Life goes on here at St. Theresa’s Hospital in Zimbabwe. It is turning into a long winter with many of the patients who suffer from HIV needing hospitalization with respiratory infections. A young boy I saw yesterday in clinic with HIV and a severe infection began to cry uncontrollably when I told him that he would need to be in the hospital for intravenous antibiotics. After several minutes of this very vocal complaining, I loudly reminded him that the men’s ward at the hospital actually has a television and that he would be able to watch the World Cup there. Instant dry eyes, instant silence. I went to the ward this morning to make rounds, and sure enough, there he was with two other boys his same age he met in the ward, glued to the T.V. I have a suspicion that he will not begin to feel better until after the World Cup finals.
We have had a recent lesson in the clinic about not fixing things that aren’t broken. There is a long bench outside of the offices where patients sit waiting to be seen by the doctor. It is not a formal line (or “queue” as I have had to learn to call it), and there is a very definite order of who gets seen when. It seems to me to depend on a number of factors including when you arrived, how sick you are, whether you are an ill elderly person or baby, and your importance in the community. It is rare for there to be any disputes in the queue and if there is someone who seems to be quite ill on the bench, everyone will make certain that they are seen first. Some time ago, though, it was decided to assign numbers to patients, you know, “now serving number 37”, and people were given pieces of paper with a number. This system didn’t work well from day one, as some of the patients are illiterate. Also, an occasional unscrupulous patient would trade numbers with one who could not read in order to get seen sooner.
The end of the system soon came when I saw a patient and politely noted that her number was not the next one to be called. She (a very educated woman), leaned forward and with an intent voice said, “They are not giving them out in order!”. She did not seem to be in a mood to have this statement questioned, so I took care of her medical complaint. Upon going down to the screening room, I found that the new students were, indeed, giving people numbers randomly out of a can into which they were piled at the end of each day. We have now returned to the old system of the patients on the bench knowing quite well who is ill, who is old or very young, when everyone came in, and who is important. The numbers continue to be given out, and I politely accept one from each patient who comes in to the office, but have not actually looked at the numbers for a couple of months.
Sheila invited the SJI Sisters over for supper a couple of weeks ago. We tend to eat pretty standard foods, only occasionally having things for supper which we formerly would have called just “critters”. We do have a game, which we occasionally enjoy playing with the African Sisters after supper, which we call, “In my country, we eat….”. The game consists of thinking of things which are considered food in your country but which make the faces of people on other continents pale. Once you find such a food, you then describe in detail to them what a delicacy the food is. After the last round of this game with the SJIs, I can report that their ace-in-the-hole for the game is roasted mice, while ours is snail. Mmmmm, snails cooked in garlic and butter, an absolute treat found only at the finest restaurants! Rattlesnake came in a close second.
We have just passed the shortest day of the year here. Sheila and I have taken to going on walks earlier than usual so that we are not out walking after dark. This new schedule has us walking through the brush about the time that the school children are getting out of the mission school to go home. EVERY child in the school knows Sheila. She is the lady with the paper hats, the watercolor paints, the paper plate masks, and all the other ideas that make art class looked forward to each week. A few minutes after we start walking down the path in the late afternoon, you hear a little voice cry from somewhere, “Mrs. Cavanagh!”. This is soon echoed by little voices from all through the brush yelling Sheila’s name. Soon, a sea of 8-year-old children start appearing on the path, all dressed in maroon school uniforms. Our quiet evening walk then turns into more of a scene from The Pied Piper with 10 or so children coming with us for the rest of the walk, laughing and repeatedly shaking hands with Mrs. Cavanagh (and her husband).
Things otherwise continue quite busy but settled here. Dr. Lynch came to work at St. Theresa’s hospital while Sheila and I were in the U.S. for our daughter Megan’s wedding. I was sorry I did not get to see him for more than a few minutes at the airport when he was here but was quite happy to see the good care he again took of the patients and hear the talk of the hospital staff as to how wonderful it was to see him again.
Sheila and I continue to keep you all in our prayers and ask that you would do the same for us!