26 September 2016

Give Us Another Hand, This Time, By Accident

A few weeks ago Malaria Season was taking off full speed ahead.  We're understaffed at the hospital right now and several of our "long-term" doctors are away.  The rains have been really heavy in our area this year . . . which, while it means abundant crops, it also means lots and lots of malaria.

While my scope of practice extends to its outermost limits here in Galmi, there are things an OT just isn't trained to do . . . like prescribe medications, draw blood, or place NG tubes.

Wondering how to help keep our doctors doctoring and nurses nursing while there is still an entire hospital to be run, I brainstormed with one of my colleagues who is a part-time doctor, part-time administrator, part-time problem solver, and part-time pick-up-all-the-loose-ends-er, and he asked me if I'd come to the medical ward each day and do family education with the moms of kiddos who are admitted for malaria or malnutrition.

We developed a simple curriculum composed mostly of Hausa words that I know, and I was sent off to teach.  What I found in the end, was a new upper-extremity prosthetics patient!

15 September 2016

The Jenga Episode

"Don't give me anything easy today," H.A. said as he entered the therapy gym.  After three days since his introduction to his first prosthetic hand, he wanted a real challenge!

I gave it a quick thought and suggested the near-impossible: a game of Jenga.

12 September 2016

Give Us a Hand

One of my first patients since returning to Galmi in July has been a young man named H.A. who was transferred to our hospital after a severe electrical burn.  While our surgeons were able to save both of his feet, where the electricity exited his body, there was nothing they could do for his hands, and both had to be amputated.

His first month in the hospital was clouded with depression and severe pain.  We worked together on a daily basis, maintaining movement of his shoulders and elbows, knees and ankles.  I promised him that if he refused to give up, he would do all the things he used to do.

I'm pretty sure he didn't believe me.

Until one day I showed up with a prosthetic hand.

04 August 2016

My Speech is the Impediment

We returned to Galmi a few days before July started.  At some moments it feels like we were never gone, at other points I have the sense that we just came back yesterday.

My first month back in the therapy gym was overloaded with referrals from visiting doctors who had heard that the OT would return and cases from B. that he felt were beyond his skill set.  So between playing catch-up on patients who are deserving-of-intervention-early-but-were-born-in-Niger and trying to remove the inches-of-dust-that-have-piled-up-because-of-differences-in-the-definition-of-clean and unpacking our finally-have-put-the-suitcases-away life I'm finding a moment to write a blog post.

But, some things never change and I've resigned myself to two facts:

  1. I love burn patients.  More than patients of other diagnostic categories.  I'm partial and I've picked favorites.  So there.
  2. My Hausa language capacity is so low that B. still considers my speech to be it's own dialect.

25 June 2016

Transubstantiation: The Art of Speaking Before Thinking

While Maiguida is the "Owner of Hausa" (meaning, he can speak in complete correct sentences and understands what Nigerien people are saying to him), I have been titled the "Owner of Talking" -- I'll leave that definition to your own imagination.

Apparently, when it comes to language learning, I have no qualms about jumping in head-first, letting my tongue lead the charge.  Some say it's a good thing . . . not being afraid to make mistakes, trying to communicate despite a lack of perfection, learning by doing in a trail-and-error kind of way.

But surely there is some kind of folly in digging oneself into such a language ditch that she is halfway to China before she realizes no one in the room has any idea of what she is talking about . . . herself included.

10 June 2016

The Chinese Dialect of Hausa

When I was in high school, in order to graduate, we had to take either two years each of two foreign languages or three years of one.  At that time, only Latin, French and Spanish were offered (American Sign Language was considered an elective) . . . and my parents gave us the choice of studying Latin or Latin--believing it would be helpful for us with the SAT exam and futures in areas such as law or medicine.

If only I had understood then what I know now: I'm a tactile learner and language as a concept is lost on me.

06 June 2016

Hausa + Math = Torture

I love playing with my camera and capturing unique moments in time.  Somedays I even get a few photos that are worth looking at.  I enjoy telling stories, both orally and in written form.  Most of the time they are long and drawn out and overly detailed, but somedays I'm able to edit one down enough to get a few clicks of approval on Facebook.  I love to cook and try out new recipes.  And on a good day, the final product is palatable enough for Maiguida to ask for seconds. 

But you know what I don't like?  Numbers.  I hate them.  And I'm no good at using them.  If I have mittens on, forget it.  And please never, ever ask me to subtract or divide . . . cause we'll just be wasting each other's time.

The problem is, society has determined that numbers are important.  Like we can't live life without them or something.  And not just Western society!  Nope, Niger has numbers too!! 

And this week, I had to do math in Hausa and it was the most pain I've been in for a very long time.

