February 23, 2011

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Helps To Stay Healthy <em>by Cheri Roland</em><br /> <br /> "Somebody’s going to die here!” A new student had leapt to his feet, shouting and stabbing his finger accusingly at me. The lecture hall air was electric. For a moment nobody breathed. Inwardly I sighed. I had hoped to get through my power point presentation during the seminary orientation without great confrontation. In hindsight, that was quite a naive expectation; I had just dropped a bomb shell. Per seminary policy, seminarians would not be able to see a doctor until they had been referred by me, the school nurse.<br /> <br /> About 100 folks were packed into the lecture hall, 90 of them our seminarians in training to become "transforming leaders for church and nation". They were required to attend my lecture, "Helps to Stay Healthy". Many of our students come from rural settings where education is imparted orally. Books, paper, computers and libraries are scarce. There are no courses in health and science from first grade on up; maybe somewhere along the way they have been lucky enough to have heard a professional teach about HIV/AIDS. As a result, there is wide spread ignorance and misconceptions about how their bodies work, let alone causes or prevention of disease.<br /> <br /> In jail vernacular, I had “dissed” my accuser and his fellow seminarians. What right did this white, old, American woman have to trash their health care traditions? Later – much later – I put myself in their shoes. How I would feel if suddenly informed that my wellbeing now rested in the hands of a witch doctor?<br /> <br /> Traditional healers, or sangomas, mirror the wide range of practitioners we have in the states, providing reputable to disreputable to downright dangerous treatment. Here healers work with a wide broad variety of techniques, from using highly effective herbal remedies to using witch craft, with all of its far reaching ramifications. But that is another story.<br /> <br /> Recently Western medicine has become available to outlying rural areas; for many, the manner in which a doctor is consulted has become wrapped up in its own set of customs. (Please understand I’m relaying a compilation of hearsay relayed to me after my presentation, and in no way meant to diminish the wonderful medical care provided for marginalized patients all over Africa and beyond.) These common cultural practices surrounding medical care put a new face on seeing the doctor.<br /> <br /> One such practice revolves around visiting the clinic. Due to the scarcity of doctors, villages must rotate specific days for the medical team to treat patients. Because of 80%+ unemployment in townships and beyond, folks often have little to keep them occupied, so clinic visits become an anticipated social event. This has nothing to do with being ill. Bathed, wearing their church clothes and armed with food for the day, they gather together to kibitz for the 12 hours it may take before they are seen by the doctor. And they are rewarded for their patience; they always are given a tablet with the assurance of “curing” their common complaints of “a mouse running around inside my tummy” or “bugs eating me from the inside”. If they are actually feeling sick, their expectation, at the very least, is to be given an antibiotic; but an “injection” is even better…<br /> <br /> No wonder many of my patients have been furious after their visit with the school nurse! In their experience, medical care = tablets promising a cure. But at SMMS they usually leave my office with patient education and (maybe) medicine to relieve their symptoms. The fact that antibiotics are ineffective against viruses is still too great a leap for them to swallow. Imagine their feelings of fear, frustration and loss of control over their health when I announce that a) they don’t need to see the doctor and b)there are no antibiotics that will fix their complaint! Hence my current reputation among the seminarians is, “All she does is tell you to exercise and drink more water.”<br /> <br /> So where does this leave me as school nurse? Obviously my clever power point presentation did not do the trick. It seems I forgot the number one principal of Missionary Training 101: I must shed my “western medicine has all the answers” attitude and appreciate the positive healing practices of the seminarians’ cultures before I can hope to affect any real change in cultural attitudes. In other words, it is I who must be transformed in order to help transform and empower them. How will I tackle this challenge?<br /> <br /> Early this morning God floated me His promise from 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will heal their land.” If I have been called by God, as I claim I have, I must humble myself, pray for forgiveness, and journey, not out ahead of, but along with these folks . He will do the rest. Guess I’d better get started.<br /> <br /> <a style="display: inline;" href="http://hydeparkumc.typepad.com/.a/6a00e54f9cf89788340147e2bfb13e970b-pi"><img class="asset asset-image at-xid-6a00e54f9cf89788340147e2bfb13e970b image-full" title="IMG_0032" src="http://hydeparkumc.typepad.com/.a/6a00e54f9cf89788340147e2bfb13e970b-800wi" border="0" alt="IMG_0032" /></a> <br />

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