What is country medicine? In short, it’s homemade remedies for medical problems. It’s very common in Liberia. It also has much deeper roots--witch doctors, juju, superstitions and pure evil. In my three years in Liberia, I’ve heard all kinds of crazy country medicine treatments--battery acid on toothaches, chalks and mud pastes on sore joints, animal blood or animal body parts needed for healing--but the fact of the matter is that it is dangerous! People die because they chose country medicine over the hospital.
On Tuesday, I went to visit the orphanage that I first came to work with back in 2007. This was the first time I’ve been able to visit since I’ve been back. This was, for sure, a divine appointment! I had a great afternoon with the kids, playing Ludo in the shade. But then they told me that Ma Tete, one of the housemothers, was sick and in bed. I said ok and suggested that we go and see her, thinking she was in bed with malaria like everyone else. I was not prepared for what I saw. My eyes first saw a 52 year old woman, in bed with nothing on, then I noticed how miserable she was and then my brain finally realized what my eyes were looking at--a rotting foot! Now, I’ve seen some nasty stuff (busted open heads revealing skulls, one word--maggots, etc.) but this was NASTY! I started asking questions, and tried to act calm.
Once I found out that her foot started swelling two weeks ago and that it had been ‘busted open’ for the past week, I told her she had to go to the hospital NOW. She refused; first telling me that a man was coming tomorrow to treat her, and then she started giving me every excuse she could come up with...she’s scared, doesn’t want to be put to sleep, is embarrassed, doesn’t want someone to have to clean it, etc. I told her that the only reason why they would have to put her to sleep is to chop off her foot! She still wouldn’t budge and insisted on waiting until tomorrow for the man to come and treat her. I chose one last tactic and asked if she would let me take her for my own sake, because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to sleep because I would be too worried. She assured me that I would have no trouble sleeping, and after two hours of saying everything I could to try to convince the woman, she still refused to let me take her to the hospital.
That night, I suddenly woke up after having a dream. In my dream, I was in Liberia, but my house from home was here. Ma Tete was in my bed, and my dad walked in the room and took one look at her foot and said, “take her to Firestone Hospital, NOW.” I woke up and just laid in bed and prayed for Tete until I fell back asleep.
Fast forward to Wednesday afternoon. I arrived at the orphanage around 3pm to make sure that the man came to treat her. I wasn’t convinced that it would be proper treatment because they could only tell that the man was “coming from in town” and after my dream, I knew I had to try again. I poked my head into the door of her room and noticed that family, friends and children were sitting all around the room and that her foot was covered up with a piece of lappa cloth and that the bottom of her bed now had plastic on it. Her toes were sticking out from under the cloth and they were twitching. I didn’t even have to see her foot--”No, Tete, we have to go now!” Then her daughter uncovered her foot and it looked much worse than the day before! Again, I said “No, no. We have to go to the hospital now!” She refused and was so happy to tell me that the man had come to give her treatment. I asked what the treatment was and she pointed to a water bottle filled with dirty water and told me that he used a heat compress to press all of the liquid out. I also noticed the remnants of mud or chalk on her shin. I asked what was in the water bottle and she said she didn’t know, but that the man put the water on her foot. I asked her why she would let some man put something on her without knowing what it was...what if it was bad or poisonous? I started to beg, and then could feel the tears welling up inside. I stopped and told her that she was going to make me cry--I was beyond frustrated...I had said everything I could and was truly worried that she would lose her foot! I started to cry and then she started to cry and told me not to cry; then her daughters started to cry and then the whole room was crying. I told her she had to go to the hospital and then told her about my dream. Everyone was crying, but her daughter spoke up, “God sent Ashley here yesterday, and then He gave her a dream and her Pa said she had to take you to the hospital now. She knows what she’s talking about and God brought her here for you. Please, go.” That was it...that’s what it took!
We got Tete dressed and carried her to load her in the car because she was unable to walk. We squeezed me, Tete, her two daughters, her sister and a friend into the jeep and I raced down the highway towards the hospital. When we pulled in, the place was deserted, so I was thinking, it’s our lucky day because we wouldn’t have to wait. Boy was I fooled! Two nurses were sitting outside of the ER and so I pulled up to the door and asked if they had a wheelchair because the patient couldn’t walk. The man got a plastic lawn chair attached to wheels and brought it out for us. We didn’t even get Tete out of the car and into the chair before he saw her foot and said there was no bedspace so they couldn’t admit her. I asked what he advised, and he could only tell me to take her somewhere else. By this time, I didn’t know what to do--I finally got her to agree to come to the hospital, and now they won’t even help her! So I called Deb to ask for advice. I had to walk away from the building because I was so frustrated and angry--I poked my head into the ER and every bed was empty, and as the nurses continued to sit outside and enjoy the afternoon breeze, I about lost it. Deb put in a call with a doctor at the Firestone Hospital and asked if they had space for her and he said to bring her. I know, I only half-way listened to my dream...I tried a different hospital first...and could only laugh as we set out for Firestone! The drive to the hospital is about 1.5 hours, so I just kept reassuring everyone that things could only get better from here and that she was going to get proper treatment.
Pulling into the gates at the Firestone Hospital was a relief! I had been there once before when a few of our kids had hernia surgeries, and I knew that it was the nicest and cleanest medical facility in Liberia. We got Tete unloaded into a proper wheelchair and wheeled her into the ER. Again, she was the only patient, and three nurses began to take care of her. They wheeled out the cart with the nice and new electronic BP machine, they put on exam gloves, they drew blood, they were writing down notes in her chart...all good signs! Tete was very scared and asked me if they could numb her foot before they cleaned it. I told her they couldn’t do that and they wheeled her behind a screen to begin the cleaning and dressing process. Deb and I were peeking around the screen, and they really didn’t like that, so we got kicked out of the ER, haha. We waited in the hall with Tete’s two daughters and I began the process of filling out the papers to admit her and figure out how the whole deposit and payment thing worked. Tete’s daughter, Barbara, agreed to stay at the hospital where she knew would be sleeping outside in a picnic pavilion type thing, on the cement floor without a mattress or mosquito net. I finished the paperwork and made the deposit and made sure Barbara had everything she needed and then we had to get going because it was after 8pm and dark. We went back into the ER to say goodbye and Tete had a clean and dressed foot. I asked if I could pray with her before we left and so I said a mean, Liberian-English prayer for Ma Tete. The nurses thanked us and then we set out for home.
On the way home, I began to ask Tete’s other daughter about the country medicine. I wanted to know what was in that water bottle, and she had no idea. She started telling me about how the chalk on her leg was some type of herb/mud combination. She also talked about a man breaking a chicken’s legs, and that was somehow supposed to help with the healing. Tete kept telling me that the country medicine was what Africans do, that it helps and that it can work. I still just can’t wrap my mind around it. Why would people let an unqualified person put who knows what on an infected, open wound? Why would they chose that over going to the hospital? How could they be so misguided? The only reason I could come to is that it’s pure evil. It’s another trap that the enemy has set for the people of Liberia. It’s another issue that must be overcome.
Ma Tete was admitted to the hospital and began serious antibiotic treatment--penicillin and other meds. She will have to have a debriement surgery within the next day or two to really clean out the wound and she will probably have to have damaged/dead tissue removed. She will be incredibly lucky if she walks out of that hospital on two feet, and she’s really lucky to even be alive! I am so thankful that God sent me there when He did, and that after much persistence and prayer, that she finally agreed to go to the hospital. Please be in prayer for Ma Tete, as she has a long road of recovery ahead of her! Pray that Liberians would see the truth and they would not be held captive by country medicine. I will keep you all updated and thank you for your prayers!