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  • Writer's picturekwankew

"I Want to See the White Doctor"

Over the weekend about two hundred refugees came to the camp bringing the total to slightly less than four hundred. This is what the people in the Office of the Prime Minister estimated. It seems that the refugees tend to come on Tuesday and Wednesday so they could proceed to the resettlement camp on Thursday. Refugees were lining up at midday to get their supplies of soaps, cups, plates, blankets and mats.

This morning, the officials in the camp rounded up the refugees around the flags for a meeting and the gist was that they should register at the transit camp in order to get food and to get ready for resettlement. It was also explained to them that they would be given a piece of land to grow food at the resettlement camp and to get some semblance of normalcy back into their lives. The "protection officer" invited the refugees to talk to him in person regarding their reasons for continuing to leave the Congo since the fighting has stopped.

In the clinic today we saw mainly Ugandan Nationals with a small number of refugees many of whom brought in their children because of diarrhea. The clinical officer and I have been seeing patients together. I walked out of the office momentarily and she saw a patient on her own and when she was done with her and asked her to go to fetch her medicines at the dispensary, the old woman said," I want to see the white doctor." She refused to budge till I returned and I gave her some attention and wrote an additional prescription for her. Satisfied, she walked out.

This incident reminded me of the time when I completed my training and was working in a clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital when a widowed Italian North End woman in her black mourning garment took a look at me and retreated and requested to be seen by a man despite that the fact she came with a woman's problem. Or in the wee hours of one morning I was called as an intern to the emergency room to see an elderly Irish woman dying from a pancreatic cancer, she was extremely dehydrated and needed to have an intravenous placed. I went into her room and took a look at her. There lying on the bed and against the white sheets was a shriveled up woman deep yellow from jaundice; I noted that she visibly shrank from me. While I gathered my intravenous set together my supervising resident came to inform me with a pained look in her eyes that the patient made a request to her personal physician she did not want me, an Asian lady to touch her. My resident started the intravenous and the patient was assigned to another team. Ironically she was more yellow than the "yellow peril" she was so afraid of. I don't know how the clinical officer felt to be told by her patient, "I want to see a white doctor." Was she being slighted by the patient because of her skills or did the patient think that all"Mzubgu doctors" possess special magical powers to heal her? I asked her after the clinic about how she felt when the woman asked to be seen by "a white doctor", she replied matter-of factly that the people believe the Mzungus have special touch and have powerful medicine. She being a woman has also been refused by men to be seen by her. She said that when the volunteers leave the patients will come and ask to be seen by the Mzungus and will be disappointed when there is none. One thing that we do more for sure is physical examination while African doctors or healthcare personnel don't do as often. Perhaps that is the touch the patients are referring to.

A sixty-year-old Congolese woman was seen in the maternity room at the clinic. She was raped by two rebels at the end of August and when the rebels returned the second night, she knew she could no longer stay in the village and ran to Uganda with her youngest child. She seemed quite subdued and quiet when examined. Later she sat in the waiting room. One of the nurses brought her nine-month old baby to work. The baby was just learning to walk and when she burst into happy laughter spotting me imitating her walking, I spied a faint smile on the face of this distraught woman. A young mother with three young boys were waiting for the dispensing of their medications, one of her children wore a shirt and a sweater and nothing below the waist but he was running around happily often landing on his bare bottom. It had been raining all day, it was chilly and damp and the boys were not properly clad. Later she walked back to the camp carrying her two young ones with the oldest trailing behind her in the rain.

In the newspaper today there was a piece about a plan in the Great Lakes Region Summit to send a neutral force to the DRC in 90 days; the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni and that of the DRC, Joseph Kabila were pictured in this article. It is not entirely clear what this neutral force is going to do, providing security for the people or for some other political goals yet to be defined?

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