Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Guestblog by Marit: Health Issues Growing up Abroad

I met Marit online through our blogs. Marit grew up as a third culture kid, she lived in more continents than I did. We both spent some years in Africa, we nearly went to the same boarding school in Kenya. Marit writes a Dutch blog about her experiences growing up abroad: Opgroeien in het Buitenland. I invited Marit to share her experiences here. Now it's over to her:

The white patch on my knee never seemed to grow any smaller. About a year before, when I was living in Ethiopia, one of the doctors on the leprosy compound that we lived on had taken a quick look at it. I believe we even treated it for ringworm.
A year later I was living in the U.S. with my family and the patch was showing up that much more after getting tanned in the Louisiana sun.  

We lived in Carville, Louisiana, at that time. Home to a leprosy research center and old time leprosy sanitarium. I was no stranger to leprosy. My dad had been working with leprosy patients for as long as I could remember. Patients with stumpy fingers and toes, paralyzed facial muscles, ulcers and all the other symptoms of untreated leprosy. I don’t think it was ever a real consideration that I could become a patient.
But I was. A sensitivity test, almost jokingly tried out on my white patch, caused all of us to look each other in surprise and shock. A day or two later I was at the doctors getting skin biopsies done which confirmed the diagnosis of leprosy. 

What started out as a bit of a joke turned out to be the real thing. Very quickly it became clear that it wasn’t so much the disease itself, as the stigma surrounding it that I was going to find hard to deal with. Because this was not something I could share openly. I went to school with bandages on my ears from having biopsies taken (ears are a notorious resting place for mycrobacterium leprae). I was terrified that people would ask what was wrong. And I couldn’t lie, I just couldn’t. So I prayed with all my might that I wouldn’t be asked any questions that would lead me to have to answer “I have leprosy”. And thankfully I never was.
One time a teacher was giving a bible lesson about a man with leprosy and she casually said “I would rather die than have leprosy”. My heart beat like a drum and I turned red. And then had the guts to raise my hand and protest that leprosy wasn’t all that bad and could be treated easily. I think it took hours before my heart rate settled down and I was completely calm again. 

Another time a fundraising commercial came on TV, which showed disfigured leprosy patients. I called the hotline and protested against their one-sided fundraising.
I was also forbidden to swim in the pool in Carville on the grounds that I was a patient and the pool was meant for staff and family members only. Thankfully I had one dear friend who I could share my story with.

Leprosy did give me some perks. The first summer after my diagnosis, a film crew from Holland came by making a documentary about leprosy. That was my first film experience, with a couple more to follow. When I was twenty I flew back to Carville with a film company and was able to walk around where I used to live and tell my story. A year before that I had flown to Nepal. A magazine interview here, a mention in a book there and a while ago I was interviewed for two dutch newspapers, so every now and again I get to come “out of the closet”.

The stigma is not such a big deal any more. And neither is leprosy. Because I took multiple drug therapy for a year or two and my white patch disappeared and I have no other aftereffects of the disease.

It does make an interesting story to tell. Because the rest of my story is so dull, you see.
After all, what’s so special about being born in Norway to Dutch parents and growing up in Uganda, Ethiopia, the United States and Kenya? Just more the of TCK experience like many of you know! 
Thanks you Marit. Did you face any health issues abroad? Do you have a medical heritage due to growing up abroad?
Related posts:

No comments:

Post a Comment