Yesterday, someone asked me if I was scared during my trip to Tanzania. My immediate answer was no, but after a few moments as the two weeks on the other side of the world flooded my head and heart, I responded again with a quick story:
For some reason, the first few days in Africa, my hands were assaulted with five or six small and minor cuts. Not quite sure how or when these tiny little wounds were inflicted, but it was definitely something I couldn't help but notice. Mainly because, they all quickly turned black. Despite our diligent efforts to sanitize, it was just dirty. We were dirty.
So gloves quickly became more of a hassle than a help. For us in triage, we'd only put on gloves if there was a strange skin issue that might be contagious on contact. Which might not have been the smartest move on my part, with the open skin scattered across my hands, but when in Africa...
So on our fifth day of clinics, a handsome man sits down in my chair, looking relatively healthy. I glance at his registration sheet and the capital letters of HIV command my focus. I quickly scan his hands and arms for any open wounds, and when I saw none, I proceeded to get his heart rate and blood pressure, glove-less.
The squeeze in my chest didn't come until I was taking the thermometer out of his mouth, and a big glob of drool came with it. My heart pounded as the open skin on my hands was inches from the saliva of a man with a deadly disease. I understand that HIV doesn't typically get transmitted through saliva, but the possibility still caused the adrenaline to release. It was the only moment that I experienced fear with these people and this land that I quickly grew to love.
I successfully threw away the therm probe cover without fluid contact, I smiled at my patient and told him 'subeedi doctari,' or, 'wait for the doctor,' and we sat together in silence until the next doctor was ready.
My face to face experience with that fatal disease had passed, and I was ready for the next patient. Fearless again.
Here are some images of medical conditions we saw...
a fungal rash on this man's foot and leg
a hemorrhoid protrudes on a 4 year old
a woman has had this goiter for years
she also suffers from leprosy on her hands
this man can no longer walk from this infection on his foot that he's had for 7 years
this woman has lived with this growth in her mouth for 5 years