The recorded ramblings of an unschooled writer, aspiring biologist, amateur equestrian, ardent bookworm, avid music appreciator, increasingly addicted runner and college student spending the summer in Ely, MN.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pika x-ray picha...

November 2, 2009

So, I didn’t mention it in yesterday’s blog, but last night I was sitting around the camp fire with some friends chatting away and it began to rain a little bit. I realized that I’d left my laptop out to charge off the generator, so I leapt up from my camp stool and sprinted across the field to go get it, tripping rather spectacularly on one of the staked in ropes of the kitchen tent as I went. I fell down, but caught myself with my left arm. My elbow hurt terribly at the time and I couldn’t quite straighten it all the way or rotate the lower portion of my arm, but I figured that I’d just tweaked a nerve or something and it would be all better after a night of sleep, so I typed up my blog entry (mostly one handed) and then went to sleep.

According to my wonderful tent mate, I then proceeded to whimper in my sleep all through the night, despite my best efforts to remain silent everytime I was woken up in large amounts of pain by the sounds of the other wanifunzi having a drunken party and the tree hyraxes shrieking. In fact, Kai, whose tent was nearby informed me later in the morning that he thought the noises I was making belonged to a young, dying animal.I stumbled out to tell my running buddies I wouldn’t be going with them after all. Laila was out by the fire looking rather pale and sick. Lisa Clifton came out to wish us a good morning run and quickly determined that something was amiss. Within moments she was examining my range of motion and helping Laila find a bush to vomit in. Laila felt much better after clearing the contents of her stomach, but unfortunately I couldn’t puke away the elbow pain. Stopping this entry for tonight as one handed tying is too irritating – will continue when I return from my Maasai homestay.

Back from the homestay, so here goes…

I went back to my tent and tried to get dressed for the day, but got stuck inside of my T-shirt because it was too painful to pull it off over my elbow and then woke up Rachel (and apparently almost everyone else in camp too) by telling her that she would have to take off my shirt for me. She did and luckily I was able to manage dressing the rest of the way one handed while she and Lisa the wanifunzi devised a sling for me out of one of Rachel’s kangas that says “Don’t Be Jealous, I Am The Number One Wife” on it in Kiswahili.

Mwalimu Lisa decided that I needed to stop by the hospital on the way to our next camp site as my elbow’s condition reminded her of a time when Mara had hurt her elbow has a small child by displacing one of the major tendons, which is referred to has “nurse maid’s elbow”, and the dr. was able to fix it simply by grabbing her upper and lower arm and sort of forcing it back into place.

We packed up in camp, which meant that I just kind of wadded things up with one hand and shoved them into my back pack and then watched Rachel take down our tent, laundry line, roll sleeping bags and pads and then carry all of our stuff to the trucks.

I managed to crawl into the truck one handed, somehow and though in a great deal of pain was able to zone out with my i-Pod fairly well. I was listening to all of the different music that I like to listen to when riding my horse and some of my other favorite horses like Aspen and Venture, so I just kind of day dreamed about ponies and tried not to bang my arm on the side of the truck. My eyes were closed, but Rachel watched out for me again and let me know anytime there were perilous acacia branches!

Eventually we made it to the hospital and I went in with a whole crowd of wazungu. We decided that so many wazungu was overwhelming, so it ended up that Mwalimu Lisa stayed with me to help me be assertive enough in explaining how I felt and what I needed, Simon stayed to translate for the Tazanian doctor and Beto stayed to help translate for the Belgian doctor who didn’t speak English terribly well. Micheal was waiting nearby in case he needed to speak Italian to the doctor from Northern Italy. I also more or less demanded that Rachel stay with me – simply because I’m a wimp and needed the moral support.

We all stood around and waited for a while, except for me because they made me sit down on a bench to wait, which seemed silly because my legs were perfectly fine. In a weird case of reverse racism that made me really uncomfortable (and for which I still feel really bad about), I was very obviously moved way up in the “queue” of waiting patients and was seen by a doctor quite quickly.

