There are a lot of illnesses that doctors can cure by just scribbling a prescription on a pad (or your clinic card), a few days of medication, and phew! Problem solved!
But for all we understand now about some illnesses, there are even more that still stump the medical professionals, confound us and rage on uncontested.
Most of us know someone who is bed ridden with a condition that doctors have failed to identify, or at least that person has displayed a series of symptoms that have not been eradicated or cured by any prescription a doctor offered.
How many of us have seen a family member suffer temporary blindness, a friend develop a strange skin condition, while another endures nights of endless pain but still have medical practitioners draw blank assessments after evaluating them and prescribing medication after medication with no helpful improvements coming?
It is one thing when different doctors each have a different diagnosis for the ailment, but yet another when the condition just stumps all of the 10 doctors consulted, with none of them able to explain or diagnose the problem.
Of course, somewhere a certain traditional doctor, especially here in Botswana, will “detect” the problem and quickly prescribe something and in the end the sufferer will remain in pain.
Most of their prescriptions rest on the shoulders of a perceived jealous relative.
What we can’t explain, we blame on witchcraft because we can’t prove witchcraft but know the evil one among us who uses it to inconvenience or even kill others.
The world over, a lot of people endure conditions which have baffled medical experts, and research can only be dedicated to certain ailments that doctors have already spent an amount of considerable time trying to figure out.
A few weeks ago, I sat with a friend who was under distress as her mother had been admitted to hospital. She explained how her mother had always been prone to a condition that affected her breast, and that she had even had a lump removed from the breast. She was admitted because the same breast was painful, and now the family feared that she might have cancer.
Tests, however, proved she did not have cancer.
I also learnt that the mother had always had a “thing” removed from her body at the hospital and that doctors had insisted that she undergoes tests for diseases they had suspected to be the cause of her ailment, but the tests all came back negative.
Last July, I read in dismay my Sunday Standard colleague Gowenius Toka‘s article (July 7th, 2009), which appeared in Sunday Standard, titled “Miss Earth Tots Botswana 2008 buried after mysterious death”. Though unknown to me, it pained me how the family lost the child, especially considering that the dark cloud will forever loom over the family’s head because it will take longer to let go of a loved one.
In fact, you might never let go when you don’t know how you lost a loved one.
The story says that a week before the eleven-year-old Lore’s death, she had complained to her parents that she was scared and wanted the family to leave home; the very next day, she was afflicted with an acute headache.
“The parents to the deceased said that they did their best to take their daughter for medical attention and revealed that she was subjected to all the relevant tests, including at the Lobatse Mental Hospital where they discounted any mental or brain related condition, until she finally died within a week at Princess Marina Hospital, despite the fact that no pathological condition was identified even after an autopsy,” said the article.
Even her death certificate stated that the cause of her death was unknown.
I sometimes wonder if the illness could have been identified and cured, or at least the cause of death known to the family, had she lived for another week. Maybe that could have brought some solace to the surviving relatives.
Africans are very particular when it comes to death. We can’t live without the knowledge of what caused the death of a person nor can they accept a loved one who is without a grave.
I sense the depth of despair and sadness the family must still be going through.
It is very normal in our African tradition. We need information. Somehow, when we understand, we do not speculate. Because when we speculate, we blame someone.
Having watched enough strange and scary movies and films, such as Star Trek, House and The X Files, which I think of simply as TV shows that offer the viewer some entertainment, I am forced to think more of such shows.
I am not going to sit here and say that there is life on Mars, No! I am only saying life has more mystery to offer, such mystery that unfolds in the form of diseases, disorders and illnesses. And we, with all our conquering scientists, fail, many times over, to identify and control some of these diseases.
There is so much life on this planet and some of these organisms cause the suffering, illnesses or death of other organisms. We are just part of a whole and, like everything else alive, are at the mercy of this earth and what’s inside it.
Whether some of these illnesses are from a certain plant that might be angry with nature, or whether they are caused by meat we ate earlier, or, maybe, just caused by the wrath of the Ultimate being’s hand, it might never be known to us.
But to an African, whose relative has been devoured by a crocodile, leaving not a kilogram of flesh for burial, that agony visits them every day for the rest of their lives.
Africans don’t believe in dying a natural death. There is always a cause and when they can’t figure it out, it is easy to diagnose the cause of death of a relative.
They “know” which one, among their relatives, has always wished ill of others. That unfortunate person used witchcraft to destroy the deceased.
But yet, nature can always conspire with its elements and truly cause a death by natural causes.