While working at the clinic, I couldn’t help but take special interest in certain patients, a child with a strange skin condition, young men with infected leg wounds, a deranged old woman rambling about her donkey, a crippled toothless old man delivered in a donkey cart, a woman in a coma, a man bitten by a snake. I made it my business to track their progress.
On Wesnesday morning I was summoned by a young man who led me to his mother. He lifted he tunic to expose a raw mass on her breast. It looked very much like the external form of terminal breast cancer, which had killed my mother.
I asked if she had the paper from the nurse authorizing her to be seen by Dr. Skankey. In very understandable English he told me she did, Number 93. Even though they had been waiting since yesterday, I told him it would still be a while before she was seen, due to the large volume of patients.
I was impressed that this dedicated young man had driven all the way across the roadless desert from Algeria (1000k) to pick up his mother from a local nomad camp and bring her to the clinic. He had heard about our “good doctors” via cell phone.
The woman was one of the the last patients Dr. Skankey saw that day. He confirmed breast cancer. It had probably metastasized from another area and was most likely too late for anything but palliative treatment. He referred her to the hospital in Agadez, 3 hours away.
Even though this woman was 61 and lived as a nomad in a tent among camels goats, sheep and donkeys, and my mother had died at 88 in her comfortable western home, there were similarities – breast cancer, and when this woman eventually passes on she too will be surrounded by family.