Crossing the line from a normal person to a doctor


There are some things in medicine you’d think it’d be quite important to get right. To have good technique and know what you’re doing. For, you know, everyone’s sake.

Yeah, right.

Doctor: “So, what do you want to get out of this clinic today?”

Me [uncharacteristically prepared]: “Well I’d like to understand the basic management of some of the common urological presentations, like haematuria and prostate cancer. And I’ve never done a PR, so I’d like to learn how to do that if possible.”

Doctor: “Great! We’ll see what we can do.”

Half an hour later, in walks Mr Unsuspecting Prostate.

Doctor: “I’d like to examine your prostate if that’s alright”.

Mr P: “That’s fine, doctor”.

Doctor: “And we have a medical student here today. Do you mind if she examines your prostate as well?”

He sits back down at his desk, leaving me standing there with a glove, a sachet of lube and a patient in front of me in the foetal position. I think this is most awkward I’ve felt since coming to med school. I guess I thought there might be some…instruction. I’m aware that if I ask what to do it might make Mr P feel more uncomfortable. And yet if I don’t, I might as well be any old person off the street who just happened to find a glove, some KY jelly and an interesting opportunity.

Oh well, perhaps that line was crossed a while ago. Anyway, I should know. How hard can it be?

I sigh, choose a finger, and go for it.






Anyone white person who’s ever been to Africa will know that you can’t come here and expect not to stand out.

Each country seems to have a different word to describe its white visitors. In South Africa they say ‘mulungu’, in Rwanda ‘muzungu’. Here in Ethiopia it’s ‘farange’, or ‘farangi’.

Sometimes it feels like a taunt; more often just an exclamation. I’ve walked through South African villages and had small kids literally run down hillsides towards me, shouting “Mulungu mulungu mulungu I’m fine how are you! I’m fine how are you! I’m fine how are you!”

My Ethiopian hosts, however, are a little more restrained. Who are they to be seen running from hillsides? Anyway this is Addis; anyone who tried that would probably be hit by a taxi.

Oh, I stand out alright. And there’s no discrimination: I can count on being equally ‘farange’d by young girls, teenage boys and old women. But it’s the delivery that never fails to crack me up. It’s so completely deadpan. I can only imagine that the conversation goes something like this:

“Yeah, I know, what a bastard right? So I told him if he ever treats me like that again – white person – I’ll be going out with Worku instead.”

Or: “Can you believe the price of nappies these days? I might have to start getting those reusable ones, but they’re disgusting and anyway – white person – what can I do when there’s no water half the time?”

Clearly the only explanation is that there’s a nationwide Ethiopian game of farange bingo going on that I don’t know about. I love it.

Moved to Tears

In Addis you have to take internet time as it comes. Today’s Daily Prompt was to “describe the last time you were moved to tears”. I initially missed the end of that sentence [by something beautiful] in my haste to get everything done before the next power cut. So here there are rather more tears, less beauty.

Yesterday, following my Ethiopian surgeon friends on their ward round, I realised that – until that moment – I had never seen someone really, truly in pain.

After surgery on a joint, perhaps a knee or an elbow, it’s important that the patient starts to move it again so that the joint doesn’t stiffen into one position.

Picture yourself standing in an operating theatre watching a boy’s leg being sawn in two. And then imagine, the next day, seeing him literally screaming in pain as he’s told he has to move it, swing his knee over the bed and kick it back and forth. You know exactly what’s under that bandage. You can only imagine what he’s feeling.

I realised I’d never witnessed that amount of pain before. It was worse than blood or needles or seeing someone cry or be sick or fall.  I didn’t know it would be that visceral, immediate, personally excruciating. I didn’t know it would make me want to faint, vomit, and be moved to tears.