of my money to bring this man here. He has just been having an accident across the road.” He was very passionate about having spent the money.
“Yeah you’ve paid and so have I and everybody else waiting for their turn; we’re in the same situation only we’re all waiting and being fair while you’re just going ahead in front of everyone. This boy broke his arm yesterday and has traveled far and it’s still untreated. Look at it.”
The man pointed to his comrade in the X-ray room stating, “but he is hurt, we’ve had an accident.”
They took awhile in the room and I hoped all the spectators didn’t get doused with too much radiation. When the injured guy hopped out on one foot he met another large cheering squad at the front, apparently friends and family. Seemed like a nice gesture on their part, must be one hell of a guy or foot. Maybe he’s a football star, I thought, with a foot worth a million shillings and his foot pays the livelihoods of all these people who came to ensure his big toe and their futures were intact…or maybe it really was just a construction accident and the bloke had allot of good friends who cared about his well-being. I don’t know. But as he skipped away balancing on the shoulders of his posse I smiled and felt happy for the support he was receiving and wished him a speedy recovery.
The boy’s X-ray exposed the handiwork of the Maasai doctor, which I later learned had cost the family a goat. The bones weren’t properly aligned, we could all clearly see, and the doctor explained they could not fuse in their present state but would have to be properly fixed into correct placement.
We took the X-ray to another hospital where they could actually do something about it, and after paying more and leaving to get some drugs and coming back and administering the pain drugs, a doctor studied the photo some more, decided whether or not they were qualified to do anything, and with a yank and a series of cracks and maybe one mild whimper and tear from the boy, the arm was wrapped and cast. Tough kid.
The boy wiped his face, impressed with his new bionic powers and we bumped our way back to their mud huts with bags full from the market. The family is in poor health and the blind girl very sick so I bring them fresh nutritious food a couple times a week when I can in order to boost her immunity for eye surgery in May.
I handed the bags over and fist-pounded the boy’s stump, and as she chewed on a sweet I hoped the blind girl’s sputum sample would be analyzed and come back negative. And that everyone could just drink more milk. It was too bad they had one less goat now.
Medical treatment isn’t free. Help me accomplish my fundraiser goals and help a blind girl receive the treatment that could restore her vision. Please visit http://www.gofundme.com/LoveKenya?utm_medium=wdgt while there’s time.