Saturday, March 21, 2009

Keita and I at Ann's on my birthday.
This is no longer the square root of emotional turmoil- Birgit’s phrase now seems too solid somehow. The circumstances change with the speed of quicksilver. A more apt phrase would perhaps be the Cresta Run? We are speeding down an icy slope in a toboggan towards some sort of resolution, the nature of which is not yet clear.
I have spent the week at my friend Ann’s place in Bamako, where Keita and I stayed for two or three weeks in January. When he arrived here he still walked. He left here in a wheelchair.
Meanwhile Keita and his wife have been staying at his sister Djenneba’s place at Kati, where his large family are passing by daily to greet him.
Keita and Djenneba have been coming down in the car every day to take me to the various laboratory and scanning appointments and the clinic visits which I arranged for him, and to pick up the medicines prescribed at the pharmacy. Then, after the visits they have disappeared up the hill again, leaving me here waiting for the next day’slaboratory/specialist/scanning visit.
During this time I have been patiently waiting to be told when I can have my meeting with the family. On Tuesday it was my birthday. I bought us all lunch take-away from Amandine’s: Keita’s favourite, Steak au Roquefort.
The following day we went to have a new scan done. Like last time in December, I sat in front of the screen with the technician while Keita was rolled into the machine, lying on his back.
As soon as the technician switched on the scanner and the picture appeared on the screen, I saw that there was something quite wrong- there appeared to be only one lung. Keita has had problems talking- his voice is very faint and he says he cannot seem to get enough air. I immediately ordered a scan of the thorax too, although Youssoufa, the neurologist had only ordered a scan of the spine. The technician objected that it would be highly irregular because the doctors don’t like it if things are done without their consent. I said: ‘I don’t care, just do it’. So he did.
The rest of what we saw on the screen seemed to me very wrong too- there seemed to be holes everywhere and I thought there was a very bad deterioration. The results with the interpretation were to be picked up the following day.
Of course I said nothing to Keita, only that there was something showing on a lung. Meanwhile I started thinking that Keita was now dying, and in my mind I was certain he would never return to Djenne. It suddenly dawned on me that the ‘fight’ for my future life with Keita at the hotel was already an irrelevance, a dream which would never be realized- the disease had taken over. That afternoon I did have a little time with him when he rested for an hour or so at Ann’s. ‘Don’t worry about anything, cheri,' I said. ‘These problems between Mai and me are not important. It will all sort itself out. Don’t think of anything, just rest and know that I am here next to you'.
Then they disappeared up the hill again until the next day’s appointment with Dr. Toure, the oncologist/hematologist who is in charge of Keita's cancer treatment. We arrived with the results of the scan and the blood tests, both of which had seemed to me like a death sentence with more or less immediate effect.
But no! Dr. Toure was not as concerned as I thought he would be. It was good that I had insisted on the thorax scan, because it revealed an inflammation of the lung, which Toure said might be quite banal and should be treated with antibiotics for ten days. In the meantime the new course of chemotherapy and thalidomide which was due to start should be postponed. Even the blood test with their values, so wildly different from the indicated ‘normal’ values was not to be taken too seriously he said. The infection of the lungs has sent the values off into their abnormal levels, it was no indication of the progress of the cancer! Well, all this was of course quite good news and on the way down to buy the antibiotics and to drop me off we were quite cheerful in the car. It seemed like some sort of relief and respite. Keita would stay another couple of weeks in Bamako of course.
And me? What would I now do? After the first rush of relief and happiness, slowly a great anxiety took hold. It was Thursday night when they dropped me off. The following day, yesterday, we only had one appointment with the neurologist Dr. Youssoufa Maiga again. He was to look at the scan results to see whether he thought it might be worth attempting an operation on the spine to try and reverse the paralysis. The meeting was at 7 pm in the private Clinique Pasteur. I suggested in the car that perhaps Keita could come and spend the day at Ann’s? My suggestion was turned down.

