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Monday, January 26, 2009

On Night Screams and Psychologic Conundrums

We finished dinner last night in the lovely glow of candlelight, abundance, fellowship and thankfulness, Bethany with us for her last night in Bundibugyo (for a while) and the Pierce family having just returned from a CSB leadership team weekend retreat. We sat around the table still lingering over fresh chocolate chip cookies (team care packages! Yeah!!) and fresh milk, hearing about the way the CSB teachers are gelling into a great team for the beginning of a new year. Suddenly we heard commotion, cries, screams from not far away. Scott and I went outside with flashlights to see if our neighbors were OK, as the noise grew into a wail. "Someone has died", Scott commented, but as we walked in the absolute darkness out our driveway to investigate, the disorderly sounds of riot approached us. It was one of our neighbor-friends, carrying a 13 year old limp and apparently lifeless boy, supporting his hysterical grieving mother and trailing no less than 20 relatives and onlookers from babies to grandmothers, all shouting and mourning and working themselves into a frenzy. I reached for a pulse and determined the boy was alive, spread him on the floor of the kitubbi and opened his airway for breathing while Scott scolded the mob into order with the assurance that he was not dead, yet. When they were able to calm down slightly they said he had been well all day, eaten and played, but suddenly a fever "caught" him and he collapsed, and convulsed. Clearly his mother, whom we know well, was completely convinced that he was dead when they came running to us, and her anguish was real and raw. He felt cool, maybe clammy, not febrile, no increased pulse rate, no findings on exam except being unresponsive to voice or touch. They denied any trauma or ingestions of poisons . . . sometimes the initial rigor of malaria can be accompanied by a seizure before the temperature climbs, so we injected him with a strong anti-malarial and Scott drove the entire entourage down the the hospital for admission on an IV. He did not react to multiple needle sticks . . . but a couple of hours later his father reported he was awake and sitting and acting normal. It turns out he had been in town watching a video against his parents' permission, and when he came home he was "punished". No signs of abuse, and no story from him even this morning.

So what happened? A drama to get out of trouble? I don't think it is that straightforward. Interestingly there were two pre-adolescent boys admitted last night with similar stories. A learned response to stress? It seems similar to the way women cope, the collapse, the breakdown, the outpouring of community emotion, the wave of concern that carries the group to the hospital, then the mysterious complete resolution. I think that it is 99% subconscious, an ingrained cultural pattern. Except for the heartbreaking moments for his mother, and the inconvenience to us, the possible waste of a dose of medicine . . it was a way to diffuse the family tension over his behaviour, and all's well that ends well. The nurses and I gave him Aunt-like advice on not repeating this episode, and he went home.

We all long for the assurance that we are loved, that we belong. Perhaps if we told each other in the daylight, the night screams would not be necessary.

1 comment:

Steve and Beth said...

This is really an amazing and interesting cultural incident. May God continue to give you wisdom and grace to be the aroma of Christ to people of a culture so different from your own.