Back to almost normal, malaria gone, and just slowly regaining my strength. It wasn’t nearly as bad because we caught it early. Sadly, many, many deaths occur here because people wait too late to get help. Malaria has several symptoms and just one or two doesn’t mean you have malaria, but you should get tested as soon as any appear. The tests cost money, however, and that prevents most of the population from getting tested at the early stages. We had a medical/dental mission team here many years ago, and the physician on that team reported that almost everyone that he saw reported having the complaint for years—not days or weeks but years. As a result, there wasn’t much he could do for most of them. There is no free education here or free health care and the country suffers as a result. Early detection and treatment would save thousands of lives, but it doesn’t happen because going to the doctor costs a dollar or two. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it, but if you only make a dollar a day and your children will go hungry if you spend it for anything but food, well, you have to make some hard choices. Right now, Shaban’s mother-in-law is heading for back surgery in Mwanza that could have been avoided if she had been seen a year before, but she waited until she was partially paralyzed before seeking help.
Early detection saved my life more than once. When Karen and I were living in Los Angeles, we were part of a medical plan called Kaiser Permanente which was offered through Karen’s school. Two of our three boys were born in Kaiser hospitals, one in Hollywood and one in Fontana. We paid nothing for anything, and Kaiser encouraged you to come in at the first sign of anything wrong. Kaiser knew that preventative medicine was so much cheaper than curative, so catching things early saved them a lot of money as well as saving lives. Me, I once had a cold, just a cold, but went in because I wanted some antibiotics to keep it from turning into flu. I took our only car (a VW camper but hey, we were hippies) and went to the Kaiser clinic just two miles from our house. I’ll never forget that day or the names of the doctors. I saw Dr. Stephen Green at the clinic who asked, during the exam for my cold, how long I had had a spot on my arm. I didn’t know, so he insisted I go to see the dermatologist at the Kaiser hospital in Fontana. I had a cold, didn’t feel good, and didn’t want to drive the twenty-five miles to Fontana, but Dr. Green insisted, so I went. I was seen immediately which should have alerted me, but it didn’t. The dermatologist just said, “Hmm, hmm,” and called for the Chief of Surgery, a Dr. Shaner to come in to see me. Dr. Shaner said, “Hmm, hmm,” and picked up the phone and asked to get Operating Room Three ready. No one had said anything to me as yet, so I said, “Excuse me, would you like to tell me something?” Dr. Shaner said he didn’t like the spot on my arm and wanted to remove it as a preventative measure, so I said, “Sure.” They chopped out quite a large section of my arm and then called my wife to tell her I was out of surgery, couldn’t drive, and would she come get me please. Now, the last she heard, I was going to the nearby clinic to get some antibiotics for my cold. She got really scared and found a neighbor to drive her out to the hospital to get me. Four days later, on January 3, 1977, I was told I had malignant melanoma and just had a one in ten chance of surviving the next two years. After many trips back to the hospital for biopsies, I was finally told to watch out for more spots but apparently, I was going to live. Since I am still here, almost forty years later, I seem to be a poster boy for checking things early. I was fortunate to have free health care as part of my wife’s school perks, or I would probably have died from that cancer that I wouldn’t have had checked until it was too late. We pay for all our workers health care and send them to the hospital at the first signs of problems, even paying for taxis if necessary. They have learned now and will go themselves at the first signs of trouble, but the vast majority of Tanzanians don’t because they can’t afford it. So very sad. There are so many deaths so easily preventable and with so little additional aid needed. No one should have to starve to death or die of easily preventable diseases, but they do, in the millions. Some day, Christ may ask us what we did to change it. I worry that my answer won’t please Him.