by Mike Sweeney from the Winter 2006 The Storyboard
Somewhat accidentally, several years ago I found myself involved in medical work in our village. A very short time after that, a hypochondria epidemic swept over our entire region, easily octupling the number of patients I treated every week. The symptoms varied, but with one common feature:
Patient #1: “Oh, my head hurts. It’s been hurting for days. I’m not sleeping at night.”
Mike: “Okay, take two of these Panadol (Tylenol) tablets and see if they help.” Patient #1 leaves and patient #2 enters.
Patient #2: “My knee hurts all the time. I have a hard time walking up hills. I’m not sleeping at night.”
Mike: “Okay, take two of these Panadol tablets and see if they help.” Patient #2 leaves and patient #3 enters.
Patient # 3: “My back aches. It’s hard for me to carry anything at all. I’m not sleeping at night.”
Mike: “Okay, take two of these Panadol tablets and see if they help.” Patient #3 leaves and patient #4 enters.
Patient #4: “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I just seem to ache all over.”
Mike nods his head and waits for more. When there’s nothing forthcoming he says: “You’re not sleeping at night either, are you?”
Patient #4: “Oh, that’s right! I’m not sleeping at night either!” Patient #4 collects his Panadol tablets then goes outside and tells everyone, “That white guy is amazing! I didn’t even have to tell him and he knew that I wasn’t sleeping at night!” News of my special insight spreads rapidly. Soon the entire language group decides that it hasn’t been sleeping at night and beats a path to my door.
Often the challenge with medical work, besides the fact that I am exceptionally unqualified to do it, is that people seldom tell me key information related to the patient’s condition.
Man: “Mike, my wife has a terrible stomachache. Can you give her some medicine for it?”
Mike: “Well, can you tell me more? Does she have a fever? Has she been throwing up? Does she have diarrhea?”
Man: “No, just a stomachache.”
Mike: “Hmm, I’m not sure what I can do. Can you bring her to me tomorrow so I can see her and maybe radio in to a doctor for an opinion?”
Man: “Okay.” He never returns, but two days later my neighbor Camilus points to him as he’s walking through the village and says, “Hey, you see that guy? Yesterday his wife delivered quadruplets!” (I’m not kidding, this actually happened.) I don’t think Panadol would have helped her too much, but who knows? Next time I’ll try to remember to ask other questions, like: “Is your wife nine months pregnant and about to have four babies?”
Then there are those people who go overboard, not only with the symptoms, but with the ‘obvious’ causes:
Woman: “Six months ago I ate a bad smoked fish. Now I’ve got this big sore on my leg. I need some bad-smoked-fish medicine to make it go away.”
Mike: “Golly, I’m a bit low on bad-smoked-fish medicine right now. Maybe you could take these Doxycycline tablets instead.”
Woman: “Okay, but make sure you order in some bad-smoked-fish medicine as soon as possible. This could happen to anyone, you know.”
Now, after years of handing out Panadol, we finally have a full-time medical worker in the village. She and I are trying to work together to develop a new vaccine for hypochondriacs. Wish us luck.
Mike was a Bible translator for the Mum language group. He also served as PBT’s Assistant Director of Language Affairs. He and his wife Linda lived in the village of Katiati. Their two boys, Christopher and Ryan went to school at the Ukarumpa International High School.