05 June 2016

I Found Donuts in the Market

I can't make this stuff up!
I've been on a mission.

A fabric finding mission.

Last year I was in Côte d'Ivoire for the biennial congress of the PanAfrican BurnSociety.  Something I didn't know until moving to Niger is that Abidjan (Ivory Coast's capital city) is considered to be the Milan of West Africa.  We're talking haute couture here people!  At least in terms of wax prints.

Being that we were in the fashion capital of our little corner of the world, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to scope out the latest fabrics.  As I settled on a beautiful cobalt with a barely-there white dotted pattern, I noticed a print that was too fabulous for words: babies in-utero juxtaposed with waiting-to-nurse breasts.

04 June 2016

The Owner of the Room

So much of language is culture.  We often assume that language is simply a collection of words structured in a certain way and organized by these funny symbols we call emojis . . . I mean, punctuation.

Children learn the language of their parents (or languages, in some cases) by hearing and slowly mimicking.  Early mispronunciation or grammatical errors are often considered adorable, but are corrected as the child matures and begins school.  Through this style of learning, the cultural component of language is absorbed and naturally understood.

But when one studies a new language as an adult, there are heaps of nuances that are not so easily perceived.  And we find ourselves beginning to finally scratch the surface of what it really means to speak Hausa.

03 June 2016

And We're Back

A week ago our plane touched down in Niamey, the capital city of Niger.  It was around 2am local time.  As we grabbed our carry-ons and made our way out of the air conditioned cabin, we descended the movable staircase and crowded into transport bus that would take us for a 20-second drive from the plane to the arrivals terminal.

As we stood in the-kind-of-a-line, sweating, at passport control, I took in a deep breath of hot, stale air.

Ah.  Niger.

31 January 2016

The Five Stages of Home{less} Assignment

I know I told you a little while back that I'd return to more regular updates and even some posts catching you up on stories from the first half of 2015.

But I haven't done that.

And I'm only kind-of sorry about it.

14 December 2015

Why I'm Not Afraid to Live in Niger

One of the questions maiguida and I get asked the most as we travel around speaking and visiting is "Is it safe in Niger?"

"But what about terrorists??" and "Aren't you afraid??" and "Why would you give up the safety of America??" and "If something happened how will you protect yourselves??"

Most of the time I want to respond by pulling out my smarty-pants phone, googling "NEWS" and clobbering the asker with headlines of the violence rampant in the US . . . but instead I play the diplomat and explain that where we live in Galmi is currently peaceful and quiet, but we recognize the risks associated with the region at large and trust the Lord with our lives.

But the reality is, as disciples of Jesus, we gave up our safety/rights/freedom/lives when we "took up our cross and followed."

17 November 2015

I'm a Glutton for [Cross-Cultural] Punishment

I guess it was not enough that I live and work cross-culturally, so I had to go and marry a man that not only is of a different nationality, he comes from multiple cultures as well!

You see, Maiguida grew up in Niger, but his family is actually European.  So while he ate with a knife and fork at home, he's a complete natural when it comes to the Nigerien tradition of sharing a common plate and using one's right hand to consume a meal.

He is comfortable holding his wife's hand in public . . . and also walking down the street, hand-in-hand with a man.  Because in the West, hand holding is a romantic act, but in Niger it is reserved for close friends of the same gender.

And while he is a natural cultural-chameleon, there has been one very surprising cross-cultural nuance that we have come to discover about each other in the short time we've been married.  And we're struggling to get past it.

15 November 2015

Status Update

I am well aware that it has been [far] too long since my last post.

But there is good reason for that.

And it's not what many of you will think.

I got married about a month ago . . . but that's not why I haven't been writing.

WAIT A MINUTE!!!!!

Rewind that!

Deb. you did WHAT!?!?!?!  And you didn't tell us?!?!?!?

03 April 2015

Lessons on Palm Sunday

I started treating M. on 12 December 2013.  At the estimated age of 40, she had been sent to us after having a severe stroke which left her unable to move her right side, walk or speak.  

We worked together regularly for five months, and each time she had a check up with her doctor, she and her husband and her sister would pop by the gym to greet us.  

By the time she plateaued in therapy, she was walking by herself with the use of a hemi-walker.  She was able to do a good amount of her self-care on her own, and had figured out how to navigate around her aphasia.  I was impressed at how much we were able to communicate despite the limitations of her mono-word vocabulary.

The stroke had affected the portion of her brain that is responsible for expressive language, and while she understood everything we said, M. could only respond with the word “yes”.  She would change her tone or facial expression to convey her meaning. 

I loved when M. came by to see us.  Her face was bright with joy despite her difficulties.  No matter how difficult a task was, she persevered.  And her appreciation came across loud and clear in her “YYYEEEESSS!!”