Tuesday, October 18, 2011


For some inexplicable reason, the Boy had met an unusually high number of doctors during the two and a half months he had promised to accomplish two things:  a) learn about dance and community service, and b) avoid thinking about the possiblity of applying/going to med school.  Whether this turn of events was meant to come off as fate, symbolism, or merely good/bad luck, the Boy acknowledged one important fact:

Networking with doctors abroad proved easier than attempting to do so in the United States.

In India, the Boy had developed a most questionable skin rash that would best be left undescribed [for the moment]. After consulting with general practice doctor after skin specialist doctor - for the unbelievable consultation price of Rs. 70|$1.55 to Rs. 400|$8.88 - it was concluded that he had developed an allergic reaction to the daily doxycycline tablets [an anti-malarial] prescribed in the United States.

You could say that it wasn't the Indian food or air or water that was making him sick, but the American medicine.  Ah, symbolism.

The Boy underwent a several weeks-long treatment of pills, creams, and dietary restrictions [no tomatoes, bananas, curds, or chocolate].  Most importantly, he was told to stop taking the anti-malarials in India [Doctor Siddeshwar: "You don't need to worry about catching that here.."] and wait until his arrival in Uganda to find a new prophylactic.  Although it left scars [concerned mother: "Is it... unsightly?"], the rash's source was treated and the Boy continued on his merry way bearing a nutty brown complexion for the rest of his days in Asia.

-| "Treatment 2 of 3" or "Buying Out the Pharmacy" |-

Following the Murphy's Law so characteristic in his life, the Boy again developed a questionable bump on his skin [why this would always be the target of foreign disease, he would never understand] within the first week of arriving in Uganda and forced himself to seek medical attention at St. Mary's Lacor, the nearby missionary-based hospital.  After the long [and highly abbreviated for mature content's sake] treatment, the Boy asked some of the Ugandan doctors and nurses about getting a new prophylactic.

Their response: "You didn't come here with any prophylaxis, so we cannot give you one."

Although the Boy did not understand this logic, he was fortunate to have been overheard by Abbie, common bystander and also travel organizer for a group of week-long volunteers.

"Oh, we definitely can help you with that."  Abbie said.  Introductions were made, and the Boy was whisked away to meet doctor after doctor after nurse after photographer after fireman.  The purpose of the volunteers' visit was simple: provide free clinics, treatments, and education to those who needed it.  He watched as doctors applied antibiotics to fungus growing on the heads of babies, as firemen taught children and parents to stop, drop, and roll [how many burn victims were there because they didn't know how to put out a burning article of clothing?], as nurses tended to women who couldn't walk, and as photographers recorded children playing duck, duck, goose [which, to a degree, didn't prevent the head fungus from being spread].

"Come with us," Abbie said, packing leftover hospital id bracelets into a ziploc bag, "We have plenty of medication back at our hotel, especially ones you're not allergic to.  Hey, if you're lucky, you might get a dinner and beer out of this."

For the umpteenth time in his travels, the Boy got into a mysteriously large van full of strangers.

Later that night, he sat among the circle of volunteers, all drinking a bottle of Nile Special Premium Lager.  He listened as they spoke of the day's cases like gossip.  Although he recognized next to none of the more advanced terms, he took mental note of ones easier to pronounce:

"I mean, didn't they invent the wound vac?  And they didn't even have one?  We were all like, 'where is it?'"

"Yeah, it's bad.  I mean, how many people did I see with hepatitis c?"

"So then, she comes in and says, 'Who wants to do a triple-A?' and after a day like this, I shot my hand right up."

"And they wanted me to work on the hernia, but without mesh, I was like, 'It's going to fall apart anyway.'"

He found himself less interested in explaining his reason for being in Uganda [Abbie: "Could you imagine just spending a year doing what you want around the world?  Chris the Fireman: "Yes, I could.  So the budget covers prison bails, right?"], and more absorbed in learning who these people were, why they came here, and [of course] where the funding came from.  Some came with their mothers, some worked at Harvard's Public Heath Office, some were aspiring nursing school students, and some were just asked to join because a member from the previous year was unable to return.  Most came for the experience, to do something bigger than their jobs back at home, to give more to people who had so much less.  Although there were some funds and donations, they came here out of their pockets using their own vacation days.

The Boy was floored.  Amazed.  Jealous?  He explained how the first two years of college had convinced him that he wasn't cut out for med school, but times like now [ironically, during this year in which he hoped to avoid the thoughts of med school] were convincing him the opposite.

Victoria, one of the older doctors, leaned over and said, "Honey, you have time.  You're young.  I only realized now that giving something is so much more important than getting something."  For a fleeting moment [or two] the Boy could see himself in their place, traveling to developing countries and treating afflicted locals who didn't have enough to pay, or knowledge to prevent.

As dinner [beef steak, tilapia, potatoes, chapatti, rice, and sauteed vegetables] began, Abbie came over with a small plastic bag in her hands.

"Okay, so here's the deal.  We don't have any extra malarone, which we think is the prophylactic you should take.  You're going to have a difficult, if not impossible, time finding the prescription here, but you might have a chance in Kampala.  Lisa, our pharmacist, is sure that you can get it in Nairobi.  But why go through all that trouble?  I've decided to go around to all of our volunteers and ask for their last day's malarone pill [everyone forgets to take it anyway], so you should have about a month's worth of prophylactics when I'm finished.  As for the second month's, well, why don't we just send you a prescription when we get back?"

Lisa stepped forward.  "And I've taken the liberty of putting together a kind of first-aid kit, based on what I think you'll need in Uganda and what you definitely need after your treatment at Lacor.  I'm sure I have all of the things with me here, but I'll double check tonight just to make sure."

The Boy asked Abbie how much the package would cost.

"Hey, we're here to give medication to people who need it.  For free.  You fall into that category too, bud."

Free drugs?  In Africa?  The Boy looked at the small plastic bag packed with brown tablets.  Each pill had come from a different volunteer, donated without a second thought.  Most of the volunteers were off in their own world, eating dinner, attempting to connect to the internet, or working on the group's blog, completely unaware of the Boy's dumbfounded stare.  He imagined what planets had aligned for this meeting to happen.

Somewhere in the distance, he could hear his Mom and Dad thanking the volunteers who provided  proper healthcare for the next two months.

[ Protected ]


  1. "For the umpteenth time in his travels, the Boy got into a mysteriously large van full of strangers."

    ...yeah I'm sure your parents are feeling real safe. Haha. Miss you and I'm happy to hear that you're [protected].

    [Love from the US!]


  2. Malarone is a preferable alternative Malaria Treatment for those not wanting to take Mefloquine (Larium) and will be effective in areas of the world where we are seeing increasing Chloroquine resistance. Malarone is preferable over other anti-malarials because the prevention treatment can started 1-2 days before entering a malaria infected region and for 7 days after leaving.