09 July 2017

The Most Important Visit We've Ever Made

On a typical, business-as-usual day in early July 2013, I walked into the Bloc Opératoire to help with the dressing changes of our burn patients.  As I pushed through the swinging doors which divide the Surgical Ward from the Operating Theaters,  I met a three year-old that would greatly influence the color and texture of my entire experience at Galmi Hospital.

F. was sent for treatment at our hospital from a centre about an hour and a half northeast of us.  She had already been an inpatient in that facility for five months, but half of her burns were still open, unable to heal.  While at Galmi, she underwent several skin grafts and endured repetitive surgeries to carefully cut through the scars that were developing around her eyes.  For a year she battled the heat, wearing a specially fabricated face mask to combat the scarring process.

Our efforts bore some success.  But not enough.  And now, four years later, in addition to bearing evidence of her wounds across her face, she is manifesting the reality of her emotional scars.

08 July 2017

L'Abeille Boutique

Since moving to Niger in 2011, I've fallen in love with west African wax prints & batiks.  Of course, being a native New Yorker, I still struggle to be covered from head-to-toe in vibrant colors and patterns, but when it comes to my sewing and crafting projects, I just can't get enough!

Now, I'm excited to announce that through the wonderful world of Etsy, I can help spread the fabric-love!  That's right, I've opened an Etsy Shop!

L'Abeille Boutique is now open and ready for business!  Just click here to head on over for a browse.  

Know an avid quilter or crafter?  Be sure to send them our way!

28 June 2017

Happy Birthday to my Hero

We all have a hero.

You know, those larger-than-life, amazing super-humans that change-the-world or save-the-day.  We hear a lot about celebrities or athletes, authors or activists.  Someone to aspire to be like . . . the ultimate achiever of our own personal goals.  You know, someone remarkable.

We all have a hero.

Even me.

My hero's name is Liz.  And today is her birthday.

06 April 2017

April is OT Month

When I was young(er) and my parents were pushing me to think ahead about a career path I had all sorts of ideas . . . for the most part, all of those dreams required some sort of natural tallent that I lacked or being independently wealthy.

For a while in high school I spent my Saturday mornings volunteering in a local hospital's Physical Therapy Department.  I'd pull oxygen tanks, fetch equipment, fill Hubbard tanks and whirlpools, help patients count their repetitions.  It was great . . . until one random Saturday when my life forever changed.

02 April 2017

April Fool's or Merry Christmas

I figured I should wait a day for this post, just incase anyone thought this story was my April Fool's prank of 2017.  I do love a good prank . . . I've managed to pull some really fantastic ones since being in Galmi, but this year . . . I don't know if it's the heat, or how much more energy cooking-for-two can take out of me, or if it's because I'm really just in denial that it's been four months since I posted anything on this blog . . . but I just wasn't into April Fool's this year.  

So I thought it would be fun to share my favorite April Fool's prank that was pulled on me, by a Nigerien, at Christmas.

20 December 2016

Is Two Years Too Late

And you thought this was going to be a post about how it's been so long since I've written anything.  Ha!  Gotcha!!

Nearly two years ago we had a gym full of therapists . . . our little department was busting at the seams!  For one short week in February, we had 4 therapy practitioners, the best therapy-assistant an OT could ask for, and an Orthotist/Prosthetist.

In preparation for that time, B. and I had saved up some really tricky cases for these visitors so that our patients could have access to better minds than my own.  We all have skill sets and gifts . . . and some days what we have just isn't enough.  But that's the beauty of team!

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.