October 1, 2007


This morning an older woman came into the clinic to return a crutch her husband had borrowed a few weeks back. We were a bit puzzled, as the patient had been very weak and it didn’t seem likely he’d be off the crutch by now. She was speaking in Xhosa and I had only been able to gather she wanted to return the crutch by her motions.

When I checked her husband’s record, I realized he needed to do another TB test and so we prepared some specimen pots to give to her to give to him. As we were doing this, she started speaking very animatedly in Xhosa and was obviously trying to convey something important. Robert, another volunteer, and I were trying to communicate the importance of the pots to her and laughing at the whole situation as little to no information was being transmitted in either direction.

Finally, in frustration, Robert asked our Xhosa nurse Dorothy what the woman was saying and Dorothy said, “She’s saying, ‘He’s late.’” Robert and I were a bit puzzled so we asked what that meant. “He died on Saturday,” Dorothy said. “That’s why she’s returning the crutch.”

That cut that laughter short.