Leprosy in Mombasa

My first time in Kenya was in December 2014-January 2015, as a senior medical student. I had sparked an interest in global health on some medical mission trips to Peru earlier in medical school, and I wanted to see what medicine in Africa was like. So, I found a rotation at a government hospital in Mombasa and split my time between a general hospital ward and the OB ward.

While I was in the ward, one of my patients was a man with leprosy. I couldn’t help but be fascinated by it, since it’s nearly unheard of in the States and I had grown up in Bible classes hearing about people Jesus healed from leprosy. This wasn’t common in Kenya, either, so there was some discussion on the medical team and some researching how best to treat it. Leprosy is caused by a bacterial infection that changes the skin –  even a person’s features – and affects other organs over time. This man had large patches of infection on his legs, arms, face that were distorting his looks. The infection was also slowly making him blind. Leprosy can be treated with long term antibiotics and cured, so long as he was able to come up with the money for the medication, we explained to him that he could recover.

I remember him for two reasons: one, because I completely geeked out over seeing a case of leprosy, and two, because I remember what a peaceful, gracious person he was. Every morning I would wander over and try to say something and ask questions in the twenty words of Kiswahili I knew, and he would patiently squint at me and say, “Yes, Daktari”, and let me change his bandages. We could tell him the infection could be cured, but it wasn’t likely his vision would return. He calmly nodded and thanked us all when we told him he would be probably be blind for the rest of his life.

So many patients in Kenya that I met didn’t complain about anything. Not the limited nursing care, lack of money or often lack of curative treatment; they didn’t often express disappointment or grief over their diagnoses, they just nodded and said ‘thanks’ for receiving an answer. This man was one of them. He didn’t complain about how long he would need treatment, or how much it would cost him, or that we couldn’t give him his sight back. He just said “Asante, Daktari (thank you, Doctor)” and accepted it. That’s one of the many things I would like to learn for myself: to keep thankfulness for the good, the true, the hopeful in life and accept peacefully what I can’t control. And just say, “Asante, Lord”.

(I decided to spare the squeamish and not put a picture of leprosy here. So instead, look at the pretty Indian ocean.) 😀


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