Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Crazy Pants

Crazy Pants

I swear we could make a movie of the craziness that happens here. It just doesn’t get any crazier than this past week, however. And this we can write about.

How’s a girl gonna get out of school in Chad where there’s no such thing as a snow day?

It better be something good!

You gotta fake out your teacher. You gotta fake out your classmates. You gotta fake out your parents. You gotta fake out the nurses at the hospital.
I’ve always hated fakers in the medical field. Somehow I attract them. Fake seizure here, fake seizure there….. In America. In Africa. They’re everywhere!

In the medical field there are a few tell tale signs to know when someone’s faking it. Once you get that one little sign. It’s over. You know they are a faker. It takes less than a minute usually.

Then comes the process of the PATIENT accepting it and telling everyone else that they were faking it too. That’s the part that takes a while. In America, we don’t usually get the luxury of this second part even though we know the truth.
It started a week or so ago. A teenage girl came in here. A teenage girl came in there. Same story. She was at school (usually) and started acting weird.

She had some sort of a seizure. She would act crazy, shaking her arms and body parts depending on the girl. She would stare and look at you weird. Some people thought it was medical. Some people thought it was devil possession. In reality, they were just faking it.

A girl fell ill with the sickness. Everyone got all hyped up about her. Crowds gathered. She got lots of attention. Another girl thought she’d try it in another school. Same sort of thing.

The drums of Bere started beating. They passed it on to Kelo. They passed it on to Moundou. The drums even got to N’DJamena.

I had heard Olen complaining of these girls on and off for a week or so. There hadn’t been very many at one time though.


I heard the commotion at urgence. A pick-up truck had brought in a teenage girl acting like a rabid dog. There were 20 people trying to hold her down and carry her into urgence.

Seriously people!? “Get away. All of the family has to get out! Everyone get out!” (Fakers love a good crowd.)

At the same time 2 other girls came in. All 3 of them were from different schools in Bere. Since they all came from different schools, people thought they had to be telling the truth and were really sick. Oh, so it must be an epidemic of crazy pants girls then!

I had 10 seconds with the first girl before I knew she was faking it. It’s all in the eyes.

Immediately, I brought the other 2 girls in the same holding area as the first girl. There was some wrestling I must admit. There was some yelling. There was a lot of, “Why don’t you want to be equal with the men in this country?” “Why don’t you want to go to school? Didn’t we just celebrate Mar. 8 (women’s independence day)?” There were a few pen to nail bed pressures (trust me you don’t want this.). There was even a little of me acting crazy to show them I could do it also.

In the end, each girl walked out of urgence on her own standing next to me. She told the crowd she was sorry.

We had 8 total crazy pants teenage girls come in that same day. Each one got the same treatment.

“Are you going to admit you are faking it now?, Or do you want to spend the week in pediatrics with us?” They all chose to be difficult and become hospitalized. Olen and I paired up a few times when several came in at once.

Each girl had to say sorry to the crowd of gawking onlookers who had just struggled to get this thrashing girl to the hospital.

Each girl was then hospitalized in pediatrics with all of the screaming babies.

They all hated me at first. But I promise that we were BFF’s (best friends forever) by the time she left the hospital.

You see, starting with the most stubborn girl, I made them follow me around on rounds, consulting patients, and operating on patients (observation only). By the end of the day she was my friend whether she wanted to be or not.

These girls needed attention. And they needed hope for the future. They needed to know that their life mattered. That they could BE someone. And they needed discipline.

I didn’t want them to EVER forget this week. They messed with the wrong girl here! The first day I took 2 girls. The second hospitalized day I took 2, and Olen took 2. The third day I took 2 and Olen took 1. They actually liked it after the first few minutes of us ignoring their stubbornness.

Well I tell you that we’d never get away with this in America...Wrestling the patient to the floor, humiliating her in front of all of the on-lookers, publicly declaring that she was faking it, and then bringing her into the hospital to learn about medical things!?

