[Above photo: Our Thanksgiving gathering]
26 November 2017
[As a preface, I realize that when I post a blog, if readers have signed up for an email alert and click on it, they receive only that post, not later, edited versions nor photos added in the middle of the night when there is enough band-width on the net to upload them. The photos are often the best part of the blog, so I’ll try to send everything at once from now on. Or you can simply check apsychiatristinmalawi.com for the latest iteration.]
We hosted 12 others for Thanksgiving supper. Some were new Peace Corps Response vols, some GHSP vols like us, and others were friends from Malawi or Scottish psychiatrists (3) here to help with the medical student teaching for 3-6 week stretches.
The oven broke—a local transformer exploded in a display of sparks and fried a couple of the oven circuits. The Blantyre distributor for Defy Appliances (S. African) had me waiting two days for his electrician, who eventually never came or called. The distributor also didn’t have the parts we needed when we finally got an electrician. What does he distribute? George-Fixit, one of our landlady’s handymen, kept my hopes up for another day or two—“What, the electrician isn’t there yet? I think he’s very close. Let me call him.” He never showed. Or called. Finally, the guy next door, Timo, who is a S. African contractor, got his electrician, pulled out the damaged circuits, and proceeded to disappear into Ndirande, a large slum, from which he didn’t reappear until the day after Thanksgiving. Plus, Linda texted me at work at 1PM Thursday afternoon that our power was out. “Shall we all go out to supper and reschedule a party for when things are working?” “You’re kidding.” [Silence] “The pilgrims didn’t have electricity.” That woman loves a challenge and doesn’t complain about the difficulties—relishes overcoming them, actually. Little House on the Prairie was her favorite childhood series—maybe adult, as well!
So we used a very primitive, un-thermostated, tiny gas range and grilled the 4 chickens on a barbecue outside, borrowed from Timo. Tightly wrapped in aluminum foil, rotating 90 degrees every 15 minutes, they cooked quickly and browned nicely after we removed the foil. Everyone came, there was plentiful and tasty food (pure Linda), and we drank signature mango cocktails (It was finally dubbed “The Babymaker”), Carlsberg Greens, and wine. The tables were another triumph. We borrowed a plastic garden table from a friend and made it level with ours, using Greenberg and Mitchell , Relational Perspectives in Psychoanalysis, The Collected Papers of Selma Fraiberg, etc. Finally, our coffee table was propped up on our “Security Chests”, supplied by the PC last year. We laugh about them; a perfect advertisement for burglars—“Here are the valuables, in the cute blue metal chests with little locks attached to them.” Then a long piece of chitenje Linda bought served as a table cloth to meld all the tables. There was a lot of laughter and chatter. A good time was had by all, I think. If not, it was their responsibility.
Yesterday we went to St. Andrews Night, a celebration by the Caledonian (Scot) Society to raise money for various health and children’s health projects. St. Andrew was a fisherman, the brother of Simon Peter. Andrew was chosen as the first of Christ’s disciples and he and his brother were Christ’s first “fishers of men”. He founded the Christian Church in Georgia and was named the Patron Saint of Russia, Romania, and Ukraine. One story has it that St Regulus (Rule), an Irish monk expelled from Ireland, had a dream he should take some of St Andrew’s relics from Patras “to the ends of the earth” to protect them and when he landed, he was to build a shrine for them. So he took a kneecap, an upper arm bone, three fingers and a tooth, shipwrecked at Fife on the coast of Scotland. Subsequently, after enjoying St. Andrew’s benevolent might to triumph over the English army with his outnumbered Scots and Picts in 832AD, Oengus II named St. Andrew the Patron Saint of Scotland. Imagine today if, searching a wrecked vessel, the Coast Guard were to find a kneecap, a humerus, three fingers and a tooth. The bearer would have some serious explaining to do.
