**Before you read this, especially if you are my grandmother, know that I am fine and healthy and everything is ok!**
I had just completed a pleasant day of language classes in the mango grove, and I was home in my little hut wondering what to do with my last hour of daylight. Oh the choices! I could move my suitcase from over here to over there! Or... I could reorganize that pile of paper, again. Or even sweep! Or I could fold my clothes, wash some undies, spend some time in the rarely visited corner of the room or even-oh! Remove that bike pump from the packaging and put it on my bike so that when I get a flat tire I can toy with it helplessly until someone who knows how to fix a flat tire comes to help me.
Having finally decided, I retrieved the bike pump and my swiss army knife with which to slice through the plastic cables binding it to the packaging. Swish, swish, two successful and graceful first cuts. The bike pump was almost free and I felt like Rambo. Just one more and-
I dropped the bike pump and the knife in that order. My left thumb, inconveniently in the way, apparently, was spewing blood like something out of a Quinton Tarantino movie. In fact there was so much blood I was momentarily fascinated, not truly believing it all belonged to me. My ‘survival’ skills kicked in pretty quickly when it started dripping on the floor, and I rushed for the roll of toilet paper, which was, as you might expect, not unlike trying to block a ruptured dam with a handkerchief. My next move was the water filter which just made things messier, so finally I got into the med kit and somehow managed to open a gauze pad and throw it onto the wound.
With the bleeding slowed down, I had time to think. A Band-Aid wasn’t going to work. Should I tell my host mom? Call the medical office? The fresh stream of blood down my arm told me that the answer to both questions was yes. Moments later I was on the phone with a calm and collected Peace Corps Medic and my host mother was mumbling in a concerned manor as she whipped blood off my floor. A small crowd had already gathered to witness the drama and all three of the Peace Corps LCFs (Language and Culture Facilitators) living with us in the village had collected in the tiny courtyard, seemingly ready to build a helicopter out of mud and straw to med evac me out.
Fortunately, no helicopter was necessary. A car had been called to bring me to the hospital, and I shuffled outside with my ever-growing crowd of spectators to wait for the friendly white Peace Corps van. Half the village waited with me. Yes, hello, I am this evening’s entertainment. The car arrived in no time and I had already stopped gushing. The kind, soft-spoken driver looked at my sympathetically as I clumsily got in, supported Siaka, the Peace Corps duty officer.
It was a bumpy ride to the hospital, and I was thankful that I had a superficial cut and not a broken bone. When we arrived at the hospital it was almost dark outside, but the collection of dusty, spread out buildings was well lit and alive. I was led into one of them and made to wait in a room with a sickly looking man on an IV drip and a cheeky, bored nurse. She reached for my finger but Siaka stopped her saying “Wait, wait until I call the Peace Corps Medic so she can tell you what to do.”
After being told to clean and examine the wound to see if it needed stitches, the nurse sat back and produced an expression that said with the utmost clarity, I can’t believe you just called that white lady to have her tell me what any idiot knows to do with a spoiled Western kid who nicked her finger. During the extensive waiting period that encompassed the time it took to purchase and have someone go and get the equipment needed to clean my cut and the time it took to wait for the doctor, I got a good look at the room I was in.
Let me tell you how spoiled we are in the United States. Hospital rooms are (typically) fully equipped with a standard stock of sterile equipment, plenty of gloves, disinfecting soap, and clean and white as can be. There are standards and regulations that, while draconian I’m sure, keep people safe and infections out (for the most part). I was sitting in a room with a dirty floor, dirty ceilings, a filthy sink and a bed containing a very sick man that looked like it was about to cave in. I gloomily watched the man wheeze for a moment and then the nurse came in to put something new in his IV.
Koom, he rasped, koom.
It took me a couple moments to realize that I actually understood the word. “Koom!” I said to the nurse, and she turned around to find me waving my water bottle for her to give to him. She laughed at me, then asked in French, Is that the only word you know in Moore? He’s not allowed to have water. I put my water bottle back on the table sadly and proceeded to studiously recite for her the entire first page of the packet we had been given the first week of training on basic Moore (which I had memorized). She chuckled and disappeared.
When the doctor finally arrived, he took one look at my cut and decided it needed stitches. He the proceeded to give Siaka a list of things he would need to purchase from the hospital in order for this to happen: Gauze, a needle, local anesthetic, a bandage, and thread. That’s right, folks, you as the patient need to purchase all of the supplies you need for your treatment before it happens. Including but not limited to gauze. Yeah, I’ll never complain about a US hospital again. To be fair, I’m sure the process is much more expedient when there is an emergency.
The Doctor managed to fit 4 stitches in my finger. By the time he was finished I was convinced that stitches remain among the most unsightly and grotesque forms of treatment that exists in modern medicine. I tried not to focus too hard on the lack of care that was taken with my bodily fluids or the absence of a biohazard container into which to dispense hazardous material. Well, there was a lot I tried not to focus on.
He wrapped my finger securely and told me to come back Monday for a follow up. The stitches would come out in 10 days. 10 Days without a thumb. You try it. I traipsed out of the hospital with my finger still numb, feeling a little under confident with my swiss army knife skills and glad I had so much material for another blog post.