Feet First

“It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has.” - Sir William Osler

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    Sunday, January 12, 2003
    And now for something besides me whining: Chuen-Yen! She has recently visited a leper colony:

    Greetings! Here's a thought for the week:
    �After shaking hands with a leper, you should wash.�

    In need of a little vacation, I decided to visit a Zambian Leper Colony this weekend. Unfortunately, my Malawian visa had expired in October and I don�t yet have a work permit. At the border, a well-armed official eyed my documents suspiciously. He curtly stated, �You are in Malawi illegally for four months.� After a brief discussion, he shook my hand, receiving 100 Kwacha in the process. The discrepancies were conveniently overlooked and necessary �updates� were made to my passport.

    Having smoothly entered Zambia, we lurched interminably along a muddy rut, past the �Wheels of Progress� sculpture, which is actually a heap of rusty gears displaying a crumbling nameplate, to Mwami Mission Hospital. This cramped, 200 bed � including mats on the floor � hospital is run by two pious doctors. Though the electrical supply is unreliable, medicines are scarce and phones have been out for two months now, Mwami is the best hospital in the region. Villagers transport their ill for entire days via ox cart ambulance to the facility. Live arrival of a patient to the hospital bodes well for survival.

    The local leper colony is just down the road. Since lepers are ostracized from mainstream society, they, despite distorted facial features, manifested great delight at our unexpected visit. We shook their stumps with our hands as they came crawling and hobbling out of doorways. A brief tour revealed that their colony is like any other community, just less efficient due to labor limitations.

    On return from the leper colony, one of our caravan became stranded along the washed out dirt path. We enjoyed using our intact appendages to free the car and then maneuver back to the doctors� quarters. Once near a tap, we, in keeping with the tenets of the bush, all scurried to cleanse our hands.

    Enjoy your fingers.

    Until next week,



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