I started treating M. on 12 December 2013. At the estimated age of 40, she had been sent to us after having a severe stroke which left her unable to move her right side, walk or speak.
We worked together regularly for five months, and each time she had a check up with her doctor, she and her husband and her sister would pop by the gym to greet us.
By the time she plateaued in therapy, she was walking by herself with the use of a hemi-walker. She was able to do a good amount of her self-care on her own, and had figured out how to navigate around her aphasia. I was impressed at how much we were able to communicate despite the limitations of her mono-word vocabulary.
The stroke had affected the portion of her brain that is responsible for expressive language, and while she understood everything we said, M. could only respond with the word “yes”. She would change her tone or facial expression to convey her meaning.
I loved when M. came by to see us. Her face was bright with joy despite her difficulties. No matter how difficult a task was, she persevered. And her appreciation came across loud and clear in her “YYYEEEESSS!!”
In December, M.’s husband showed up at the gym, distraught. Upon greeting him, we learned that she was upstairs in the surgical ward waiting for an emergency surgery because of a perforation in her intestines as a result of typhoid.
We went up, straight away, to see her. She was laying on a gurney in the ICU, still in her street clothes, waiting as the OR was prepped. I promised I’d come back and check on her when she got out of surgery.
When I returned a few hours later, she was gone. And so was her family.
She never made it to surgery. She died on a gurney in the hallway of our surgical ward.
The giving of condolences is a very important part of Nigerien culture. Where I come from, if one is not able to attend the funeral, to send a hand-written card, bouquet of flowers or financial contribution to a chosen charity is proper etiquette. Here, when a friend or loved one dies, you go and visit the family. It may take a few days or weeks or even months before you are able to travel, but as soon as you can, you go.
But I couldn’t go. I didn’t know where the family lived.
I spent Palm Sunday at a small village church up the road from Galmi, where I’ve been attending for several months now. Together with a visiting PT and his wife, we went and spent the day in a “city” about an hour up the road.
While wandering through the market, we were stopped a few times by strangers who recognized us as being from the hospital.
“You treated my grandson, S.” the old woman said as she stood from where she was squatting on the corner selling local spinach mixed with a peanut-butter-like sauce. “He’s doing so well now!”
We sent our greetings on to little S. and his father.
There is no such thing as anonymity in Niger.
As we were getting ready to make our way back, we stopped to purchase some big, beautiful, yellow mangoes. I approached the fruit cart, and a man stepped in front of me, one more inch and we would have been nose-to-nose.
“Do you know me?” he asked me.
“Of course I do.” It was M.’s husband.
“M. died.” he said.
“I know. I came back to see her and you were all gone already.”
“I cried for her,” he admitted. A rare, but precious, confession for a Nigerien man to make.
“I did too,” I told him.
“I miss her,” he said as he put his hand over his heart. I was speechless. Something I never believed I’d hear from a man in this culture. “You gave us more time with her. We thought her life was over, but you made her walk again. You gave us more time.”
In the best my Hausa could do, I expressed my sorrow for the loss of his wife. He thanked me, then nodded at his taxi and all the people waiting for him to drive them to the next village, he had to go.
We said our goodbyes, he climbed behind the steering wheel and I went back to choosing my four happy mangoes.
As I negotiated the price, I heard a voice from behind the vendor say “She doesn’t pay!” I looked up to see M.’s husband handing a 1000cfa bill (~$2) to the Mango Man.
His words kept ringing in my ears for the rest of the day, the day of Palm Sunday. The day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and was hailed as King.
The more his words echoed, the more I thought of Jesus and what would come five days after the shouts of “Hosanna”: She doesn’t pay.
Today is Good Friday. The day the Christian world stops to remember when our Savior hung on a Roman cross over 2000 years ago. The day when Emmanuel of Christmas was innocently crucified.
He was beaten, whipped, mocked and humiliated . . . so that “she doesn’t pay”.
God’s great story through Jesus is restoration. When Adam and Eve disobeyed they left a wake of separation between mankind and our Creator. But God promised a seed of redemption to the human race. His prophets spoke of the One who would come, whose blood would wash away our sins and whose wounds would heal us.
It cost Jesus His life . . . so that I didn't pay.