Friday, November 17, 2006

I'm Dr. Jen, but what happens when I fall sick au village?

Thursday 16 November

A volunteer almost finished with her 2 year service advised, "Never make a decision about terminating your service early (ET) when you are sick."

Guinea is a petri dish full of the most nutritious media, with the most ideal environment for all those things that make us sick.

My mosquito bites heal slowly and often get infected. My skin is covered with microscopic aliens that want to take over my body to do experiments on it. My body is weakened by 60-70 km bike rides, stress of teaching, stress of travel.

What do you do when you are bed ridden for 4 days due to a painful sinus infection leading to a horrible earache?

Go see a doctor.
My doctor is a 10 hour taxi ride from Labe if I can get out of my non-car containing village.

Call him.
We have no telephones.

Radio him.
The radio is 5 km away. I didn't even attempt to. It was the weekend, a very difficult time to find access to the radio, very difficult to get an answer on the other end.

It is under such conditions that self-made decisions, self-reliance, self-understanding, self peace and calm become extremely important. Panic is not the answer. Being able to meditate through pain and suffering to come to a good decision is.

My medical handbook says ear infections may need the treatment of antibiotics. Consult the Peace Corps Medical Officer before consuming antibiotics.

In 15 days I knew the doctor would be in Mamou where I would be for teacher's conference. I taught a week's worth of class, left a message for the unavailable doctor via the Peace Corps mailrun radio that came in the beginning of November, talked to the doctor via cell phone in Labe on my way to teacher's conference, all deaf in one ear.

Luckily I had made an early decision to do something about the pain. My only problem was I couldn't hear. Did I just have a wax buildup or was it a sign of something else?

When the doctor finally saw my ear (15 days of deafness), I was given more antibiotics, several different eardrops, and a suggestion to drink hot water. If things didn't improve I would go to Conakry.

Medical treatment is slow because of where we are, because of transportation, because of communication, because of the lack of clinics in good condition. However the human body is strong. It is the human spirit, the ability of it to suffer that is sometimes not so strong. Waiting to find out whey you are in such miserable pain, waiting for medications and treatments, waiting for a name to be given to your illness weakens your spirit, weakens your hear to endure, weakens your tears to fall.

What are some coping mechanisms to use under such psychological and physical distress?

Lucky for me I was not suffering, but I hear the stories, see the sad faces, hear the angry frustrated voices of those whose pain is unnamed, waiting to discover treatment.

In this country, we must be proactive, self-medicating, self-diagnostic. We cannot let pain cloud our judgements. We also cannot just let things go. We must wash our hands with soap and keep clean! We must have patience and understanding in this country prone to illness that takes time to diagnosis.

There is a sensitive balance though. When is one's pain and suffering an emergency? When is it just something that needs to be endured for the long duration of time it takes to be diagnosed and treated? When is it over-reacting or under-reacting? How long do you wait till you start screaming for immediate attention? How long do you wait before you leave your village and head to Conakry?

I have not been suffering. I have been deaf in one ear for 17 days now. Maybe I shouldn't have waited so long. It worked out though. I am going back to village, not Conakry. My inner an outer ear infection is improving. During my taste of being an old woman with a hearing loss, did I make good decisions about my health though?

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