It made me think about the fact that the same thing happens at home too, though maybe on a less obvious scale. I get so much just from being a young, white, middle class American that I take for granted, like the ability go to the doctor when I am hurt or sick. Or the opportunity to receive an amazing education. Or even to go on a trip like this one. Anyways, I won’t dwell on those thoughts any longer right now as this has been a reoccurring theme for me on this adventure, and one I am sure I will continue to wrestle with in the future.

The Tanzanian hospital was spartan, but quite clean, with concrete floors, a mis matched blue and white paint job and well worn wooden benches, desks and chairs. It had a large open courtyard in the center where brightly clad Maasai patients and their friends and family sat out in the grass. There was even a donkey hanging out in the courtyard!

The first doctor I saw was the Tanzanian doctor, Dr. Liso. I was essentially mute at this point in the time as I’d kind of reached the point where the pain had stopped making me giddy and was just making me want to shut down and just internalize everything, to curl up and sleep so I wouldn’t have to cry. Lisa explained what had happened, with me chiming in when absolutely necessary and then explained what she thought might be the problem, explaining that her daughter had once suffered a very similar injury. Thus began the many rude and condescending remarks the doctor directed at Lisa, telling her that she wasn’t a nurse and that it is a common mistake for mothers and women in general to think that just because something is wrong with one child then something must be wrong with them all. To her extreme credit, she simply smiled at him and tried again.

After wrenching my arm this way and that, while I bit my lip as hard as I could while Rachel kept a comforting hand on my shoulder and helped me remove and replace the front zip fleece jacket I had borrowed from her as necessary (my pullover was too difficult to manage with the sling), Dr. Liso finally decided that I needed to have an x-ray taken to make sure that nothing was broken. I thought this was silly as I felt that if something was broken, I probably would have realized this sooner and would have been in a great deal more pain. After all, I hadn’t even cried yet, and I’m just about the world’s biggest wimp, especially when it comes to doctors and hospitals!

We all set off to the x-ray room, labeled with a large yellow sign that read Picha X-Ray” in black lettering. The sight of the technician reading a book titled “The Basics Of Sonogram and X-Ray Techniques” didn’t really inspire in me any confidence in his abilities, a feeling further confirmed by the fact that as I stood in the cold, dark room, hunched over an ancient x-ray machine, he insisted on attempting to make my arm straighten out all the way, which it couldn’t! Lisa asked if there was a lead vest or something I should be wearing to cover the rest of my body. He just looked at her like she was crazy and told her that it was only necessary if the x-rays were going to be of my legs. He took two “pichas” and by the time he set my arm for the second, grabbing above and below my very swollen elbow and forcing my arm as straight as he could, I was crying.

I was so embarrassed. I’d done something so trivial and stupid, just tripped over a tent rope and now all of the other students were out waiting in the trucks doing nothing in front of a Tanzanian hospital because I’m such a supreme klutz. Tears were just streaming down my face in a spectacular manner – though I couldn’t quite have solved the problem of the drought, I might well have been able to water a small garden if I’d been in the proper location. One, unbelievably embarrassing great big sob wrenched its way out before I went back to biting my lip again and trying to think about runs in Forest Park with the labradog and trotting races around the track with the horses. Finally, the x-raying was complete and the tech opened the door and asked me, in Kiswahili, if I was doing ok. Unfortunately, the only phrase I could remember was “Hakuna matata”, which literally means “No problems!”, so all I could do was repeat “No problems, no problems, no problems…” like an idiot.

A few short minutes later, I’d wiped away most of the tears and Rachel and I sat in the x-ray room and peeked out the window at the hilarious sight of, as she put it, every mzungu doctor within a five mile radius holding my x-ray pichas up to the sun and peering at them intently, though they were obviously totally clean, side from a few old microfractures they pointed out to me within the elbow joint that had healed just fine on their own (and which are not surprising, given my usual level of physical activity). Lisa asked the Belgian doctor if he wouldn’t mind taking a look at my arm too, just to make sure that it was something that couldn’t be fixed by essentially manually shoving a tendon or whatever back into its correct place so off we trooped into the exam room again.

