I’ve spent a lot of time on the trail this week hiking to and from a nearby hamlet. On Sunday afternoon some friends visited and started telling us about someone who was sick. There was a bit of confusion at first as we were thinking of a child we’d treated earlier in the week, but no this was something else.
A young guy was really sick; a pig had been killed for him, but his sickness was getting worse. Could we please give them some medicine to give him? Sorry no, we don’t give out medicine without seeing the sick person ourselves. Could we please hike over and see him?
I figured out where the guy was and had to tell them, sorry, no can do.
We’ve marked the hamlets closest to us on either side as the furthest away we’ll hike to go and see people. We’ve found that these emergencies tend to come in groups and there have been times we’ve been called on to go to different places days in a row. (And sure enough the day after we were asked to go to a different case in the opposite direction!)
We told them that if they brought the guy up to the hamlet we’d see him. I expected them the next day, but at around 5 pm they were there again saying they’d brought the guy and I should see him. I grabbed a few of our medical things and headed out.
The hamlet was pretty packed when I arrived and I saw the guy laid out on a stretcher they’d made out of sticks and banana leaves. He looked very sick!
We’ve started to figure out that things are serious when a pig gets killed. Later I asked his brother for the story and he said this:
“My brother got sick, and I thought a lot about him. I said my worries out loud, but he didn’t get better. We had a talk sorry. I got a pig and I killed it. We put the food in a pot, ate and my worries rested. He didn’t get better, so I went to get you and I’ve put it in your hands.”
A talk sorry is when any sins that people think may have caused the illness are confessed. The expectation is that confessing the right sin will break the illness’s power and the person will get better. This underlying spiritual understanding of illness is more important than medicine. The medicine won’t be effective if the root cause of the illness isn’t confessed and there isn’t harmony, but if the talk sorry goes well then the medicine will work.
When I examined him and saw he had a fever of 40.3C and a breathing rate of 46 a minute with some other symptoms I was instantly thinking pneumonia. We’re not experts, but we are getting to recognise the common illnesses out here. Consulting with my “where there is no doctor” book I started him on a course of cotrimoxazole.
Unfortunately, he didn’t improve much. I was hiking over daily to take his vitals and after 3 days he still had a fever and had now developed diarrhoea (from the cotrimoxazole probably). I phoned our clinic and asked for advice. Turns out cotrimoxazole wasn’t the best choice, Azithromycin was better (time to annotate the book we’re using!) and I should check for malaria just to rule that out.
We use a little plastic finger stabber thing to get a few drops of blood for the test. I’d not used one myself before, but had seen it used so did my best. Stab… unfortunately, it didn’t work! I didn’t break through the calloused finger skin. “I felt it” he said, “but it didn’t hurt”. Guess I’ll try again… Oh, it’s a one-shot stabber and can’t be reused.
I felt pretty dumb at this point for not bringing a spare but a bush solution was on hand. A shaving razor was on hand for a quick cut to the hand to get a few drops of blood. Certainly not ideal, but it worked! Slashing with a razor is a Kovol way of reducing swelling (removing the bad blood), so they’re experts at making tiny little slashes.
The malaria test was negative, leaving pneumonia as the best diagnosis so we swapped the Cotrimoxizole for Azithromycin. A day later and everything is better already. He’s well on the road to recovery.
I’ve done the 20-minute hike to the village and then back again 5 times this week and the time spent plodding up and down the mountains gives me lots of time to think and process it all. We’re so glad to be able to serve here. Gradually day by day and week by week we’re becoming more and more familiar with what’s going on, we’re learning to communicate and we’re eagerly looking forward to starting literacy classes, and translating and teaching God’s word.
As my leg muscles burned on the climbs for the fifth day this week I was just thinking “it’s worth it”. The medicine I’m able to bring will probably save this guy’s life. In the stories I got from the family they referred to me as “mo”, meaning brother (from outside my clan). We’re starting to belong and soon we’ll be able to share the gospel with them which will tell them how deeply loved and valued they are by God.
If that paragraph doesn’t make too much sense then just know I’m pretty tired and not thinking my best this evening!