This is one of those you-know-you-work-in-Africa-when stories:
A young pregnant woman is admitted with severe early-onset pre-eclampsia. She is managed well and her blood pressures and kidney functions normalise. She is discharged for a few days with a return date and lots of medication.
At home, her condition worsens. When she develops anasarca, she seeks the help of a Sangoma. The Sangoma, after the required chat to the ancestors, declares that her client is severely ill and has been cursed. Up to this point, nothing unexpected for this kind of consultation.
But then: instead of prescribing a herbal concoction, she declares: if you do not go to the hospital immediately, you will die. Your child will probably not survive either way.
And so the patient returns. Her blood panels reveal nephropathy, elevated liver enzymes, and a platelet count near-zero. She has HELLP syndrome. Labour must be induced. Her tiny infant is unlikely to survive – a sad decision made by Mom to save her life.
She asks me, “Do you believe in demons?”
Do I believe in demons? I believe in good so I must believe in evil.
I know that traditional healers have in many ways been dubbed the evil of medical sciences. Entities that have gained some kind of authority in South Africa and beyond, yet are often exempt from the consequences of their actions.
But this Sangoma? I wish I knew who she was and how she knew that this patient was beyond her skills. Is that not the essence of a good healthcare worker? One who knows when they are out of their depth and refers to the appropriate facility. I wish all Sangomas were like her.
I have always said that traditional healers and doctors need not be at odds. Their presence can, if approached correctly, be used as an adjunct in our resource-strapped setting.
And I received a referral that probably very few other clinicians have received. Because, you know. I work in Africa.