This afternoon, I fought my own personal battle for Women's Rights in Niger.
I think the reason I hate crutch training the most is because often it becomes a community event. It's hard enough with the language barrier, but throw in and extra dozen people and their two-cents and you've got a circus.
And what's Ringling Crutch Brothers got to do with the Feminist Movement?? Keep reading.
So I was asked to give a patient some crutches. He had an open fracture that had been set and was now wearing a cast from the tip of his toes to his hip. I went in and started as I usually do . . . I demonstrate how to correctly use the crutches, then show all the incorrect ways that they are not supposed to walk, then show them the correct way again. After which I preface the rest of our session with 'babu Hausa de yaouha' (I don't have much Hausa . . . literally: no Hausa of a lot). Normally I start with the walker and then move to crutches, but this was a young, strong guy and they're usually the only ones that catch on right away . . . first mistake.
Since this guy was taller than me, I brought an extra Deb.-size pair of crutches for demonstration purposes. And it was a good thing too. When he was finally able to stand up, his brother ripped the crutches from me and tucked the tall crutches under the armpits of my patient. Then they both waited for something to happen.
I stood there wide-eyed at the brother's actions as they waited. When nothing did, his brother reached for the shorter pair and insisted that it was a height issue. I told him that my patient was 'dogo' (tall) and the crutches were not. We stuck with the long ones and I tried again. Tahi! (walk!) Nothing.
My patient stared at me as if his crutches were broken. It's probably a good thing that I didn't have enough language to tell him that they were not the problem.
I started my usual crutch-training mantra: crutches, foot, crutches, foot, crutches, foot.
He just stood there.
I showed him again how to correctly walk. But he was seemingly paralyzed.
Throughout this whole endeavor, his brother was barking orders that I couldn't understand. They may have been helpful, but from what I could tell the only purpose they served was to fluster and anger my patient. And I'll tell you from experience, a frustrated patient with poor balance and two club-like pieces of wood in his possession is not the ideal for a therapeutic atmosphere.
Realizing pretty quickly that we weren't getting very far, I told him to sit and wait, that I would be right back, and I ran to my office to get the walker.
When I walked into the room 73 seconds later, his brother was putting him back in bed. 'Amma, akwai aiki!' (But there's work!) I said. Big bro responded with more Hausa I didn't understand, but reluctantly helped him get back into sitting.
I demonstrated how to use the walker and told him to stand.
Once again, he waited for the walker do to all the walking, so I began to pull and push. Nothing. Finally I stood in front of him, hiked my hip up to the side so that my foot was off the floor and said 'i haka' (do like this). It worked! Like a small miracle, he was able to lift his casted foot off the ground and inch it forward.
Throughout this time, the elder brother continued to get in my way, and my patience was thinning . . . rapidly. Despite the language barrier, his tone and countenance made if very clear, my lack of a Y chromosome was a big problem for him.
My patient was able to make it about 10 steps before he looked like he was about to collapse in exhaustion. We had just a few more to go before getting back to his bed. But oh, no, Big Brother wasn't satisfied. My patient needed to prove his manhood and would therefore need to walk out into the hallway. Uh-uh (no) I said. Akwai gajiya, akwai aiki de yahoua (there is tiredness, there is a lot of work).
I learned something in that moment: Nigerien men don't like women defending them.
My patient turned towards the hall. I stood in his way.
Neither he, nor his brother, liked that. I had to think quick. 'Akwai itatchi' (there are crutches) I said to the brother. 'Ya tahi gado, sai anjima zashi tahi itatchi.' (He walks to the bed, later he will walk with crutches.) The brother went to where I had left the crutches, and picked them up to give his brother.
'UH-UH!!' (NO!!) I said. 'Babu yenzo!!' (not now!!) The brother tried to push me out of the way. I grabbed the crutches and gave him my best Bronx-Attitude stare (I learned it from my mother!) 'BABU . . . YENZO!' (NOT . . . NOW!!!) I said as my eyes bored holes into him. I had had enough.
We stood there for what felt like an eternity . . . both of us death gripping the crutches . . . Big Bro not willing to take orders from a woman . . . and me praying that my patient didn't hit the floor before my pro-women victory.
Eventually, defeated, he let go of the crutches.
My patient made it back to the bed and sat for a bit. Then, as I had promised, I let him try the crutches again. It didn't work. His brother began to yell at me in Hausa. I ignored him.
He got louder and more erratic, but I refused to cower. I helped my patient sit, gathered up both pairs of crutches and the walker and promised I'd be back tomorrow.
Hope his brother is ready for Round Two.