last night, I could not leave the hospital. I tried. but each time I put my stethoscope in bag and washed my hands, clapped the nurses on the shoulder and said "bukra...tomorrow", another worried family opened the gate. they carried an infant with pneumonia, a women a with spike of metal in her foot, a teenager with pyelonephritis. one family walked for six days to bring an old man who could no not walk. I saw a child I discharged one month ago, the heart listening celebrity and didn’t recognize him. he was 55% of the proper weight for his height. he had lost all the weight he had gained and with it, his bright curiosity. he couldn’t lift his head to look me in the face.
I found myself leaning against the door frame of the nursing room, waiting for the results of a malaria test. the light was fading, changing into amber sombre shadows. the patients had all pulled their beds away from the walls and the radiant heat and were scattered like dominos on ground. the heat has returned and it has been merciless. the air was heavy and still. like the sky was drawing in a slow breath. I think it might rain, I said, to no one.
I leaned there, on the door frame, and waited. around the corner, below the blue water barrels in the middle of the courtyard, came achol. she was running like toddlers do, a little off balance, listing to one side then the other, using her fat arms as ballast. she came into hospital a month ago, thin and feverish for all her life. we fed her and treated her for TB. tonight, as always, she was running. her mother scooped her up, and she screamed with delight.
I turned to look for clouds. none. I caught the eye of the parent from a child in the feeding centre. she smiled brightly at me. I don’t think I have shared one personal word with her, though I see her child every day and ask how he is. but if our paths cross during the day, it is always the same, nothing but the widest smiles.
an unfamiliar feeling started to seep in. what was it. foreboding? no, nostalgia. melancholy. nope. unfamiliar. wait... is that... fondness? for this hospital? for... abyei? with all its hard, sharp edges, dustdustdust, heatheatheat. no way. still, it feels a lot like it.
the nurse picked her way through the beds littered on the ground and handed me the sheet with the paracheck result. negative. I turned from the door and set it on the table. a gust of wind blew in, and scattered all the papers. outside, it whipped through the courtyard. I felt the sting of sand on my face, the grit in my mouth and eyes. an unattended mattress flipped end over end past the door of the nursing room. the soft dusk light disappeared. sandstorm.
I saw two more patients, and walked home in the dark, squinting through my fingers from the sand. but still, even though the desert tried to cover it up, I am pretty sure that’s what I felt. fondness.
I returned to the hospital twice more last night, leaving it for a few hours of sleep at 2. now it is the next day. it is dark, and the generator clatters in the background. I am several hours short of sleep, and have missed dinner. time to find both.
one last, important thing. I want to congratulate my friends at Open Medicine [www.openmedicine.ca]. they launched a free, independent, medical journal last week. for their tireless effort and principled dedication they have my admiration, gratitude, and loyalty.
in writing, it is better to show than tell. instead of "people were sad", better to write "a woman wept". so too in the world. instead of saying that we, each of us, deserve a world where information that affects us is both free from influence and ours to use, open medicine has shown that it is possible. I believe it deserves the widest support. congratulations.