Brave Woman

Adventures of a future nurse-midwife

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Pharmacy

Posted by Lucille on June 5, 2011 at 11:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Pharmacy is absurd. They don't have the lab technology to identify specific diseases, so they group things by symptom. Anything with a fever and cough is pneumonia. Unless it doesn't respond to medication, in which case it's TB. Diarrhea is either bacteria or mangoes. STIs are split into two categories, discharge and sores, with an antibiotic cocktail for each. Yeast infection? Antibiotics. Herpes outbreak? Antibiotics. No wonder there are so many crazy resistant bacteria around here.

Another challenge I hadn't foreseen was handwritten records. I can't read them. The prescriptions are scrawls, and I'm lucky if there are one or two distinct letters, much less a dosage. Then, even if I can read them, the names are abbreviated. Some are easy to guess (Ibrufen is Ibuprofen, for example) but others are quite a jump. Fefa is apparently ferrous sulphate and folic acid, and I spent ten minutes looking for it before someone told me. I'm sorry to say I haven't been much help at this station. I can prepackage pills when they show me how. I asked one of the students who was working with me why he wanted to be a pharmacist.

"This is a professional job," he said.

"Yes, but there are lots of professional jobs."

"Yes, and this is one of them."

Laundry Day

Posted by Lucille on June 5, 2011 at 11:55 PM Comments comments (0)

We didn't do laundry for a few days because the lodge had other guests, so on Sunday we had a laundry party. I'm slowly getting better at bucket washing. There are some hazards to letting them dry outside, though. When I went to bring my clothes in, one of my pairs of underwear had so much goat hair on them they looked furry, and my pants and bra had bugs in them that bit me as I was trying to shake them out. Clean clothes are still a huge plus. I'll just remember to hang them higher and shake them out first next time.


Swarm

Posted by Lucille on June 5, 2011 at 11:50 PM Comments comments (0)

There were so many bugs out last night that you could hardly breathe without swallowing them. They raided the common area while we were eating and were flying in our eyes and getting caught in our hair, so our group leader called a retreat and we all crowded in her room for a dinner-by-lantern party.


Wow

Posted by Lucille on June 5, 2011 at 11:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Last night I was reading Ina Mary's Guide to Childbirth in my hut by lantern light while rain drummed against the window and thunder rattled the door. This is definitely the coolest thing I've ever done.

Serekunda

Posted by Lucille on June 5, 2011 at 11:50 PM Comments comments (0)

We went to Serekunda, more of a tourist city with a bigger market. Backpacks worn frontwards. I was pleasantly surprised to find that when I knew to have my guard up, I had no trouble avoiding unwanted attention and was able to spend most of the time admiring the different crafts. The guys in our group were great. One of them kept insisting we walk in front of him. "Are you nervous?" someone asked.

"Of course not, I just like looking at you. Now let's stick together."

I found some pretty fabric that I want to use to make my Dad a shirt and bargained the guy down to half the price.

Jokes Have to Come from Somewhere

Posted by Lucille on June 5, 2011 at 11:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Marriage is apparently highly amusing in Gambia and marriage jokes seem to be the main form of entertainment. I remember on our first day when the head of the hospital gave us a tour, he introduced more than a half dozen women as his wife. I was confused because I was pretty sure even Muslim men were only supposed to have four wives. I asked someone about it and she laughed and said that none of them were his wives and he was just being funny. It makes it pretty hard to figure out who's actually married, I can tell you.

Friends joking with each other about marriage is lighthearted and an endless source of amusement. Every day there's a new fake engagement. It all sounds so flirtatious, but it's just the way people interact here. Yesterday a group member was wearing her new Gambian dress and one of the men from the lodge was dressed up to go to the mosque, and he joked that because they were both in traditional clothing they looked like they were getting married. We spent most of the morning deciding what color binbin she would need (like necklaces but worn around your waist, very sexy and all the rage in the Gambia) and planning the ceremony. Another group member said she wants whole grain bread and strawberries at their reception. I wanted their first-born child.

