Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fatigue of the Soul

I've been in Eastern Uganda for about 3, or is it 4, months now and I love actually helping people in tangible ways.  Most of the help I give has nothing to do with crochet or selling crochet.  Most of it is health care assistance.

For example, a few Sundays ago I was taking my usual Sunday afternoon stroll around Kapuwai with my friend Christine.  Suddenly this 60ish looking woman comes running after us yelling at me to get my attention.  Of course she's yelling in Ateso so it's a good thing Christine is there to translate.  Christine barely gets out of her mouth that the woman wants me to help her (medically) and then the woman is showing us her right breast.  It is entirely withered and discolored, nipple and all.

A bit of personal history here -- my mother's sister, my aunt Frances, was probably a paranoid schizophrenic.  She was unmedicated all her life and since she was born in the early 30s, there was no such thing as mental health care.  She struggled all her life just to find a place where she and her only daughter Sherry could sleep every night.  She couldn't hold a job obviously.  When I was barely 18, Frances was told that she had advanced breast cancer.  She had no job and no one in the family had the means to get her treated.  During her last two months of life, she lived in a boarding house in my hometown.  One day when the weather was exceptionally beautiful, my mother received a call from the local EMS that Frances was locked in her room at the boarding house and was unresponsive.  They were calling in the hope my mother had an extra key.  We immediately went to Frances's little room to see if the sound of familiar voices might rouse her somewhat.  We tried and tried.  Finally, one of the EMS guys had the idea to jimmy open the window and have me crawl in (I was only 108 lbsf then).  I went in and found her barely breathing.  Her blouse was open and I saw her cancerous breast.  We took her to the hospital and she only lived about 18 hours more.

Until that walk with Christine, I had NEVER seen another case of breast cancer that was like what my aunt Frances had.  It was as if it were flesh eating.  

I held my emotions in check and told the woman (I'll call her Trisha) that I was not a doctor, but I could certainly help her get to a doctor to find out what was wrong.  I told her that I thought it was very, very serious and that when Edward Kedi (my right arm in Uganda) came to take her to the doctor, she must stop EVERYTHING and go with him immediately.

On Monday, Edward took Trisha to the clinic at the Pallisa General Hospital.  She saw a doctor and the doctor ordered many tests in addition to his examination.  By the end of the day, Edward and Trisha had the results of the tests, but they were not what I expected because they had nothing to do with the condition of her breast.

Tricia was now a PLWHA in international development speak:  She had HIV/AIDS and her t-cell count was horrible (Person Living With HIV/AIDS).

Because I had to be in another part of the district that Monday, Edward told Tricia her results because for some stupid reason doctors here don't want to tell old women they are dying of AIDS.  The doctor said Tricia and her husband had to come in for joint counseling right away.  They immediately put Tricia on a drug cocktail for HIV/AIDS.  In Uganda, the drugs for AIDS are free, but the ARV's and the ARC drugs aren't free or even discounted.  

"Tricia" at my apartment after the news

Wednesday morning of that week, Tricia came to see me to, get this, thank me for helping her find out what was wrong.  I cried and like all Ugandans she said "Don't cry.  We all have to go home sometime".  She brought me a rooster as a thank you gift.  

As soon as Tricia left my apartment, I packed and took Christine to Pallisa General to get better and maybe have her baby.  No time for tears or regrets.  The urgent things come at you faster than ought to be possible.

Pray for Tricia.  Pray for me that I'll stop hating her husband for doing this to her.  Pray that I have what it takes to continue this kind of work.  It's got to be done and I'm willing to do it.

Namaste.