Supa/Jambo/Karibu (Welcome)! Hope everyone’s had a good week so far—-you’re on the downhill slide now! I had a pretty decent day today. We weren’t crazy busy, and we saw 12 patients today. 12 extractions, and 1 cleaning. Yep, it was another incredibly rotted, mushy, “now we have to dig, dig, dig” kind of day in terms of extractions. Again, for the love of your dentist, if you’re going to let your teeth rot, please don’t let them rot down below the gums and bone before you go get it addressed. I assure you, the procedure will be a lot more pleasant and easy if you give your dentist something to grab onto.
A couple of generalizations that I have noted in my month here. 1) Every acts like they’ve never sat in a chair before. Now I don’t necessarily mean a dental chair, I just mean a chair. You generally sit with your back against the back of the chair. Almost everyone comes in, gets in the dental chair, but sits at the very end of it (like where your feet go). This inevitably leads Eunice/Grace/William to tell them to scoot back. So they do…..but then they slouch WAAAAAYYYY down….to where their head is almost where you’re butt is supposed to be. This happens at least 85% of the time. I’m just like “Act like it’s a normal chair, but your feet are going to be elevated”. And they have regular chairs, so I know they know how to sit in those. 2) These patients apparently speak no languages. I mean, I don’t speak Maasai or Swahili, but I can tell when Grace/William/Eunice have asked a question. I can also tell when they’ve asked it multiple times. I will usually have the assistant ask what the patient’s symptoms are. This is generally followed by silence from the patient. “Does it hurt all the time?” Silence. “Does it hurt at night?” Silence. “Do you know where you are?” Silence. The assistants almost have to beat the answers out of them. Mind boggling. Another question that seems to get LOTS of silence and a blank stare from the vast majority of people is “Do you feel numb on the X side?”. This question must be asked a minimum of 3 times before a response is given. Personally, there are not many answer choices here: Yes, no, sort of, I don’t know (and quite frankly, I don’t know is not really a valid answer). It’s not like we’re asking what you think the meaning of life is. The best analogy I can come up with is if you were working in a food service establishment and asked a customer what they would like to order, and they just stared at you. That’s what it’s like. 3) Once the procedure is done, there is no goodbye, no thanks, no nothing. It’s pop out of the chair and run out the door. While this took some getting used to, it’s apparently a cultural thing. It’s my job to take care of them, so why should they thank me or give a goodbye. Occasionally someone will say thanks, but for the most part, we can barely get them to stay in the chair long enough to give post-operative instructions.
I bring these up because #1 and #2 were a MAJOR issue with our very first patient today. He wouldn’t sit in the chair properly, kept trying to move around while I was trying to do an exam, wouldn’t answer any of Eunice’s questions…..and this was an adult. Probably at least as old as me. I could tell Eunice was getting frustrated. I thought “Oh man, this is not a good start to the day”. And it of course was a partially impacted wisdom tooth that I had to cut, and split, and dig, and push, etc to get out of his mouth. After we were done, I said “Eunice, are you ok? You seemed a little annoyed.” She kind of chuckled and said “No, I’m good now.” Then fast forward a couple of hours and I have another patient who would not stop grabbing me while trying to administer local anesthesia. Both Eunice and William tried to talk to her. After about the 7th time she grabbed me and shoved my hand, I said “You need to tell her she has one more chance. She grabs me again, and she leaves. I’m not putting myself at risk for her causing me to stab myself, and I am also not going to put her at risk.” FYI, grabbing your dentist while they’ve got a needle in your mouth/near your face, is a really good way to get a needle somewhere it doesn’t need to be (i.e. your throat, your tongue, your cheek, your nose, your eye if you’re REALLY forceful with your grab and you thrash your head). Just don’t do it. If it’s going to freak you out…..tell your dentist BEFORE THEY GET ANYWHERE NEAR THE SYRINGE. I don’t really know what William told this patient, but try #8 was successful.