The girls’ eyes were opened by what they could learn if they just stay in school. They saw intelligent female nurses working equally with men. They saw the suffering of the female patients here. They saw the sadness in the eyes of the parents of very sick children with malaria. They saw rude men refuse to pay for care for family members.
You could see the change in their eyes, little by little. They wanted to be different now. They wanted to be an intelligent female.
The epidemic finished with a 3 day vacation from school for the WHOLE COUNTRY. Seriously. For fakers. Official government line: “We are suspending all academic activities for 72 hours in the hopes the evil spirits will pass by in that period of time.”
But our girls didn’t really get a vacation. However, they will never forget it. They soooo hated me at first. And then they loved me. Oh, it was a great week! And we discharged them after only 3 days because they were on such good behavior!
(As an aside: We do actually believe in demon-possession. And we believe we see it here. However, this was not that. This was voluntary crazy-pants.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Desk

I am no good at my job. Since I arrived three years ago (and a year and a half before that), around $80,000 has disappeared from this hospital. The number has yet to be determined. It was probably all or mostly removed by one man, my administrator, whom I trusted too much. I have no administration experience or education and have never even taken so much as high school accounting. The hospital was making money and the hospital was growing and we were slowly making strides in our organizational structure, quality of care and infrastructure. I thought everything was going well. Now I know better.

So I am learning as I go. And I am hating it. I am the all-time reluctant administrator. I don’t like politics. I’m no good at it. I’m no good at inter-personal relations when I am the boss. I’m not organized enough. I’m not motivated enough. I don’t set a good example. I’m only the administrator because my wife refuses (unhappy wife makes unhappy husband) and my father-in-law doesn’t speak enough French.

Oh, and I’m overworked too. That might decrease my efficiency. I need to see the pediatric and medicine patients, handle radiology questions, see private consults, consult any complicated emergency room patients, do any potentially-tricky anesthesia, oversee construction (although Jamie handles 99% of this), make the nursing schedule, arrange for employees’ time off, handle any issues which arise (which is several times a day), govern meetings, fundraise, collect donations of money and equipment, find projects suiting the needs of donors, start a nursing school, a midwifery school, an anesthesia school and a surgical training program from scratch, get all my volunteers short-term and long-term visas, build proper local and national government and church relations, etc.

Oh, and I’m also AHI Director for Tchad/Cameroon. So in theory I need to oversee Moundou, Abougoudam, Buea, Koza and Batouri. For the most part, I have very little to do with them. But if I did my job well, I’d be much more helpful in getting Batouri and Koza more supplies and staff. And I’d be recruiting more. Oh, and I’m responsible for getting volunteers here, which involves getting them from airport to N’Djamena lodging, then to police station, then to change money, then on a bus to Bere, then arrange food and lodging in Bere (although I have help finishing the food and lodging). Then return them back home. We had over fifty volunteers in January. I’m in charge of taking care of all Tchadian nursing and medical students sent through school by AHI, which is 17 this year. I need to get them their monthly stipend, pay their tuition and ensure they are actually enrolled in the school they say they are. I also oversee our public health project (although I have good help here), govern more meetings, handle incoming containers, make sure all paperwork between AHI and the government and our institutions and the government are in order, etc.

So now, after missing all this money, I also realize I must meet with my new administrator and new accountant daily to count and sign off on the previous day’s income and receipts, I must sign off on every expense, I must ensure daily store room status and I must make out our staff’s payroll. I also need to confirm retirement accounts for my employees and that they pay income tax properly.

Oh, and then I need to spend several hours a day responding to emails and working on the computer. When I work at the hospital, patients and staff are constantly coming to find me. When I work from home on the kitchen table, my children want to play. So it was decided I needed an office.

My loving wife cannibalized a guest bedroom in our house and Jamie made me a desk. Well, he actually found an old desk frame in really good shape and put a nice piece of American plywood on top, with the edges sanded to perfection. But it needed painted.

