Saturday, February 26, 2011


Some days, my prenatal lines goes by quickly and I find I have nothing to do after lunch. Sometimes I nap, but other times I help take patient histories at the clinic to speed up the line.

History taking is an art not a science here.

Often, you can ask a Dinka person what ails them and they will touch various parts of their bodies in response. This used to frustrate me and I’d insist they use their words, but these days I just smile and write down their various body parts.

Head means headache. Stomach means stomach ache. Back means backache. Easy, right?

Anyway, one day while taking histories, a boy was brought in by his mother; he seemed health enough, so I asked what was wrong. In frustrated anger, she spit out something about him having a ‘fat-tongue’.

Blinking in confusion, I asked, “Did he bite his tongue? Is there a sore?” My translator was relatively new at the time, and he couldn’t think of any other way to describe it.

No, there was no sore. No, he didn’t bite it. It was fat. That’s all.

Confused laughter and cyclical questioning persisted for at least another five minutes, until I was completely fed up. I asked my translator to tell in the simplest manner what a ‘fat-tongue’ meant, since I was new here and didn’t know.

Only then, equally frustrated, did he explain, “The mother cannot tell when the boy is lying. He has a fat-tongue!”

I laughed and shook my head in wonder, asking, “Does she expect the doctor to give him medicine for that?”

The boy, scowling in stubborn resentment, just stood there angrily while I wrote in his book. 

Chief complaint: mother cannot tell when child is lying; he has a fat tongue.

I should have followed up to find out what kind of medicines doctors give liars these days. Ha ha! If only it could be fixed so easily.