This time both of the doctors were rude and condescending to Lisa while she advocated for me while I sat mute in the center of the room, closing my eyes and looking away as they wrenched my arm this way and that, insisting that I had full range of motion within my elbow joint, which was ridiculous because even with all of their pulling and prodding it never did straighten or rotate completely. They also insisted that it wasn’t swollen, which is even more preposterous, because on my right arm, the bone is pointy, sharp and clearly visible, whereas on the left arm, I appeared not to even have a defined elbow because it was so swollen. Even more suspect was the fact that not one of these doctors ever mentioned my large birthmark – considering that the large patches of discolored skin are very prevalent around the injured area and made even more visible by the swelling, you would think they would at least inquire!

Their diagnosis was rest, keep the arm in a sling and take lots of heavy duty pain killers in order to relax. I said no to the pain killers as I don’t like the feeling of being drugged and honestly felt like it was better that I be in pain if something was wrong than feel ok and try to use it and make it worse. They were really persistent and kept demanding to know which ones I was allergic to and it took Lisa a long time to tell them that I wasn’t allergic but that I didn’t want any of them at all and that they shouldn’t bother with prescribing them because I wouldn’t take them anyways. I should add that before Lisa told them this, I told it to them too, but they wouldn’t listen to me at all because I obviously didn’t know what was best for my own body. I was so frustrated and have never felt more belittled and treated like an idiot in my entire life. They told us they would give me a better sling and send us on our way. Eventually we escaped with: a really poorly crafted sling that had several nasty pressure points, pinched horribly and was fashioned from the world’s largest ace bandage (which we quickly replaced with the kanga); a prescription for a sort of glorified Icy Hot type gel; beautiful x-ray pictures of my right arm that the other students were gathering around eagerly when Ken brought them out and a deep dissatisfaction with Tanzanian healthcare.

When we arrived at the camp, I watched Rachel set up the tent again and did some one handed unpacking while I eagerly awaited the arrival of my gel medication. It really was like Icy Hot, though not quite as a icy and a bit more hot and thought it and the combination of ibuprofen didn’t seem to do much to bring down the swelling it did feel nice. Also the fact that it came in a purple and orange box with directions in French and Kiswahili made it rather amusing, though it all seemed a bit sketchy at the time.

After one handed lunch sandwich making, we met with Maanda, the incredible Maasai woman who had arranged our homestays. She is tall for a Maasai woman, broad shouldered and plump in a warm and friendly sort of way with a full and musical voice. Her speaking was rhythmic and beautifully accented – she pronounces livestock as “live-ah-stock” and the words “opposition” and “oppression” seemed almost to meld into one as she discussed the plight of the pastoral peoples of Tanzania in general and Maasai women in particular. She went away for school, studying in universities in Washington State and Ireland, but returned home to Tanzania to help better the lives of her people. She helps run the Pastoral Women’s Council, a grassroots organization devoted to bettering the lives of the Maasai by creating opportunities for education and encouraging equality and rights for women in a traditionally patriarchal society.

She also works to help her people retain their rights to their ancestral grazing lands, which is not very popular with many in the government here and has lead to her having to flee to Nairobi for periods of time to ensure her safety and also even resulted in her spending a short time in prison at one point. In spite of these incredible tales, she remains delightfully human, telling us she has a good husband who is often good “some of the times” and who works for an organization similar to her own. As a result they often attend the same sorts of meetings. Sometimes, she told us, he worries for her and urges her not go. “So I tell him that I will not go,” she said with a sly smile and a twinkle in her eye “and then I go anyways!”

She gave us a very helpful list of words in Kimaasai and told us a bit about what to expect in our homestays, before a short break and dinner. After dinner, we all sat around the fire with Maanda and another of the translators and wrote down even more words that might be helpful for our time in the bomas. I was still very nervous, but starting to look forward to the homestay!


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