So Lyol and I painted it. Sort of.

Lyol grabbed a medium-sized paint brush and gave me a pencil-sized paint brush. He then proceeded to slop paint out of the bucket onto the desktop. Occasionally he would push the paint around a bit, not unlike you might see an octogenarian do on the senior’s professional shuffleboard circuit.

Handicapped though I was by the size of my brush and my desire to not merely use the brush to dip-and-drench, I still managed to keep pace with him on my side of the table. I helped paint the edges. As the desktop was nearing completion, I picked up the paint bucket so we could paint the last remaining corner of plywood. Each time he dipped into the paint bucket, Lyol managed to scrap half of his paint off on my hand. Lyol decided it might also be wise to paint the base supporting that new sheet of plywood, so he slashed a stroke across it. And then tired of his labors.

He stepped back from his handiwork and looked. I too stepped back from the desk and sized up my five-year-old son, trying to determine which had more paint, the desk or his skin. He pronounced his work good and moved on to play in the yard, but not before getting cleaned up with gasoline to wash off the paint, leaving behind only traces of gray as evidence of his hard, sloppy labor.

As he played in the yard 40 feet away from me, I tried to clean up his workmanship just a tad. I tried move the paint from places that seemed a quarter inch thick with it to places still brown and barren. I painted the edges. I finished the base, which I wasn’t intending to do, but needed done since he started it with a singular broad stroke.

I knew the entire time I could have done a better job and done it faster on my own. But I enjoyed doing it with him. I enjoyed spending time with him. I enjoyed watching him learn to do something. And I think the next desk he paints will be better off for it.

That was yesterday and I moved my desk into my office today. It now has the handprints of all three of my children on it. Is it composed of the greatest, highest-quality parts? No. Is it the craftsmanship that makes it valuable? By no means. Does it stand apart by virtue of it’s attention to detail? Certainly not.

But it’s my favorite desk in the world. It’s the perfect desk. Why? Because my son and I spent time together painting it. The two of us. Our project.

So now I sit down at my desk and work. And I think of my mountains of assignments. I think of my stress. I think of what a shoddy job I’m doing.

And I realize something.

I’m taking my medium-sized paint brush to this hospital and to AHI. And I’m just slopping paint all over the place, willy-nilly. Some places are way too thick. Other places I miss altogether. I forget. I don’t pay attention to detail. I’m painting things that shouldn’t be painted. I’ve started painting some things and I’m running out of steam to finish them. I’m getting myself very dirty. And I’m even slopping paint all over the Guy holding the bucket.

God is holding the bucket. He’s standing by observing, content to watch me do my miserable best. He’s patiently letting me cover Him with my lousy efforts to paint. He watching me get myself dirty. He’s seeing all the places I’ve overlooked. He sees how uneven I am, how I make neck-deep pools of paint where a sixteenth of an inch would have sufficed. He watches me paint things that were just fine without paint, then tire out. Then He patiently does His best to douse me with gasoline and scrub me clean, leaving behind only the traces.

And then, He ever so patiently takes the piddly pencil-sized brush I’ve left Him with and starts going over the places I’ve missed. Finishing what I couldn’t. Smoothing over all the irregularities. And without ever groaning, He merely bears the paint I’ve smeared on His hands by my clumsiness and shortcomings and inattention to detail. And He stands back and smiles.

Yes, the job could have been done better and faster without me. But you know what? He CHOSE to do this with somebody. And you know what? He CHOSE me! And when He sits down at His desk to work, He thinks back on spending time with me. He thinks about all my silly little efforts to do my best, tongue hanging out in concentration and everything. He sees the imperfections in my work, which are not hard to find. He runs His fingers over the places where He remembers me particularly messing up or where He remembers working hard to erase my mistakes.

And He smiles, saying to Himself, ‘This is my favorite desk. I made this with my son.