April 30, 2009

“Xa sibambisene singenza lukhulu”

Things have been different these last few weeks in Itipini because Jenny is away, raising money and visiting family. That means Dorothy and I are left to hold down the fort and keep the clinic and general Project area functioning. So far, so good.

Each day, when I check to see how many patients we’ve seen, I’m surprised to see it’s above average. The days go quickly and relatively easily. Dorothy and I are like a smoothly-oiled machine, mowing through one sick patient after another after another.

It’s been a pleasant affirmation for me of how far I’ve come in my time in Itipini. I can actually do stuff now! I find myself marveling at how much Xhosa I understand and how easily it comes to me when I need it. I can handle fairly complex situations without it consuming my entire day. A patient has defaulted on TB treatment and wants to start again? There’s a post-ictal man on the stretcher outside the door? There’s a hysterical woman screaming and covered in blood? A TB patient can’t make it to the clinic for her daily injection? A young woman wants a pregnancy test? A patient needs to have her prescription for psychiatric medication refilled? All these patients are in the clinic at the same time? Check, check, check, check, check, check, and check! (The hysterical woman only had a bloody nose it turns out.) Meanwhile, I’m finding medical files, dispensing medication, counting pills, and keeping track of our supplies to ensure we don’t run out. I’m also continuing to deal with education and micro-credit-related issues.

That’s one interpretation of the situation. Another is that I am just barely hanging on. In Jenny’s absence, most of my job is simply maintaining current operations. That sort of routine maintenance should be pretty easy, right? It is anything but. The language barrier may be less now than it was but it is still significant. Working in a second language is exhausting! Patients are still demanding. I still struggle when I see the difficulty of the lives people here lead every day. I reach the end of the day and am ready to keel over.

But Dorothy and I carry on and still seem to finish each work day in good spirits. I’ve been telling her a lot lately, “xa sibambisene singenza lukhulu.” She laughs because it was the ANC’s campaign slogan. Loosely translated, it means “working together we can do more.” We’re doing fine now but we’ll be able to “do” more when Jenny gets back. Hurry!