During the following day I heard nothing. All day a great smoldering anger grew in me. I prayed that I would get rid of it; that if it was wrong of me to be angry it should go away and that I should have patience and understanding. But somehow, the fact that Keita was no longer immediately dying brought back the same old problems again, only more acutely. I spoke to Ann, with whom I have been talking recently about spiritual things, about faith etc. I said to her that I was trying to understand if I now had a right to be angry. There is of course righteous anger, Christ turned over the sellers’ tables in the temple. I prayed that if my anger was righteous it should stay, but if I should continue to be patient and giving, God would let peace descend on me.
My anger grew and grew.
They turned up at 6.45pm, just in time to pick me up to take me to the clinic. I sat down next to Keita in the waiting room.
Cheri, what are the plans for this weekend now?’ I asked. ‘Can you come and stay with me at Ann’s perhaps? ‘No that is not going to be possible. There are too many people who are coming to see me’ he replied.
‘But they can come to Ann’s, I have already spoken to her, and she says it is OK’. I suggested.
‘No it is not possible’, he said.
‘Ok’, then can I come and stay with you at Kati then? I asked. ‘No that will not be possible either’ came Keita’s reply.
At this point I decided not to be angry with him but to be angry with Djenneba instead, because I was worried about Keita’s breathing. So I went over and sat down next to her in the waiting room.
‘Have you arranged the meeting with the relatives yet, for me to be introduced?’ I asked.
Djenneba said she had not had time.
“Djenneba, I am extremely angry’ I said. ‘But why, cherie?' she wanted to know. I did not have time really to launch into my speech. Instead the door opened and Dr. Youssoufa called us in.
So the consultation began. He looked at the scan results and decided that Keita should come and see him and his neuro surgeons on Monday at 11am at the Gabriel Toure hospital in Bamako. At this point it would be decided if a surgical intervention would be a good idea. It would also be discussed where this intervention would take place. “Are you confident that an operation here in Bamako would be a good idea? I asked. Dr. Youssoufa said that of course it would be better to move him to a hospital which was better equipped, either in the Mahgreb, Libya or Morocco for instance, or even better of course Europe of America.
At the very end of the consultation things took an unexpected turn. Djenneba said something to Youssoufa in Bambara, which I understood to be something like:’She is very angry. She doesn’t understand our African customs, please talk to her’.
So Youssoufa asked me: ‘what is the matter, why are you angry?’ I replied that it was hardly the place and that it had nothing directly to do with Keita’s disease, but rather to do with his family and his private life. ‘That is fine, Youssoufa said. ‘just tell me. Keita is ‘mon petit frere’, (meaning that he is older than Keita and that they are both in the medical profession.) I want to know’.
So I let rip:
'Keita and I have been together for three years. On the 7th of February they took Keita away from my side, when his wife arrived to Djenne from Segou. She has not left his side since, and I have been put aside- first of all I was not even allowed to see him for two weeks, but finally, at the insistence of some friends I was given visiting rights- for half an hour a day or so. In order to be able to resolve the situation, it became clear that Keita and I would have to be married. In order for me to be able to continue caring for him, he would have to take me as his second wife.
So I went to see the Bishop of Mopti who agreed that it was a highly irregular situation, but that he saw someone here who was not going to leave her friend when illness struck but who was going to do everything and was going to remain with him until the end if necessary. So the Bishop of Mopti agreed that he could even do a blessing on our marriage, after the religious Muslim marriage. His sister Djenneba went to see his mother, and they both agreed to the marriage. BUT KEITA REFUSED!’

‘Petit frere, is that true?' asked Youssoufa. Keita said nothing.

‘That was nearly the end between us’ I continued. ‘But for love and pity of Keita, I decided to stay with him. I didn’t want to come to Bamako, but Keita assured me we would be here together, and that his wife was not going to come. We would stay together at Djenneba’s place, then we would stay for a few days at Ann’s. I would be introduced to the family and given the status of his wife. So I came to Bamako.
And now I am here, and Keita has brought his wife! They stay in Kati while I stay in Bamako. Everyday they pick me up here in Bamako, we go to his appointments, I pay the bills and then they drop me off!’
‘Petit Frere, is this true?’ Youssoufa demanded to know. Keita said nothing.
Petit Frere’, she has every right to be angry!’
But I hadn’t finished.
‘And do you know how much I have paid already for Keita? And do you know how much his thalidomide will cost a year?’ (and I told them) And do you know that they have even refused to let me meet the family here! The family does not even know I exist! They have no idea that I am here!’
‘Is this true, Petit Frere?’ said Youssoufa. Keita said nothing.
And then Youssoufa, the heavenly creature said:
‘I have known this woman from the very beginning of your illness. I see her by your side always. There seems to be no doubt that she loves you deeply. It is of course not for me to say, but Petit Frere, how can you treat her like this? This is not right.
I know you have lost the use of your legs, but you have not lost the use of your head’.
Keita said nothing. Djenneba said nothing. I said: thank you Dr.Youssoufa.

Then we drove in complete silence to Ann’s. I left the car without a word.
I am writing this the next day. It is 12. 30. I have heard nothing. I will wait here until Monday. I will not go to the meeting if I have heard nothing from Keita or the family.
This may or may not be the end, let’s wait and see.


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