/ / “The Pygmy Patient”

“The Pygmy Patient”

Deep in the Ituri Forest of the Congo live the Pygmies, a tribe that is sheltered from the outside world. Even so, there was a small medical dispensary at Lolwa, a substation of the Nyankunde Hospital, within their community, that could provide some assistance for the sick.

The pygmies are typically nomadic hunter-gatherers with an average male height not above 150 cm (4 ft 11 in.). Mainly vegetarian,  they occasionally did have meat in their diet and used ingenious ways of catching their prey. Women would hold a net, about the size used in a tennis court, strategically in place in the forest. The men would then form a long line some distance from the net and noisily advance toward it. Frightened birds and animals would move ahead of the shouting men and eventually reach the net where the women would catch them, kill them and provide food for the tribe. 

They were experts at chasing an elephant for many hours until the animal was too tired to continue. In a crude but effective way, they would kill it and the whole tribe would feast on the meat for several days until all the meat was consumed. 

 The tribe was reluctant to leave the safety of the jungle, even for medical emergencies. A father of the tribe, however, developed a serious hernia problem. With a great deal of coaxing, he was finally encouraged to visit the hospital  at Nyankunde where Dr. Bob was prepared to see him. It was clear that he needed surgery, and this was immediately done.

After the procedure, the patient was told not to move for a day which he did.  He remained motionless on the hospital bed. On the following day, Dr. Bob went to see the man, who stated that he wanted to get out of bed and go outside. He was encouraged to stay quiet for one more day after which he was advised to get up and walk about the garden. 

The following day, Dr. Bob went to visit the patient and discovered that indeed the patient had gone outside as ordered.. To his astonishment he discovered his patient was high up on a tree.  Dr. Bob waved him down and examined his carefully tied sutures. Happily the sutures were intact, the patient felt well, and a few days later he was discharged and happily returned to the jungle.When Dr. Bob returned to Canada, references to his Congo experience would often surface in his medical practice. After surgeries, he frequently found himself suggesting to his patients that they could get out of bed and wander around a bit,” But”, he would suggest,“don’t climb any trees!

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