Alternative title: How I ended up in a Senegalese hospital.
Earlier this week, I was walking down the road at dusk, on my way to visit a friend and break the Ramadan fast with her family. I stumbled over my flip flops (remember my new ones) and felt a piece of metal pierce my skin.
I bent down to pull the piece of metal wire I saw sticking out of my foot–thinking that it had just pricked the surface–and just kept on pulling. A couple inches later, I was grasping a long rusted piece of metal, and blood was pouring out of my foot. Within seconds I was on the phone with one of my sitemates (Alan–my toubab backup) and then with the Peace Corps Medical Office. Though reluctant to visit the local hospital–I’d been there before, the facilities are far from sterile–Med assured me that it was absolutely necessary. Alan showed up and we hopped in a car and made our way to the hospital. All the while I was hyperventilating and sobbing. Not gonna pretend, I was far from stoic. I cried like a baby.
At the hospital, I my mood altered from panic–“Oh my god, I’m gonna lose my foot and get gangrene“–to resignation–“Oh my god this really hurts, and I’m in and African hospital, and I want my Mommy“. Another Peace Corps volunteer joined us at the hospital, David, who is fluent in French and was able to translate because of course, none of the hospital staff spoke Pulaar. The hospital staff cleaned and bandaged the wound. Then I was given the world’s longest and most painful tetanus shot with a brand-new clean needle. At least I think it was brand-new and clean. I’m pretty sure David and Alan wouldn’t have let them stick me with a dirty needle. Right guys?
David took me back home, explained the situation to my family and after dinner my older brother carried me into my hut to settle in for the night. I spent the night popping pain killers and changing my bandage–there was a lot of seepage. The next morning the Peace Corps doctor called and after a somewhat heated debate about the necessity of my coming to the Medical Office–which I lost–I was in a car heading to Dakar for x-rays and an ultrasound. According to them, pulling two inches of rusty wire out of your foot by yourself isn’t a good idea. All kinds of nasty bits and pieces get left behind, and since Kedougou is so far away from Dakar, I needed to spend a week in the Med Hut to so that they could be sure no nasty infections flared up.
The next 16 hours in-transit from Kedougou to Dakar were incredibly painful and miserable. By far the lowest point in my service. But the trip gave me incredible insight into how much Senegal has changed me. When placed in the worse possible situation, I didn’t get angry or frustrated like I probably would have in America. I just accepted the reality of the situation and moved forward in the best way I knew how. I had to trust and rely on people along the way (ie handing a stranger a 5 mille bill–which is more than he probably made in a week–and asking him to buy me water, lunch and phone credit–and he did!). Unfortunately, the vast majority of people let me down. I was surprised and confused that the majority of Senegalese people either ignored me or tried to profit off my vulnerable state. But there were a couple people who were kind and helpful, and I am incredibly grateful to them. I am especially happy that in my moment of need my sitemates rushed to my aid–and didn’t even make fun of me when I was a soggy, sad mess in the hospital.
My foot is fine now. No permanent damage. The Peace Corps Medical staff took excellent care of me. I spent about a week hobbling around the air-conditioned Med Hut in Dakar. Got to catch up on some American TV and order take out from Dakar’s best eateries. Not a bad consolation prize for getting jabbed with a rusty piece of metal. But keep your fingers crossed this will be the only time I have to take an emergency trip to Dakar. Air conditioning is nice, but being happy, healthy and at home in Kedougou is much, much nicer.
Disclaimer: The contents of this blog are mine alone and do not represent the positions or views of the U.S. Government or the U.S. Peace Corps.