When an Illness is Superstition!
Date published: November 8, 2012
Not once, but several times have I come across a scenario, when following several occurrences of miscarriages, or a child not surviving just after birth to begin with, but dies in early infancy, the weapon to stop such occurrences in many tribes of Africa is to mark the child on the face. If you should make the effort to learn why this, you may get one of three explanations as an answer. You may not get anything said to you, but a rude answer that might stop you from prying into other peoples’ affairs, or, in the luckiest of situations, an answer that might teach you some lesson in superstition. The spirits that come to take away your child don’t like disfigured children. Mark one, and they don’t return. The experience has been made when such a child travels to Europe for further education, and he/she may return more learned, but, of course, without the mark on the face and still alive. The business gets more serious, when in a family, out of ten adult siblings, six male children and all suffer a stroke and die in the course of time, following it with lesser or more severe deficit, pre-mortem. The interested Physician may inquire something that might make him a fetish priest in addition, or throw him onto a scientific course that might “safeguard” the surviving siblings from the accursed sib-ship. It is not so easy to try as a Physician (and you must believe in science only) to follow the path which may say, “Some of your ancestors, a generation ago, pilfered some pigs belonging to some families of the adjacent village.” The sought-out retribution is from a sharp conjurer, and that is what you are experiencing. Your family member, supposed to have been “the offender,” joined the other world sixty years ago. So, how do you and your family chain solve this enigma? A dozen white rams, and half-a-dozen white turkeys, already paid, “but the male members continue dying of stroke-related illnesses.” In the process, a young man who has taken his career in modern medicine seriously, and follows the science, rather than the superstition of it, gets more of the surviving members of the sib-ship, and he strikes “a pot of luck” to discover that all, or many of them, are hypertensive, i.e. they all have high blood pressure. If he would present the situation at a clinical meeting, someone whose “superstition” may be ingrained in scientific medicine, may get the hand of an experienced man of science to join the young inexperienced physician, to begin to deliberate scientifically and medically, why/how one family comes by such a misfortune. In the process, it may happen that Mrs. Angela Merkel, the Physicist turned German politician, and now Head of State of the Federal Republic of Germany, may have a few hundreds of thousands of Euros lying fallow in her huge financial “apparatuses” in Berlin, and she wouldn’t mind, sending some of it to Accra, if we could guarantee someone who would take good care of it, to do medical research. With this money from Berlin, and the wits from the young man and his mentor from “Ghana-land”, the cause of the familial malignant hypertension might be discovered, and from there, those still alive in the family might be salvaged, or a hereditary cause might be established. Perhaps, some Nobel Prize in Medicine could emerge out of the chain of events. In Nelson Mandela’s Biography [The Long Walk to Freedom] he talks of the pilfering of a hog by him and his village gang. They would pilfer the pig, roast it spiced, and enjoy themselves in the chill of the night. Young boys growing up in the countryside may join a youthful gang, which may indulge in such practices for fun. What a price to pay to any deities if after such a youthful prang, your sib-ship must die in droves. This narrative sort of offers me yet again, the opportunity to top up the article in The Chronicle on the 16th of October, 2012, under the title, “Arterial Hypertension – The killer.” Arterial hypertension, as many non-physicians in the community must have heard of for the umpteenth time, hardly, if ever, gives the victims a warning sign. Different statistics give the heart and the brain as two end-organs which may be affected in hypertensive crises. In other words, it’s a stroke or heart-attack, and both are “effective and dastardly killers.” The evil attack on the individual could be synergistic, and two evils become worse than one. The kidneys may be destroyed in the long run with arterial hypertension, but the ramifications are better dealt with by medical specialists, designated as Nephrologists. Nevertheless, it is true (as hinted at in the previous article), to say that every Physician, no matter his/her field of interest, would do well in a society like ours, not to let a patient pass through their hands, without making an impression of the Blood Pressure. In the meantime, why don’t we remind ourselves of the risk factors that generally would predispose one to arterial hypertension. It is true to say that hypertension, which is overweight-related, is “the easiest” to counteract. “Get rid of the overweight!” Any challenge? The Akans have a dictum which sounds like a “chanson” at the same time, and it goes like this: “Ansong Kroyi ee, aduane ye de oo.” Translated, it goes like “food is pleasant.” Food is indeed pleasant, and letting in only half of what one usually consumes, is difficult from many angles for many people. Our multi-culture abhors womenfolk whose skeletons may be counted through the skin. In other words, “big is sexy!” Big is equally dangerous. Just as sexy; the incidence of “myocardial infarction”, another name for heart attack, is among Egyptian ladies more frequent than with their European counterparts. It is in Egypt that the delicacy, “Um Ali”, a superbly irresistible pudding, is a woman’s best friend. Dieticians may have a problem getting effective and staying effective. Lying on the wrong side of the Body Mass Index in a country where the per capital income is much less than you would expect, is what you would encounter ubiquitously. Truly, the experience of a Physician resident and practicing in the same vicinity in the Greater Accra community who gets knocked down and expires on the spot, has spurred a disincentive against brisk walking, which in the West, and that includes Japan, is both modish and life-saying, is not that popular. The writer encounters a group of men and women who often trek for a stretch of some ten kilometres in some district in Osei Krom. Without looking obviously prying, this Physician observes no adherents of the right BMI. This treatise has been no attempt to establish Physicians “as any holier than the Pope.” But, dietary trespassing and superstition linking biological illnesses to absolute myth is taking heavy tolls in loss of life, as well as escalating costs in rehabilitating “stroke and myocardial infarction victims.” It is believed we could do much better than we presently have to show. Who could count how many times he was invited for a buffet, and there was a column for “DM-affected?” Don’t say it! - Even those who could acquire it. Does everybody have a weighing device in his bathroom? Let’s think of it!!! Others are living longer, because, they care!
Kofi Dankyi Beeko, MD.
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