Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Sorcery: Up Close and Personal

Kids wake me up from a nap.  Someone's sick someplace and I'm supposed to follow them there.  I can never get much information from kids; our French levels rarely come to any agreement.  I follow them because this isn't the first time people have showed up at my place asking for my non-existent healing services.  On the way, I'm a little annoyed at myself for the reoccurring lack of credit on my phone.  Luckily these people know me and are familiar with my "I'm not actually a doctor" routine.  They just want my help finding the doctors.  A task I'm actually suited to: errand boy!

It turns out to be my best friend's pregnant wife who lives on my compound.  She was with some family and suddenly became feverish and very obviously sick.  I get my friend the nurse at the clinic who goes to get meds while I get her on a moto and take her home.  He thinks it is malaria.  It probably is malaria, but there is no real way to know aside from getting her on a moto to the nearest hospital an hour or so away.  He puts her on an IV, shoots her full of drugs, puts more in the IV, and leaves some pills for her to take after she calms a bit and isn't shaking.  She's delirious and pretty bad off, but there doesn't seem to be anything to do.  Her husband, my friend, is away from town for a few days.

An hour or so later they come and get me again.  I'm worried she's worse off and we're going to have to figure out how to get her to a hospital.  Instead my night gets really weird really quick.  They want me to take her off her IV and hold her down.  The hardest part about living in the mist of a foreign language is being unsure whether you don't understand the words or just the idea.  I think she's dead.  Eye's wide, she don't seem to be breathing, and she certainly isn't moving.  I'm about to check her pulse when an older man comes in and throws some strange herbs into some coals burning nearby.  It's African medicine time.

She was in a bad place before with the sort of fever that doesn't let you lay still; aching and burning up, muttering "help me".  This is different.  I watch this woman shoot straight up in her bed.  Men and women rush to grab her and hold her down.  She wretches and tries to break free, managing to get her IV out her own self.  I watch her eyes roll back into her head and listen to her speak loud and clear. 

I wish I knew what she was saying, though it was clear it wasn't in a language I understand.  She was not herself, she was not there.  I don't know what our medicine man was attempting, but it looked like an exorcism.  Eventually another woman… joined in and needed to be held down too.  They were separated and both made to breath in the smoke from the coals.  Eventually they both calmed and had to drink some mixture made with the burnt herbs.

I'm out of my element when it comes to modern day medicine and I certainly have no idea what I should have done there.  Should I have tried to stop them?  I don't even think I could have; they had already done… something to her before I even arrived.  In the moment, I felt nothing.  Awe perhaps.  Curiosity too, I won't lie.  But I was frozen without an inkling of an idea what to do.  I just watched and wondered.  Now I'm just sad and mad.  Basically I just spent an hour watching a drugged pregnant woman toss about.  One who was very sick and had her regular treatment stopped so that she could be put through lord knows what.

If she gets better, do you think they'll blame the medicine or the sorcery?  And if she doesn't get better, what gets the blame?  Worse, what the hell do I tell my friend, the husband and father to be?