So, a few frustrations, but overall not a bad day. I did find out that they do have a couple of hospitals nearby, so most of the women do have access to a hospital to give birth. This has been a question I’ve had almost all month, so glad I finally got that answered. I also want to know what they do with their dead as I have seen ZERO cemetaries nor crematoriums (or even anything close to something that could be used for a cremation), but that’s an odd question to ask, so I’ll likely not get that answered. Yes, I’m weird. I know. It’s fine.
Toward the end of the afternoon, I was outside with Eunice and Dennis just enjoying the shade and breeze. William came out and said something about harvesting some stuff from the garden, so we all went into the garden. Eunice and I pretty much watched while William and Dennis picked some peppers and herbs. They have a compost pile, and William seems surprised I knew what that was. I don’t know if that’s because other people haven’t known what it was or if they don’t think Americans use compost. Just kind of funny how many things are the same even halfway around the world. OH and speaking of things similar in both places, Eunice also told me that they frequently hear from women that the babies sucked the calcium out of their teeth!! I about choked when she said “Oh yeah, we hear that all the time.” She did find it odd that I have patients back home who have asked to have all their teeth pulled simply because they don’t want to brush them. “That makes no sense. It’s not hard” was her response. Correct Eunice. She asked “Do you do that?” to which I said “Absolutely not. I don’t pull teeth for that reason.” I will say, I have not seen anyone in my entire month here who has needed all their teeth pulled. Maybe 4-5 teeth total, but none who would need all teeth extracted and a denture. Which is kind of strange as I would see this daily back home. Weird since the USA is supposed to be the more developed nation…….Anyway, I digress.
After clinic I did my last load of laundry. I tell you what, I never really minded laundry back home, but for those of you who loathe doing laundry, come to bush Africa for a bit where you have to hand wash everything and hang it to dry. It’s tedious, time consuming, and it makes your back hurt. Be grateful for your washer and dryer. And be grateful you’re not having to cart it in a bucket on your head 10 miles away to the river to wash it, as I’ve seen that frequently. I asked Eunice if the women did all the carrying as I have yet to see a man carry anything—not their giant 40 L containers of water, not massive bundles of firewood, not laundry, not food, not anything. For example, the last two days, Massoi’s wife and mother (who has to be probably at least 55), have come to pick up wood for framing a house. These wood pieces are at least 12 feet long, and are probably the equivalent of a 2×2. They get about 15 of them grouped together, tie a rope to either end, then set the middle of the rope on their head. The wood then hangs down behind their back. And that’s how they carry it. FOR MILES. And this is how they carry a lot of things around here. Brutal. And Eunice says the women do EVERYTHING. She said “As soon as you’re done with school, it’s expected to get married, have kids, and take care of everyone. The women cook, fetch water, do laundry, fetch firewood, go to market, take care of the kids, all of that. The men, they sit and talk.” Feminists back home could write dissertations on the societal norms and expectations here in bush Kenya. Perspective…..it’s all about perspective. My perspective is that I would not last long living in this manner. The first time I had to carry 40 Ls of water on my head, I would die. Regardless of distance carried. Glad I can just turn the tap on and have it.
After laundry, I actually started the packing process. I have most things packed which I hope will just kind of let me soak in my last night here tomorrow. It’s amazing how quickly the time has gone, and how I really will miss all these wonderful people I’ve met in this short month. Lucy again told me today I need to come back, but with a husband and child. Ohhhh Lucy. You are funny. I did ask if I just brought a child, one that wasn’t mine, if that would work. She said no. Haha.
This has been a long winded, some what rambling post, so I apologize. For lunch, I had a potato/onion/carrot/slight amount of beef conglomeration along with the standard rice. Dinner tonight was a carrot/cumcumber/onion salad, carrots, green beans, baby potatoes (14 of them to be exact…..I ate 7), tilapia fillets, and some fruit (watermelon, orange, pineapple). I can’t say that I’m going to miss the food much. That’s another thing—–appreciate access to good meat. And variety. As it doesn’t exist here.
Well, I’m about to call it a night. Hope you all have a good evening, and I look forward to seeing you tomorrow as we near the end of this journey together!
Lala salamo, and tuanone kesho!