London Bridge Is Falling Down

Posted by Lucille on June 5, 2011 at 11:45 PM Comments comments (0)

I was playing with two girls from the lodge earlier (about 6 and 7). They had some kind of disagreement, I have no idea what it was about, and they ran behind one of the cabins. A few minutes later I heard a commotion so I went back there to see what was going on, and found the younger one curled up in the sand, crying. She is an extremely tough little girl, and the kids here can be vicious, so I had no doubt she was injured. I've had a similar experience and for a moment as I ran over to her I had the distinct impression that I was finding myself, curled up in the sand, beaten by a friend. The older girl was pointing at her and laughing. I've always appreciated that in tae kwon do, as soon as an injury occurs, the injurer is asked to kneel down facing the other way so that the injured can be examined without emotional conflict or embarrassment. This is helpful even when the injurer isn't intentionally humiliating them. I told the older girl firmly to go back to the table. I know she doesn't speak much English, but I think my tone was pretty clear. She ignored me.

Another group member walked by at that point, oblivious, and I quickly asked her to take the older girl around to the other side of the cabin. I'm still grateful she was so quick on the uptake. A pack of kids had come in from the street to see what was going on, and she took them with her.

The younger was still curled up, hiding her face and picking sand from around her eyes. I couldn't tell where she'd been hurt, but I let her crawl in my lap and helped brush the sand out of her hair. She noticed the bottle of sunscreen in my hand. I squeezed a little onto my arm to show her. She nodded eagerly and held out her hand, so I squeezed a little into her palm, and she smeared it on her hair. I started laughing, and she looked up at me so innocently, with no idea what was funny, that suddenly I couldn't stop and she started laughing because I was, and she tried to put some in my hair so we both fell over laughing.

Then the group member from earlier came running from around the cabin with a little girl, saying that an older girl had done a cartwheel into her. Her mouth was full of blood, so I scooped her up and went out into the street to find her mom. When I got back I found a child free zone with a bottle of cold water. Two kids injured in sixty seconds is about as many as I can handle.


Tailor Troubles

Posted by Lucille on June 5, 2011 at 11:45 PM Comments comments (0)

A woman we know offered to take a group of us to her tailor. I brought the dress I'd had made that didn't fit (the one that had been too loose in the waist and was now so tight in the chest it was hard to breathe) to see if they could fix it. They only take two measurements, chest and waist, which seemed like way too few to be able to chart a curve as dynamic as a human body, so before we left I measured myself in a bunch of places and actually drew a line on each of the side seams where I needed it to be sewn. I was hoping for a tailor that spoke English, but he spoke French, which was close enough. I explained it in French and our friend reiterated it in Mandinka. "But that will change the style," he kept saying. He insisted on taking my measurements himself, and when he came back I couldn't even get it on. He'd sewn it an inch and a half tighter. I sat down feeling very frustrated, but after everyone else had given him their fabric he offered to try again. It took three tries before he got the concept of sewing along the line, but when he did it fit fabulously. I'm thrilled with it. I thanked him and gave him fabric to make a matching skirt. If that works out, I'll probably keep using this tailor, otherwise I'll keep looking for one that speaks English.

TGIF

Posted by Lucille on June 5, 2011 at 11:45 PM Comments comments (0)

We had a very relaxed Friday. I played with babies all morning. I got to watch the doctors drain an abscess that had formed over a baby's eye. SO much pus. It just kept coming and coming. But the baby could open his eye a little afterwards and you could tell he felt a lot better. It was a slow day so we took off early and went fabric shopping.

Birthdays

Posted by Lucille on June 5, 2011 at 11:45 PM Comments comments (0)

After work today we went to the home of someone from the hospital for his son's fourth birthday. We played musical chairs and tossed around balloons, then watched the kids eat an extremely spicy seafood cup that included whole crabs. We slipped our servings to some of the older kids, but happily accepted a baobab smoothie. On the way back we picked up some cake and ice cream and called to a woman from the lodge to run over to the table so we could sing her happy birthday before it melted, a very hasty but all around enjoyable celebration.


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HIPAA Disclaimer

Sometimes I have the privilege of being a part of intimate, powerful moments in other people’s lives. I cannot and would not share these stories, because they are not mine to tell. However, they touch my life and become part of my own story. When I share these moments here, you can trust that I have not broken anyone’s confidentiality. The characters are invented. They are not real, but could be. I take creative license to communicate the essence of my experience while respecting the privacy of others.