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Posted Jan 30 2013 7:12pm
I think I'm going for some sort of record here, posting on six out of the last seven days, but I'm finding I have more to share these days now that Zoe's naps are long enough that I can actually find time to think.

I was in the office again last night, working on entering a few patients for Smile Train. Things were going swimmingly until I got to a chart that was missing the information about the patient's caregiver. The consent had been signed, but the name and relation had been left blank, and without those I wouldn't be able to submit the patient, and so we wouldn't receive the funding for her surgery. I dug a little deeper through her paperwork to see if I could turn up a name, but all I found was that same signature, a neatly printed HS next to lines bearing multiple relationships, anything from sister to cousin to friend.

Because Mercy Ships is an all-volunteer organization, we depend completely on donations and partnerships like the one we have with Smile Train to fund the work we do here. Not turning in this patient's paperwork would mean the loss of several hundred dollars, and in a world where no one has a salary to be paid, those several hundred dollars are enough to cover pretty much the entire cost of the surgery. (Given the ridiculous sums I had to pay just to have a baby with no surgical intervention at all, it would appear that the US healthcare system could learn a thing or two from the crew of the AFM.)

So I started to do a little detective work. I called down to D Ward and double checked with the charge nurse that the patient, who was seventeen years old, really needed someone else to sign for her. Sure enough, the legal age of consent here in Guinea is eighteen, so I was stuck finding the elusive friendsistercousin, HS. Erin, the charge nurse, turned around from her desk and I heard her through the phone talking to the translators who were working. Who remembers the girl who was in Bed Eleven a couple weeks ago? Does anyone remember her caregiver's name?

Once they had established who the patient was, Bockarie, one of the translators, remembered that another translator, Abdulai (who actually works in B Ward) knew the family. Of course he did; this is Africa, after all. Bockarie went to B Ward to check their schedule and came to find me in the office to report that Abdulai would be working on Thursday. My plan was to see if Abdulai knew the sistercousinfriend's name, but as Bockarie and I chatted (an essential part of conducting business here in West Africa), he realized that I have a little baby.

It would clearly be too much trouble for me to come back to talk to Abdulai, so Bockarie asked me for a photo of the patient. He would carry it to Abdulai, who would write the cousinfriendsister's name down for me, and then he'd bring it back to D Ward where I could pick it up. Except that, according to Bockarie, would also be too much trouble for me. He had a better idea.

And so I flipped back through the patient's chart until I found the contact numbers printed on her screening sheet. Bockarie went upstairs to the gangway where he could get a signal and called the family, using the credit on his own phone without giving it a second thought. A few minutes later he came back with a slip of paper and a wide grin.

Hassanatou Sow. Cousin.

I thanked him, shook his hand, and as he turned to go, I started laughing. This would never happen in America, I told him. You can't just call people at their homes to ask the name of someone you forgot. His face was covered with confusion as he shook his head slowly.

Are you sure? That seems like a very hard way to live.

I finished my work and headed upstairs, still smiling to myself over the whole experience. I totally agree with my new friend Bockarie; I have no idea how people live if not in community.

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