Two Lines-Death Sentence
A man has just walked into the rural health clinic where Shannon and I are helping out for a week. He asks to be tested for HIV, so I get my supplies ready: gloves, a ball of cotton with alcohol on it, a needle, the reagent, and the test paper. I poke his index finger and squeeze a drop of blood onto the paper, and drop one drop of reagent on top. Then we wait. 15 agonizing minutes. I watch the blood move down the strip and see the first line appear, praying that it will stop there. Then the second line appears. I show him the paper where the two lines are, and ask the health care worker to explain that we need to do another test to confirm. The two lines appear again. What do you say to ease the blow? "I am sorry" just doesn't seem to cut it. Truly, I am sorry though. Sorry for his wife and two children who will now have to come in and get tested. Sorry for the strife that this will cause in his marriage. Sorry that his two little kids may lose their daddy before they are fully grown up. Sorry that there is a nation crippled by a 15% HIV rate, a nation where people are so scared of being on drugs for the rest of their life that they don't take the treatment that is offered, or come in too late.
This past week has been filled with interesting experiences, things I may never see in Canada. There is the toddler with a huge hookworm visible underneath the skin of his foot. He had no shoes to protect his feet from the hookworm that enters there, or to keep the flies off of the infected area. We gave him deworming tablets and antibiotics-I just wish I had some socks and shoes to give as well.
I gave many ladies the contraceptive depo-provera shot in the arm. One girl came and was told to come back when she has her period to prove in a little side room that she isn't pregnant. There have been cases when women want to terminate the pregnancy and swallow a month's worth of contraceptives in one shot and have died from the bleeding. Things I wouldn't normally think about. I test people for syphilis and do antenatal checks. I can now feel where a baby's head is, and count with my fingers from the navel to see how many weeks along a woman is in her pregnancy. I put my ear to a fetoscope that is on her belly and count the baby's heart rate. All is well with the baby, but the mother looks thin and tired. She has walked 2 hours to the health clinic, and now faces a 2 hour walk back. Other women walk as much as 4 hours-and will likely give birth at home, for who can walk 4 hours at 9 months pregnant and in labor? A ray of hope however; this clinic is to receive an oxcart and 2 oxen to transport women to the clinic in times like this.
Late in the evening Lihanna(the missionary nurse we travelled with) and I are called to the clinic. A woman has given birth on her front porch, but the placenta is not coming out. In the room that I just cleaned earlier that day a lone candle is burning (there is a light switch-but no light bulb), and seven women crammed in the dark room. They part a path for Lihanna and I . Lihanna instructs a woman to put the baby to mama's breast to stimulate the oxytocin necessary to birth the placenta (not culturally normal here-many women wait up to 24 hours to bath the baby in special herbs before breastfeeding, but it's best for baby to start breastfeeding immediately) I grab the birthing instruments and hold the flashlight while Lihannah gently pulls out the placenta, praying silently all the while. A retained placenta can be a serious thing, but luckily for this mama everything turns out well.
The next day we go visit the mom at home. I give out a baby blanket and toque, and get to hold this precious little bundle in my arms. Last night the women offered Lihanna and I the chance to name the baby (the second time now this has happened to me), but we decline. The mother did the hard work, that is her privelege.
Camping in the bush has been an interesting experience. We squat over a hole to do our business, and take bucket showers. The teenaged boys that travelled with us to do evangelism and put on soccor games do all the cooking over the campfire, and it is delicious. Fire roasted corn-mmmmmm!!! In the evenings we play card games of Scum and Speed and Cheat which the boys pick up quickly and enjoy. During the night I sort out where strange noises are coming from: 2 emaciated dogs linger by our camp site and bark for what we timed as more than an hour. The rooster starts up at 5 am for another hour and I dream of making chicken pot pie. But in the morning the sun shines, the tall grass gently waves and the thatch huts beckon in the distance.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my week-I have seen a side of Africa that I am lucky to have had the opprtunity to see!