Working in a rural part of Uganda, its pretty common to come across traditional healers. I’ve seen their signs on the road, heard their stories, but I never thought I would be one of their patients.
My second week in Uganda, I felt like I was getting the hang of things. One evening, I was chatting with my neighbor in the kitchen while I was cooking some rice. I was a bit distracted and lifted the “lid” off of the pot and received a pretty bad steam burn which started below my wrist and travelled across most of my palm. Trying not to freak out, I dunked my hand in a bowl full of cold water. All of a sudden my vision and hearing started to go, my body went into shock. Next thing I knew, I was on the ground with my neighbor holding my head with one hand and trying to keep her baby on her back with her other hand.
My hand? It felt like it was on fire. I hadn’t packed anything for burns, so I called the Director of my organization for advice. He came over and picked me up to drive me to what I assumed would be a health clinic. I didn’t know my way around town, but when we turned up a dirt road only suitable for motorcycles, I became suspicious of where we were actually headed. It turns out there was a traditional healer living in a nearby village who was well known for healing extreme burns. I was not convinced this was the best course of action, but I was not really able to speak without crying, so away we went.
The treatment involved a peanut-butter jar full of medicated Vaseline which was spread on my hand with a kitchen knife, then wrapped in gauze. We sat in this man’s home for about 20 minutes, surrounded by about 15 curious children who were fascinated by a crying Muzungo while my Director had a conversation with the healer in Luganda. It turns out this “medicine man” was actually a RN who had worked under a well-known doctor in Mulago Hospital for over 15 years.
The next morning I took off my gauze wrapping to find a completely healed palm. I temporarily lost feeling in part of it, and you could see the streaks of red where the steam traced up my wrist, but the pain had disappeared. I’m not necessarily advocating for traditional healers for first-line treatment, but there is a reason they are still around, even just 45 minutes outside of Kampala.