i have just finished at the hospital and walked home on the muddy road. the last thing i did before i left was to explain tuberculosis to a patient's mother. she is from the nuer tribe. her four top teeth are removed, and the ones left on the corners are filed into sharp points. her face is lined with scars, scatters of perfect dots, swooping curves.
i sat with her for twenty minutes, balancing her small child on my knee. he was 3 kilograms heavier than when he i first admitted him, feverish and coughing, to the feeding centre. i explained to her that tuberculosis is a very strong infection, spread by coughing. most children catch it when they are young, from an adult. it lives in their lungs and can make them sick. other infections are not so strong, and can be treated in a few days. tuberculosis needs medicines for six months. every day. if the pills stop too early, the infection comes back stronger, and it is difficult to treat.
she nodded occasionally, never met my eyes, never smiled. my story was difficult to believe. certainly no more likely than the illness being caused by a dark curse on the family. her understanding of the world, and mine, were completely different. we had separate ideas about how it started, about how best to live in it, about what will happen when we leave it. my beliefs would be as magical to her as hers to me. we sat there, our different worlds sharing the same room, our common ground balancing on my knee.
she agreed to continue the treatment. i am not sure if it is because she believed the pills were stronger than the infection or the magic. it didn't matter to either of us. i showed her how to give the medicines, to dissolve them in clean water, to use a syringe to squirt them in his mouth.
and then they were gone. and so was i. i grabbed my bag, and walked through the gate. as i did, i imagined myself back home. in the emergency room. leaning up against the nurse's desk to scribble down an order. the bright fluorescent light. the hum of electricity. an overhead announcement. a patient's call bell ringing. the intern behind me waiting to review a case. a porter saying, excuse me, pushing a patient past. just one live moment.
i understand why they call it shock. that's what it felt like. two left brains. or two right ones. a mirror image on top of a mirror image, turned upside down. it just didn't match. if i changed places right now, in an instant, i wouldn't know where to begin. wouldn't know whether to sit down or stand up, where i finished and where everyone else started.
i leave the field in about a month or so. i thought i could never get this place to fit me right. i understand now that was never an option. all along, without me even knowing it, i was somehow being fitted.