12 March 2011

Learning to Get Out of the Box

One of the hardest parts about living and working abroad is having to make oneself fit in a new cultural context . . . especially as a woman . . . and a single woman at that, in a setting where a woman's position is given by being a wife and her value determined by how many children she has.

On one hand, it's exciting to jump into something so new . . . to learn new things and meet new people.  But when staying for a long time, the beginning comes with different challenges than when just passing through.  Strangers and beginners are often given much grace when messing up, but some of those mistakes can have lasting effects . . . first impressions are first impressions, regardless of geographical location!

So my new role here at Galmi is requiring not only that I jump in with both feet, but that I do so without splashing about (too much) and that my anti-sinking policy doesn't burn bridges before I've had the chance to build any (I think that was just excessive use of analogy, sorry).

Anyway, there is a point to all of this . . . and these ramblings do, in fact, stem from an experience I had this week.  

Yesterday I saw a woman who, for over a year (and most likely over two years), has had median nerve entrapment . . . in layman's terms, that means the nerve that makes the muscles of her thumb work, that supplies sensation to her thumb, index finger, and the fatty part of the hand we call the Thenar Eminence, and that stimulates the sweat glands of her thumb, index finger, and part of the palm is being compressed by another piece of anatomy somewhere between her neck and wrist.  She has lost all active movement in her thumb, except extension (which is supplied by the radial nerve) and so her thumb rested at the base of her four fingers, pretty uselessly . . . she has no fine touch sensation and minimal pressure sensation . . . and her palm was scaly and DRY.

She understood that at this point we can do nothing for her, as far as surgical intervention goes, but I felt confident that if I splinted her hand with her thumb in a more functional position she would be able to use her left hand again.  (This was actually attempt number two . . . during the first attempt on Thursday, the tip of her thumb actually fell off . . . so she was here first to have the dead tissue from her thumb removed and the area cleaned.)

When her hand had been properly cleaned and a splint applied, I began explaining to her how to apply the splint herself, how to clean it, the importance of keeping it out of the sun when she's not wearing it (noting is more impractical than a lump of melted plastic!), and the importance of keeping her hand moisturized since her nervous compromise has left her with extremely dry skin.  

Since she speaks no French, and I'm still babu Hausa, the OR tech who had cleaned her wound was translating for me.  He repeated everything I said, until I told her to be sure to apply lotion or vaseline everyday to keep her hand sufficiently moisturized (to make up for the damage to the sweat glands).  I said it again.  He nodded and said 'Uh huh' but did not translate.  

I was confused by this.  Why wouldn't he tell her to put lotion or vaseline on her hands?  Does he not understand how important it is for her?  Well, that doesn't make sense, because he's understood how important everything else I've said is.  Okay, so what do I know already about the culture here that might explain this . . . keeping face.  It is really important to keep face . . . what about using lotion on her hands would be shameful to her . . . unless of course!  She doesn't have any, nor can she access some.  But surely vaseline!!  But he didn't say that to her.  Okay Deb., think!  What else works . . . OIL!

'Tell her if she can also use a little bit of cooking oil on her hands to help keep them moisturized.'  It worked.  He translated.

1 comment:

M.S. said...

Quick thinking Deb!! That's amazing. I'm so thrilled to hear you working in your passion. I am so thankful you are a beautiful and entertaining writer b/c I love reading your stories. It helps me feel connected with you and with direct people ministry. I'm still waiting my turn, and my French is nowhere near the abilities yours is but I hope to have inspiring stories like yours someday. All our love from France, Megan