Witch Doctors


Several years ago, Z was home in Zimbabwe when he got sick with a mysterious illness that wreaked havoc for months and no one could figure out what was wrong with him. We were just friends at the time, and I would get email reports from him about what the latest doctor he’d seen thought it might be. The symptoms were frightening and the possible (read: wrong) diagnoses ranged from just stress to that that Stephen Hawking disease. It was a scary time, and one of my frustrations was that I was (also wrongly) picturing him going to witch doctors without the training or knowledge that a good American doctor would have. Even as I thought it, I knew it was ethnocentric, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that if only he were in America, they’d figure out what was ailing him quickly and get him fixed up.

Eventually, after his GP in Zimbabwe had to cry uncle because she was at a loss, and after a host of specialists solved nothing, a very special specialist in South Africa ruled out all sorts of nasty things and then finally hit upon the problem: Back when Z was living in Indiana, a nice Hoosier doctor had prescribed for him a medicine for acid reflux but failed to mention he should take it for no longer than six months. In fact, the doctor kept prescribing it and subsequent doctors prescribed it as well. At the advice of the South African specialist, Z stopped taking the medicine and miraculously, he instantly felt better. I’m particularly fond of this story because the end result was a) a healthy Z and b) a Z who realized we needed to be together. (Win-win for both of us!)

So today we stopped by his GP’s office both to collect a prescription for muti he can’t get in the US (a good one—not one that poisons him) and to deliver a few treats to the doctor and her receptionist. I didn’t know what to expect when we arrived. I’d given up the notion of a witch doctor, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting something substandard.

Instead, we pulled the car next to a gorgeous flower garden outside her office/home and two beautiful, barking Ridgebacks. We were greeted by the receptionist who offered hugs all around, seemed genuinely happy to see Z and to meet me, and who then offered us tea. Between patients, the doctor herself popped into the receptionist’s office, shook my hand, chatted about our recent trip to Kariba, asked after my health and what anti-malarials I was on, and then before dashing back to her real patients, hugged me.

I’m really not used to this in America. True, the doctor was a student of Z-ma’s and has taken care of Z’s family for a long time, but even so: tea? a hug? asking how I was “tolerating Zimbabwe”?

The water cooler at the Belltown clinic I go to is never going to seem quite so welcoming or refreshing.

5 responses »

  1. Scary that all of his docs who should have known better kept prescribing that med for him and it made him so sick. I didn’t remember that that was what it ended up being.

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