12 September 2016

Give Us a Hand

One of my first patients since returning to Galmi in July has been a young man named H.A. who was transferred to our hospital after a severe electrical burn.  While our surgeons were able to save both of his feet, where the electricity exited his body, there was nothing they could do for his hands, and both had to be amputated.

His first month in the hospital was clouded with depression and severe pain.  We worked together on a daily basis, maintaining movement of his shoulders and elbows, knees and ankles.  I promised him that if he refused to give up, he would do all the things he used to do.

I'm pretty sure he didn't believe me.

Until one day I showed up with a prosthetic hand.

I saw the LN-4 hand for the first time last November.  Maiguida and I were still jet-lagged from our honeymoon when we went to represent SIM at a conference for people who want to do the kind of work we do.  A man approached with a simple prosthetic hand that has a dynamic wrist, which functions to release the grip of the fingers.

As I drooled over the hand, he showed us pictures of people using this hand to hold cutlery or a cup, to carry buckets, to grip a pen and write . . . it was an OT-in-a-Resource-Poor-Region's dream come true!  I couldn't wait to get some for Galmi!

A few months later when we were at the SIM USA office, we found out that they had received a donation of these hands to be distributed to some of their medical centers around the world.  Galmi was the first to ask for some.

Since coming to Niger I've expanded my scope of practice significantly.  While fabricating hand splints is common place for an Occupational Therapist, making AFOs (Ankle Foot Orthoses) is usually left to the professionals.  While pulling burn face masks is something I learned as a student on one of my rotations, sewing burn compression garments is usually custom made by an outside company.  I've had to do the work of many professions . . . without the accompanying advanced degree.

Needless to say, it is doing the people of Niger a great service to have something arrive prefab so that there is little risk of my botching it all up!

H.A. studies some of the possible grips that his new hand
can make.  Look at that smile!
When H.A. and I started working together, he was severely depressed and in great denial about the quality of life he could regain after such a devastating injury.

He began finding reasons why he couldn't participate in therapy.  He'd ask me to "come back later" each time I went to bring him to the gym.  He would lay in bed and refuse to get up.

But then one day, the surgeon gave us the go-ahead, and I stopped by his room with his new hand.

As I showed H.A. how the hand worked and talked him through how we would secure it to his arm, a smile spread wide over his face.  For the first time in two months he had hope.

Hope is an amazing force!  It is what keeps us pressing on in the face of adversity.  It is the promise of possible victory in the midst of great uncertainty.

And sitting on the edge of an ancient hospital bed in a village located in the middle of nowhere, through a magnificent-yet-simple plastic hand, a young man found the hope that he needed to refuse to give up.


H.A. and his dad practice donning his LN-4 hand.

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