Wednesday, 27 July 2011

IF I WERE A MEDICINE MAN

Two examinations, a bout of upper respiratory tract infection and a cranked up schedule has made the past week of medical school a traumatizing one. In fact, I'm writing this note as a therapeutic intervention aimed at relieving this ‘post traumatic stress disorder’. So bad has this week been that I even wished I had lived in an earlier time dimension, my specific epoch of choice: 1800 AD.

If I were living back then, my father would have been a medicine man and I as his first born son, his apprentice. I would be living in the comfort of my hut. Perhaps with a wife to warm my bed, conditions very unlike the congested hostels I am currently surviving in. The village rooster would wake me up early every morning to start my daily duties, no alarm clock and therefore no snoozing. After the early morning preparations, I would accompany my father to ‘medical classes’. Being a solo student has its advantages. One obvious benefit is not risking my health while scramming for a school bus to take me to the learning venue.

I suppose my dad would be a kick ass medicine man, his alias something crazier than a ‘Dr. Kifimbo’ or a ‘Dr. Mamba’ I saw on a recent trip to a market in town. The fact that I am his apprentice could earn me points among his clientele and their families. It would therefore be easier to work once I started flying solo. Medical class would be way more interesting than it is now. It wouldn't be like Kenyatta Hospital. Class there means sitting on stools for a whole day listening to the audio version of Katzung Pharmacology till one suffers cranial overload and gluteal cramps. Learning would be very interactive and mostly placed in a natural setting. Daily walks into the forests in search of wildlife with medicinal value ingrained in their anatomy would be adventurous. The multiple bee and wasp stings would of course serve to nail the concepts learned into memory.

Diagnosis would be easy to arrive at. It would be a century or so before the knowledge of bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites gets to our disposal. We would have to get by with what we know at the moment. The neighbors ‘evil eye’ for instance would be an undisputed cause of varied diseases. Yes: even in instances where the neighbor is blind as a bat. Other causes would be things like curses or taboos. Things like lab diagnoses, biochemical tests and molecular analysis would have absolutely no importance. They say ignorance is bliss, and I concur. People still got cured at the time didn’t they?

Prescription would range from something subtle like a couple of bitter herbs to swallow or rub on the lesion, to the crazies. Like going around the neighbors house seven times. This would be followed by plucking a few tail feathers from his favorite chicken and burning them at his door step to put a smoke-blind on this ‘evil eye’. This would obviously come with a contraindication. That the neighbor should not see you doing this lest your ailing behind ends up in the flames instead. Regimens would mostly cure on belief rather than on any clinical relevance. The fun would be in asking people to do all sorts of wacko rituals in exchange for much needed healing.

Payment would of course be way higher than the general practitioner’s remuneration today. This is in direct translation of economic matters factoring in inflation minus time. A few white goats and red hens. Maybe a piece of fertile land I had been drooling over (while waiting patiently for the owner to fall sick) would do just fine. And those who had come from far and wide to look for cure would serve me well by carrying my good name along once they got better.

Life would be smooth until the white guy showed up. His weaponry far outmatching the fight in the local warrior, a colonial intent in his lunatic brain and to top it all off, small pox: a disease I won’t be able to cure will take my life away if the bullets don’t catch me first. And that would be the tragic end to the life and times of a medicine man. All said and done, thank heavens I am a medical student, life might suck once in a while but I have a feeling that the prognosis is much better.

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