Web Exclusives: Raising Kate
a PAW web exclusive column by Kate
Swearengen '04 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
November 20, 2002:
a broken wrist and a hospital visit
a bone the Egyptian way
In Egypt when you break your wrist, the doctor gives you general
anesthesia before setting the bone. This goes against conventional
medical practice, or at least against the way medicine is practiced
in the U.S., where the doctor tells you to turn your head while
he puts the pulverized bone back in place. For my money, general
anesthesia is the way to go, although it carries with it the risk
that once they put you under, you'll stay under. The way my junior
paper's going, it may have been better if I hadn't awakened.
On Halloween, I fell down a flight of stairs on the way out of
Arab literature lecture and broke and dislocated my left arm. My
attentions were initially divided between not falling back on the
traditional American linguistic arsenal that lends itself to such
situations a no-no in Egypt and keeping my legs covered.
I was wearing a skirt at the time, and within two minutes of my
fall every janitor and security guard in the building was clustered
at my feet.
Kate: "My arm is broken."
Janitor: "Insha'allah [God willing], no."
Kate: "Look at it. It's not straight."
The janitors and security personnel escorted me to a small room,
where we were joined by a motherly Egyptian woman and a Korean nurse
practitioner from the university's medical clinic.
Motherly woman: "Would you like some tea with sugar?"
Kate: "I'm diabetic."
Motherly woman: "Tea with mint?"
Kate: "Do you have bourbon?"
Motherly woman: "What?"
Kate: "Tea with mint would be great."
Nurse (brandishing large aerosol bottle): "This for swelling."
Kate: "Uh, okay."
Kate (interior monologue): "Isn't that stuff for sunburns?
That's going to do absolutely nothing for a broken bone. God, this
is like the time I went into anaphylactic shock at McCosh and they
told me Benedryl would take care of it."
Nurse: "I will give you shot for pain."
Kate (eyeing needle): "Are you going to stick that in my
Nurse: "If you want. Or somewhere else."
It was at this juncture that Rana, a Lebanese woman who works
in the Study Abroad office, showed up to drive me to Al-Salam Hospital
in Mohandiseen and to get me through the red tape. When she's not
coming to the rescue of foreign students, Rana moonlights as an
economics professor. In fact, she is considering coming to Princeton
next year to pursue her doctorate. Rana is brilliant and funny,
and Princeton should be doing everything in its power to entice
her to move to the Garden State. This is me putting in a good word
Rana warned me not to judge the Egyptian hospital by American
standards. I told her about McCosh and said I was used to Third
World health care. But in all fairness, the Egyptian hospital impressed
the hell out of me. In any American hospital I would have spent
at least an hour waiting to be processed, and then another couple
of hours waiting for the doctor. Not so in Egypt: within 20 minutes
a doctor had examined my arm and dispatched me to the eighth floor
for X-rays, where the radiologist grudgingly stubbed out his cigarette
and proceeded to manipulate my injured wrist in the merciless manner
of radiologists everywhere. And a mere 30 minutes after that, I
was supine on a gurney, tucked under a white sheet and wearing one
of those shower-cap hats they give to women going into labor. Khadijah,
my friend from the hostel who had accompanied us to the hospital,
took a picture of me smiling big as the nurse wheeled me to the
The operating room? Apparently this is common procedure in Egypt,
too. I had signed a consent form for a closed reduction only, and
the doctor assured me that if it was necessary to open the wrist,
he would do so at another time. The operating room was full of interns,
all of whom were delighted to have a foreigner to practice on.
Intern: "Comment allez-vous?"
Kate: "Mish trËs bien."
Another Intern: "Ha ha. Arabic and French. Ha ha. You are
a funny one."
Doctor: "What did you eat this morning?"
Kate: "Ful. I ate ful, of course"
Interns (think this is hilarious): "Oh, you are a real Egyptian."
Another Intern: "How was the ful?"
Kate: "Delicious. We don't have ful in America. Well, maybe
in the big cities, like New York."
Interns: "No ful in America?"
Anesthesiologist (inserting IV): "Which do you like better,
America or Egypt?"
Interns: "Do you like Egypt?"
Kate: "Until now."
Anesthesiologist: "Ha ha. Until now. Ha ha."
And then the anesthesia set in. Two hours later I woke up with
a cast on my left arm, and two hours after that I was out of the
hospital and riding in a cab back to the hostel. Having a broken
arm is a big inconvenience in Cairo, I won't deny it. At the same
time, there are advantages. Cab drivers and garbage collectors stop
to shout "salamtik," or "good health" out their
windows, and people on the street come up to me and ask how I broke
my arm. Even the omnipresent soldiers, usually shameless in their
solicitation of any female passerby, ignore me as I pass. But the
best part of having a cast may be its value as a souvenir. As my
friend Cristal put it, "You should have everyone from school
sign it, so when you get home you're the only one in the States
with a cast that says Mohammed on it about a thousand times."
You can reach Kate at email@example.com