one of the aims of this blog is to touch on things specific to surgery in south africa. i notice panda is talking about 'alternative healing' so, not to be outdone, i decided to post on the same topic.
she was massive. her bmi must have been hovering around the 50 mark. then she developed severe abdominal pain, complete obstipation and vomiting. as is common, she went to her local neighbourhood sangoma. he did what sangomas do. he made cuts over the area the patient reported to be the problem (her abdomen) and smeared his muthi (in this case, apparently cow dung) into the cuts. the idea, i think, is that the medicine can get to work directly where the problem is.
but what if the problem is an umbilical hernia with strangulated bowel? due to her first being treated by our traditional colleague, by the time she turned up at our hospital, she was not well. systemically she was in septic shock and amazingly acidotic. she had a large necrotic mass over her central abdomen. at that stage the only thing that could be seen were the multiple cuts on the necrotic skin. it seemed like necrotising faciitis. there was no way of knowing that below this necrotic skin in her abundant fat lay strangulated necrotic bowel.
it was the turn of western doctors to take up the knife, like the sangoma before had done. the difference, however, was there was method to their madness. she went to theater. the necrosis was debrided, revealing the dead bowel. a resection was done. i was only a student at the time, so i was pretty far down the table. the smell also had a numbing effect on my faculties, so, to be honest, i can't remember the details of the surgery. suffice to say, an extensive debridement was done. living bowel was brought out (somewhere). and the wound was left open. she did the obligatory time in icu with multiple follow up visits to theater. after many months, she actually made it.
i sometimes look back and wonder if we really can critisize the sangoma. he did take a knife to the patient, which was the right treatment. he did have some concept of the problem having something to do with feces. i may advise that, unlike fire, feces can't be fought with feces, though. but many of the basic concepts where there, albeit in a non western format.
when reflecting on these incidents, i am always amazed by the fact that there is so much leeway given to these 'healers'. they are never made to account. they are never held responsible. they have free license to do what they want. there was even a government statement that the sangoma's 'art' cant be scrutinized like western medicine, because it is based in a belief system rather than science. the ancestors will heal you. believe it and it will be so. and when the patient finally does turn up at our doorstep at death's door (same doorstep?) when we can't actually pull them through, sometimes the sangomas will say "you see! the western doctors just kill you". no mention of the tried and tested methods of smearing feces into open wounds over strangulated bowel.