Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Gauguin in the ER

Emily called yesterday from Queens. She had gone to the ER with chest pains at 1am, and was admitted a few hours later. I went down to check on her, and she didn't look good. She had lost her cell phone, her boyfriend's phone was busted (of course), and she couldn't reach anyone from the community.

I only have a few numbers, but managed to reach Theo and gave him a brief rundown. Not that I knew much: her blood pressure had fallen, her chest and lower back hurt, and she was scared. The doctors were going to run some tests. "OK." said Theo. "I know what this disease is."

I don't know what he meant by that. Did he mean that he understood my broken Chuukese? Or that he could diagnose her with such little information? His father - and my uncle - was one of the island's top navigators, and his father's father was famous for his knowledge of traditional medicine. Knowledge in Chuuk is guarded closely, so most of us outside any given lineage never know what has been lost and what has been secretly preserved. Theo is the de facto steward of the Re Fananu in Honolulu; I assume he learned a lot from his father.

So maybe he can tell things the western doctors can't.

This morning the traditional doctor called me in to translate. Emily has an infected gall bladder, and they want to remove it. The best I could manage worked out to "there is this thing, small thing, right about here near your stomach, and it is sick, and they want to open you and take it out and throw it away. They will enter you through your belly button with this other thing, this tube thing, unless that doesn't work, then they will cut you open."

That didn't calm her down much. It was the best I could do with my low-level fluency.

I went back in the afternoon, and some of the Fananu women were there, all piled on the bed around Emily. One was massaging her forhead, and the other massaging her hips and thighs. And this is part of Chuukese medicine that I really liked - it is heavily touch and massage based. They can do incredible things with massage - from birthing babies to setting broken bones to clearing infections.

It is not Western, or even Asian, style massage. It can be brutal, and it can hurt. A lot. As in, have your friend hold you down hurt. They were gentle with Emily; they were doing it more to calm her down and ease the pain. And it looked for all the world like a Gauguin painting, only set in a hospital room. There was a beauty there, in a culture learning to navigate in a foreign world, in knowledge surviving modernity, and in the basic humanity of it of family watching out for family.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

wat happened next? did emily get any better?