Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Electrocutions: How many are too many?

The mortality rate in Africa is much higher than in America.  While I've reduced some of my recklessness with age and no longer regularly chase and jump onto moving vehicles (something of a high school hobby), it was less than a year ago when I permanently scarred my hand by setting it on fire.  Over a matter of twenty dollars.  Still, I assumed that I was more likely to kick to bucket in Africa to some strange disease or a run in with gorillas (militant or otherwise).  But no, I've come to the third world to electrocute the shit out of myself.

I believe that I've been shocked at least nine times since I've gotten here.  That's a lot and just thinking about it makes my arm tingle.  I can blame a few on faulty wiring, but… well, most other volunteers don't seem to shock themselves at all.  Correlation is not causation, but this common denominator (me) is worth investigating.

The majority have been due to computers.  There was a computer in the Peace Corps office in Maroua that got me a couple of times and I think it happened once in Yaounde's office too.  Also pretty sure someone was stalking me with a particularly deadly external harddrive that zapped me a couple of times.  Oh and when they fixed my laptop it managed to shock me via a screw on the bottom.  We probably shouldn't be counting or we are going to get higher than nine.

Electrocution is a very distinct form of pain.  It doesn't hurt like being hit or burned, but it sends a jolt of pure terror through the body and blasts your system into overdrive with adrenaline.  None of these computer attacks were quite that bad, just the brief shock, jump back, and lingering dull pain causing you to remember the incident for a couple days.  I hate the lingering bit.  Not only does it remind you of the pain, but, often, of the stupidity.

The shock I deserve most has to be from the light-switch.  It was faulty and my light kept going out.  Being a self-proclaimed handyman, I set out to fix it myself.  I really need to stop doing that in a country where hospital distances are measured in hours not miles, but it is a hard habit to kick.  Anyway, I managed to zap myself pretty good with a screwdriver when putting it back together.  Normal electricians cut the breaker before working.  I realized my mistake, went to go cut it and get rubber gloves (sent by my father who understands his stupid son), but before doing either had a stroke of insight on repairing the problem and promptly shocked the shit out of myself again.  In the end, I did fix that fucking light switch.

The shock that terrified me the most also came from shitty wiring.  In this event I had someone less qualified than me but a actual paid professional (and from my perspective more expendable) put my fridge back together.  In rearranging the room back to it's glorious prior luster, I pushed my Peace Corps issued large metal container beside it.  I managed to send a current through the whole damn thing and the next time I touched it--a final kick with my big toe--I sent myself flying backwards and landing hard on my ass.  These two items are now kept on opposite sides of the room.

The shock that almost killed me was also likely deserved.  Someone introduced me into what we call a l'eau chaud.  It's a water heater.  It's an electric coil you plug in and drop into a bucket.  It looks exactly like what those pictures on toasters and hairdryers depict with big, red X's that stand for DON'T DO.  The one I bought worked fine and, being an idiot, I would always test it to see if the water was hot enough.  Then I'd mix it, also with my hand, to distribute the heat.  Never a problem, never a thought.  This was thus a question of eventuality.  That came one day at a friend's using her death-device.  Hers which had always been defective.  I dropped my hand all the way to the bottom and, yes, it is possible to feel your heart stop.  I spent the next ten minutes sitting on the floor panting.  This was a month ago and my arm still aches just thinking about it.