Jessore District, February 2002
â€œNow, Mrs Anne.â€ Dr Musa beckons me to continue the tour. â€œI show you my speciality. In French, my wife says it is a piece de resistance.â€ He pauses for dramatic effect outside a square concrete room screened from the corridor only by a flimsy and ill-fitting door. â€œThe operating theatre,â€ he announces.
In the centre of the room, raised on an oval pedestal is the operating table, a tattered couch covered in black plastic. Above this, swinging from a long metal chain is a bright, white light, and to the right is a table and shelves littered with intriguing bits of medical equipment.
I search for words, try to imagine even minor surgery taking place here, wonder about sterility, the lighting, and marvel over the lack of gleaming surfaces and fancy gadgets.
â€œYou find this a strange place, Mrs Anne,â€ says Dr Musa. â€œIt is to you, like something from the Charles Dickens. I hear European doctors say this.â€
â€œIt is fascinating,â€ I say. I long to poke around, sniff the stoppered bottles of anaesthetic, and take out the polished tools of incision. â€œAbsolutely fascinating. I would love to watch you work here,â€ I tell him, smothering the inner voice that tells me that I am no better than the wealthy Victorians gawping around Bedlam. â€œWhat surgery do you do?â€
Dr Musa shrugs. â€œWhatever is needed. Yesterday I remove an appendix, last week a ruptured spleen. I mend broken legs and arms here. For big operations, on maybe the heart or liver, the patient must go to Dhaka, sometimes to Bangalore. My clinic is simple.â€
With time to spare before patients arrive, Dr Musa reaches onto the top of a skinny wardrobe and pulls down a crinkled carrier bag.
â€œNow, Mrs Anne, I test you,â€ he announces happily. He peers into the bag like Santa Claus into his sack and pulls out a strip of tablets, tossing them onto the desk in front of me. â€œWhat is this medicine?â€ He sits back, his arms folded.
We run through his limited supply of antihistamines, antibiotics, and antacids. That I manage to sound like a competent pharmacologist pleases him greatly.
â€œGood. You become my intern,â€ he tells me. â€œSCI leaves you here to assist in my operating theatre. We start with general surgery now. Okay?â€ The look on my face compels him to roar with laughter. â€œI am teasing you, Mrs Anne.â€
I sit back in relief. For a second there, I had visions of performing a quick appendectomy before bedtime.
(ABBW Ch 16)
Way over in the west of the country only a few miles from the Indian border, my next home was a local health centre. The task here was to encourage local health care providers - doctors, dentists, opticians and pharmacists - to donate a few hours of free care per month to the poorest communities, people who could not afford to pay for consultation or medicine. Hundreds of eyes were tested, teeth pulled and drugs dispensed. Families arrived en masse for check-ups; they made a day of it with a picnic, their curiousity aroused by SCI Jessore Unit who shamelessly advertised the added novelty of a pale foreigner to look at...
And by the end of the placement, this same pale foreigner had received the gift of an old man's tooth as a souvenir and her first proposal of undying love.
It was time for a quick exit back to Dhaka.