Little Heartbreaks

It’s hard not to get mad about bad medicine. On the one hand, I want to respect the culture I find myself in, and that includes respecting their beliefs about what makes us ill and what makes us better. On the other hand, medicine practiced poorly can have results that resonate far and wide.

The day started out early and joyful. Mafinle, pregnant when we arrived, has been growing by the day. She would regularly go to doctor’s appointments, free for pregnant women, and return with news of a healthy pregnancy. Yesterday, we awoke early to her leaving in a taxi for the hospital. Her husband and other family members followed, two by motorbike and one by taxi, then returned to gather blankets for the coming baby. The men sat waiting on the porch of the hospital, not being allowed to enter the room. “This is Africa,” they told me. The household was elated to receive news of birth of a baby girl just a few hours later. The girls started cheering and jumping up and down. The new baby was named Libby, for me.

The news turned grim in hours when we received word that the baby had died. The hospital sent the body home with daddy, who placed the small wrapped bundle on the bamboo mat in the front room of his house. She looked perfect, as if she were only sleeping. The doctor (a foti, which gives him more credibility in Guinean eyes,) said that the baby was tired and decided to leave. A result, he stated, of mom riding a motorcycle down to the pier for work during her pregnancy.

Later, all agreed that the baby really died because the doctors had also been out on the porch while the baby was born.  Mafinle says that she was alone during the birth and that the baby fell on the floor.  As day turned to dusk, the men buried the baby behind the house.

Mafinle came home from the hospital much later and in obvious pain. The same white doctor had prescribed Ataya, the strong tea the men like to brew, served without sugar, to make her feel better. When I visited, she was in visible pain showing signs of cramping and difficulty breathing normally. Upset that they hadn’t even offered her a pain reliever, I gave her the only one I had – three Aleve pills. I also had some leftover sleeping pills that were inexplicably prescribed when I had food poisoning, so I offered one of those as well. After giving instructions on how to take the pills, I offered Mafinle some Reiki energy, which helped calm the cramping. I then taught her some visualization and breathing techniques to use if the pain came back during the night.

I had expected to hear wailing from the family when I heard about the death of the new baby. I’ve witnessed several neighbors grieving the death of family members in my time here, and it is always accompanied by loud and protracted crying that echoes off the mud huts and crescendoes as voices join in. The wailing will go on all day and into the night as friends and family gather to sit vigil. To my surprise, our house was quiet, with sad faces and a subdued father and grandfather, but no loud grieving. “Because it was a baby,” I was told.

My lack of language skills to be able to adequately express myself was especially frustrating during this time.



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