An Wato Guinea, Det!

So we're doing it- heading back to Guinea. Stay tuned for details of our journey back to a place we love.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Two Worlds

I’ve been in California a little over a week now. At first being back was jarring. Now it’s a bit unbelievable. Was I ever in Guinea? Did that actually happen? It seems a different world, another lifetime. I’m scrolling through old posts on this blog in awe. There I am in a Guinean boubou. There’s Matt with the Kerouane kids. It's been documented. We were there. Our time there was life changing in so many ways and yet it’s hard to get my mind around the idea that that world exists at the same time as this one. I haven’t called the Kerouane family yet. Each time I get ready to it’s not the right time there. And I’ve been busy. Maybe those are just excuses. It’s hard to think of hearing their voices from so far away. I’m here now, not there. My leaving and the uncertainty of my return are bound to hang in the air during any conversation.

It’s been easy to avoid thinking about my friends and family in Guinea and what it means to be back because I haven’t had much time to think or do too much. I haven’t even completely unpacked yet. Two days after arriving in California my mom had knee-replacement surgery. Since then my brother, Matt, my brother’s girlfriend Julia and I have all been putting in a lot of time at the hospital and rehab center. This past week I’ve been there on average about 8 hours a day. My brother has been working a lot with her on physical therapy and I’ve been preparing meals for her and for all of us visitors (the food at the rehab place doesn’t smell too good). I get home late and am exhausted and so haven’t had time to even consider what the heck the next step for me is. The important thing right now is that the surgery went really well. For those of you familiar with my mom’s knee situation you know what a big deal this is that she finally took the plunge and decided to have this surgery. Our family couldn’t be happier. She’s been working really hard and can now move her knee/leg much better than before the surgery. She’s walking with a walker and is able to do most things on her own. She’ll be coming home on Sat and will continue formal and informal physical therapy here. (And by the way, I had never seen physical therapists in action before. They are amazing! I now have an enormous amount of respect for the work they do!). She’s still got a long way to go for a full recovery but we’re all very proud of her motivation and the progress she’s made.

In terms of readjusting to being back, all this time in a hospital setting has been quite interesting. It’s one thing to experience the abrupt change of airport environments (from the parking lot full of students looking for light and the swarming mosquitos in Conakry, to the food courts and perfume shops of JFK in New York), but quite another to go from a village hospital to a brand new Kaiser Permanente hospital in California. I still feel dizzy thinking of the contrast. I visited the hospitals in Kerouane and Lelouma several times. While in Guinea the first time around I was actually sick enough to go to the hospital in Kerouane as a patient. I wouldn’t recommend it. Some people in Kerouane have told me they prefer *not* going to the hospital when ill because of the lack of cleanliness, beds, medicine, etc. When I left Kerouane a few weeks ago the director of the hospital asked if I could somehow get them some microscopes and blood pressure cuffs (along with any other available supplies and resources). As you can all imagine the new Kaiser hospital here has got all kinds of machines and contraptions and staff, and yes, microscopes and blood pressure cuffs. Matt pointed out the spotlessly waxed staircase banister. My favorite detail, though, is the fact that each hospital room has a little anti-bacterial dispenser right inside the door. Everyone entering or exiting the room need only touch the little dispenser button and a dollop of goop that kills bad things skirts out and makes everything good (or at least sterile). Surely you get my drift. It seems mind-boggling that this reality exists. How can standards of care here and in Kerouane exist in the same world?
Now, to be fair, not everyone here "gets" to go to Kaiser (thank you to my aunt for reminding me of this detail as I raved about that little soap thing-ie). As someone walking around this often dangerous world with no health insurance I understand this all too well. I would be turned away from Kaiser if I tried to receive care there. Issues of access are important, life or death even, but my initial awe and confusion with the difference between hospitals is more basic. It’s as simple as this: This state-of-the-art hospital exists here. It was planned and built and paid for somehow. There is nothing comparable in Guinea (and yes, I have been to hospitals in the capital). So that’s a tiny window into my confused mind struggling to come to terms with the distance between two worlds that are, remarkably, only 14 airplane hours apart. Maybe once I can wrap my mind around all this I’ll find the time and energy to unpack. Maybe.

On the sleep front things are looking good. I can now say that I have finally found *the* perfect sleep conditions. My mom’s house is quite and at night, dark.. Her guest bed is literally all feathers- feather mattress pad, feather comforter, feather pillows (4 to be exact). I crawl into feather bliss and I’m lost. I don’t think an intruder would even be able to find me. The first night here I slept over 12 hours.
It’s great to be back.
Still no plans yet. For the moment I'm here helping my mom with her recovery and Matt is now a few hours away with Charlie. Stay tuned. I hope to post Guinea photos soon.


Kelly Cooper said...

We're so glad you and Matt made it safely back. Glad to hear your Mom is doing well. Please let us know when you do have some plans. We miss you and would love to see you.
-Kelly and Jason

Jason said...


I discovered a book the other day that I was immediately intrigued by. Kelly mentioned to me yesterday how she thought it might be a book to intrigue you, too, and I couldn't believe I hadn't already thought of that! Anyway. It's by Christine Montross and is called Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab. Montross graduated with an MFA in poetry from Michigan before deciding to go to med school, and the book is a kind of memoir of her relationship with her cadaver. It looks extraordinary...

Hope to see you both soon...