Saturday, July 26, 2014

Mama Paulina: The People's Nurse.

This was the type of bed in Mama Paulina's room.


Mama Paulina
Years ago, I had a Beti woman who lived just down,  below the little hill from our house in Nkoulouloun, Douala, directly behind Pharmacie Du Rail. She was popularly known as Mamam or Mami Paulina, depending on whether you were Francophone or Anglophone respectively. She had some beautiful girls who thought that no other child was like them or their mother. Their mother had been treating people "au quartier" that she was known to all as "le docteur". If you were looking for a doctor, she was the first whom people mentioned, even though there was another doctor in the quarter.
She was a lanky woman whose cunning and beauty could wheedled the last dime from any patient in a joyful manner. She was a mischievous cocktail. She swindled from anyone who desperately came in contact with her. She was called a doctor, albeit she was only a trained nurse. She had elevated herself to a point where she prescribed medicine, did surgery, had an unlicensed pharmacy and even a clinic in her house. In Goebellian manner, her daughters boasted how their mother was the best doctor in town, and their braggadocio became truism in the minds of her quarries. Unfortunately, Mama Paulina’s ways were not different from those of many nurses from the Lanquintini or any other government hospital in the country at the time. 
Mama Paulina’s husband was a very quiet man with whom I played “damier” (draughtboard;checkerboard) all the time. He was not interested in his wife’s crookery, and he did not even like most of the girls who came there. He always muttered, “elles viennent verser comme elles prennent souvent.” It was a figurative usage for “they are coming to abort just as they conceive.”
One day, when Juliette came to Mama Paulina to tell her that she was pregnant, she looked at her and said, “Ma belle (my beautiful girl), il n' y a pas de problème (There is no problem). Assois-toi (sit here)! On va arranger ca toute suite (We are going to fix everything).” She took the girl into her Pharmacy, gave her something to drink and told her to sleep. After some time, the girl went to the restroom to pass out blood. Then she called her youngest daughter to spray the blood away with a bucket of water. After that, she gave her something for the road.
I just don’t understand how she had all the medicines she sold. Some of them were boldly written, “Échantillons médical à ne pas vendre (medical samples, do not sell),” yet she sold them. She was a Catholic, so I don’t think that she was stealing them. Perhaps, they were medicines that patients did not want anymore. You know how we always shared  our medicine with relatives and friends. Sometimes if she wanted to give you an injection and there were no more syringes, she took the old one, boiled it for some time and then gave it to you. She actually told you that she was boiling it. If you were a male, she sent you to join the husband and play draughtboard (checkerboard) while waiting for her to sterilize her syringe. The ladies were allowed to hang around her as she told them her exploits with men when she was still young.
One day, immediately she reached home, she complained that the world was changing faster. She does not understand how people want to drink medicine now like a hen is eating corn. “Each time they see a tablet, mwam, they swallow.” She said. She was always irritated with patients who were hospitalized in the hospital because that meant she will not be able to take enough medicine home to put in her pharmacy. Her pharmacy had a few types of medicine and at times she gave patients the same medicine for every type of sickness. One day, Mama Paulina was operating someone who had a hernia. The guy was screaming while we wasted our time outside.
Her fees were really cheap, so many people came to her first before thinking about the hospital. If your case was too serious, she will refer you to a specialist and give you a little note. Once the doctor saw that note, they knew what to do with you. She would first ask you if you had money to see the specialist. If you said yes, then she will give you the note. If you said no, she will ask you if you were ready to die. She will frighten you until you will have to go and borrow money or call all your relatives at home and abroad to tell them how your sickness was going to kill you if they did not intervene.
Her clinic had only two beds. If she had given you medications, asked you to sleep a bit and another patient came in, she will yell at you to get up and go to the living room for the other person to use the bed too. She admonished you this way, “ quand tu dors beaucoup (if you sleep too much), la maladie la s’augmente plutôt (the sickness instead increases)." Meanwhile, she just wanted to use the bed. If you were sold a packet of 30 tablets and someone came for almost the same thing and you were still there, she told you to give her the package back. She said, “je t’ai même donné plus (I have given you in excess). Si tu pars boire tout ça (if you go an drink everything), ça va te tuer (it will kill you), et  j’irai en prison (and I will go to prison)." 
In one occasion, Clémence came with a wild type of malaria that forced her to striptease. She was all naked, so Mama Paulina called some guys to hold her down for her to administer some injections and then put her drips too. They held that girl for about 2 hours until she fell asleep. Even people from an aerobics class were not sweating like them.
If she wanted to give you medicine and you request to see the package, she asked you, “tu es aussi médicin ou quoi (are you also a doctor or something)? Pardon, enlève tes main lépreuses avant que tu contamines les autres (please remove your hands of leprosy before you contaminate the others).” That was good enough to make you feel ashamed and just drink whatever she gave you, even if it was mere vitamin C that she was dolling out as medicine for malaria. She accompanied that with a cup of herbal tea from a huge black pot that was constantly on fire. There were all sorts of roots, herbs and even seeds in that pot.
There was a time she wanted to extract someone’s tooth. She could not, so she hired a taxi and sent the guy to Languintini with one of those notes. She told us that the tooth could not come out because, « le gars est envouté au village et les sorciers ne veulent pas laisser sa dent sortir (the guy was bewitched and sorcerers don't want to let the tooth out). Tu sais que les médecins sont aussi des sorciers (you know that doctors are sorcerers too). Ils saurons quoi faire (The will know what to do)." She did not want the people to know that there were things she could not do.
I don’t know if Mama Paulina is still alive. I hope she does because there are some crazy patients. When I think of how helpful she was to the community, I can only say God is great. Without Mama Paulina, many people would have died. There are many people who did not want to go to the hospital because they did not have the high fees to pay the entrance and later buy those expensive medications. If you came to Mama Paulina, no matter your sickness, she gave you un petit quelque chose (a little something), even if it meant for the same sickness. Most of her medicines were for the same sickness, anyway. It was just the first medication that could show up in her hands.
Until then, Mami Paulina was the people's nurse.

St Arrey of Ntenako. 
“Bonyfish beware because the same net that caught the jawless fish, caught the cartilaginous fish” (Hamilton Ayuk). Beware earthly paradise seekers because there is a serpent in every paradise"(Hamilton Ayuk). "It is not how well you know a person; it is how well you treat them that they will live longer and happier with you." Idle people write, idler people read, and idlest people read and whine that idle people are taking their time (Hamilton Ayuk).

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