Every morning, while rounding in the wards, I keep a list of notes, my “to do list” for the patients. Often I jot things down such as “talk with physical therapy” or “check on chest xray”. However, today I had an unusual entry...“flip flops”
Moussa is a leprosy patient from a neighboring village who came in last month with a very serious sore on his right foot. Leprosy, which leads to nerve death and subsequent injury due to lack of sensation, often causes disfigurement of hands and feet. His left leg had already been amputated, and we were desperate to save his remaining limb.
He was discharged to do wound care at home, however, because he lives alone and had very little help, the wound was neglected and worsened. He was re-admitted approximately 3 weeks ago.
Today during the rounds, I saw his crutches in the corner of the room and asked him if he had been going outside. He replied no, that he had not left his room during his entire hospital stay because he did not bring his shoes and was nervous to walk on his sore foot without them. He would be receiving a special orthopedic shoe, but it would be another week before it was ready.
So I made my note and after work went to the makeshift market at the front of the hospital. For the equivalent of about 75 cents, I purchased a very stylish pair of blue and white flip flops (the other choice was hot pink) and returned to Moussa's room.
He was pleased and immediately squeezed the flip flop over his bandaged right foot, doing the best he could to wedge it between his deformed toes.
He then swung into action...
He asked me to hand him his prosthetic limb. I did and he then began the laborious process of placing sock after sock on his amputation stump. With nubs for fingers handling the thick, woolen material was not easy. I stood watching him, not really sure if he wanted me to leave. However, after remembering that Cameroonians do not guard their privacy as voraciously as Americans, I stuck around. He was patient with my silent staring and after several minutes had passed, he completed his task.
He then reached for his prosthesis and began to fasten the leather strap around his knee. This action was equally as difficult and required a certain amount of dexterity. But he was a pro and after strapping on a flip flop, a leg and getting dressed, he grabbed his crutches and slowly made his way out the door.
I was impressed at the amount of effort it took him to simply go outside, at the way he went about his work without complaints or loud sighs of frustration or fatigue, as if expecting nothing more, nothing different.
I left him sitting in the fading sunlight of early evening, watching the goings-on of the hospital courtyard, liberated from his room for the first time in almost a month.