More haggis—haggis gravy, I learned, is Scotch whiskey poured over it—and Scotch and a hearty meal and tablet (like fudge) and chocolate eclairs. Lots of kilts and sporran. There was Scottish dancing (as well as the Virginia reel) and Linda did them all. Fortunately, our friend Peter Finch was with us and we spelled each other. Linda is a dream with whom to dance but Sottish dancing is very aerobic and she is up to 3 miles a day, her sights set on the New York marathon. I think about relaxing into a very comfortable chair. The dancing was followed by a raffle. No, of course we didn’t win the free roundtrip tickets to Cape Town or the two nights all-expenses full board at Satemwa, the elegant colonial B&B in the midst of the Thyolo tea plantations.
I was playing pool in Eddie Durban’s basement one night in my last year of high school, listening to a jazz station, undoubtedly wishing I was with a girl. To win a free 45 rpm single, all I had to do was call in the name of the pancreatic cells which make insulin. Since my older brother had recently been diagnosed with diabetes, I knew the Islets of Langerhans. I then imagined that the disk jockey was stunned by my brilliance. I did get the single and that is nearly all I’ve ever won. A good lesson, though, that there is not a free lunch. I’ve never gambled significantly. I won $12 from the slots at the Sandia casino in Albuquerque many years ago and lost $5 playing poker one night at Harvard in 1958 and $90 (inflation) playing poker in Petaluma in 2012. The latter was shortly before I realized that I was drinking the wine and everyone else wasn’t. If you don’t recognize the patsy, it’s you. So I figure I’m $83 down for 77 years, something over a dollar a year, for my gambling addiction.
The night between Thanksgiving and the St. Andrews festivities we went with friends to Victoria Gardens, a concert venue with fried chicken and chips, no beer. The hall is owned by Muslims. I admire their resolve as good Muslims and businessmen, since they’d make twice the return if they sold booze. It was comedy night. One opening act didn’t get a single laugh, poor guy. He was young and from Mzuzu in the North; perhaps their sense of humor is different. Perhaps he was speaking Chitumbuka, we couldn’t hear. Another was a mediocre musician, although it was difficult to tell because the sound system was so bad, we were sitting so far back, and the power kept cutting off, leaving us in darkness. The third opener was a Zimbabwean who made a lot of jokes about white people, which were pretty funny, actually. And a few about Mugabe, from whose yoke he feels freed. The main act, Daliso Chaponda, is a big deal here and in UK. You can tell he’s very bright and funny and the crowd was howling at times. But Malawian friends were disappointed as he didn’t do his father stuff, which is apparently the funniest. Like Margaret Cho and her Korean mother act. Hilarious. A cultural experience but not one to be repeated. I like comedy in small clubs. Music, too.
The summation is that we celebrated too much, stayed up too late for three nights in a row, and I am feeling it. Falling asleep sitting up and sleeping in until 8:30AM, which is unheard of for me.
I reviewed the story of a 69yo woman in clinic who the medical students evaluated. She had no prior history of mental illness but had been having striking visual and auditory hallucinations for almost two years. A recurrent one was that men came into the house, dragged her adult son out into the courtyard, and beat him to death. She would weep all night until her son came in the morning to reassure her. (As an analyst, I of course am interested in why her hallucinations took this particular form.) This puzzled us since visual hallucinations are much more common as a reflection of an organic illness, such as a delirium. As I looked through the little health passport that every patient carries, I saw she had a hemoglobin of 9.1 (12-15 is normal) and was being treated with oral iron supplements for iron deficiency anemia. As my eye slid up the lab result slip, I saw a white blood cell count of 167,000. Flipping through the other two FBC slips I saw 165,000 and 171,000. She had leukemia with likely leukemic infiltrates in her brain. How could the doc have missed it? You don’t have to be a genius to do this well, just a little bit curious and a little bit compulsive. I ordered lab work and the next day the diagnosis was confirmed and I booked her into oncology clinic and ordered an MRI. How easily something important can get overlooked or lost. There is very little redundancy in this medical delivery system. I don’t know how responsive her CLL will be to treatment, but at least we’ll be treating the correct illness.
Among other things, I am very thankful for my health and the nurses and physicians who, over the years, have contributed to it. Especially my lung cancer team.
It is hot here in the sun but in the house with the doors and windows wide open there is a strong and cool breeze coursing through. And some Malawian pop music is just audible from the Sports Complex of the COM, serving as a lively background. I am a lucky dog in many respects!