Flanders undergoes appendectomy while researching in Cameroon

This article submitted by Erin Aagesen on 7/6/00.

Camille Flanders When Camille Flanders decided to travel to Cameroon to gain firsthand knowledge of African medical practices, she had no idea how hands on her research would get. In her three weeks in Cameroon, she spent six days in a hospital, first for an appendectomy, then for malaria.

Flanders, a student at the University of Minnesota-Morris, was in Cameroon from May 13 until June 4, following the completion of her spring term. She was there to research traditional medical practices in a directed study program through the college.

Flanders traveled with ten other students and one professor. Each student chose their own topic to research. In addition to the research, the group spent much of their time touring parts of the country.

Flanders and her classmates started out at the University of Buea in Cameroon, compiling information by talking with native people. The interviews were set up with help from a professor and through word-of-mouth suggestions.

"It was kind of funny because one of the things I had to do was talk to people at a hospital," said Flanders. "I got plenty of time to talk to the nurses!"

The hospital stay
Flanders began feeling ill during the second week of her stay. Because she had problems with her appendix earlier in the year, she guessed her condition immediately.

An English woman who was versed in first aid helped her find a recommended hospital that used standard western procedures. The woman also assisted in the actual surgery to make sure everything went well.

Her presence was comforting. Said Flanders, "She was kind of like my mom away from home."

Though Flanders describes the hospital as primitive, with small rooms, bare walls, and no modern conveniences, the experience wasn't particularly horrifying for her.

"When I saw the doctor, I really felt that he knew what he was doing," she explained. "By that time, I felt so crappy that I just wanted it out. I wasn't left with a lot of options."

"I do think it was clean," she added. "I didn't feel like it was dirty at all."

Three days after the appendectomy was performed, when she should have recovered, Flanders came down with a mild case of malaria because she had been unable to take her malaria prevention pill during the time of her surgery. This added two more days to her hospital time.

"I really didn't feel lonely," she said, of her time in the hospital. "The nurses were really funny, and people that I didn't even know visited me."

When Flanders rejoined her group, she continued with her research and sight-seeing.

The group visited the Atlantic Ocean, explored an island, a rain forest, and botanical gardens, and shopped at inland craft markets.

They also participated in Cameroon's National Day, where they watched a parade. Traditional dancers performed for them. One woman even made Camille go up in front of a crowd and dance with her.

Because everything was new, even travel time was like being on a tour, according to Flanders. "Everything is so incredibly green," she commented. "It was amazing to look at."

The research
The difference between traditional medicine and modern medicine, according to Flanders, is that traditional medicine is concerned about the cause of the illness, while modern medicine looks more at what is wrong. Trust in traditional medicine is based on the belief that illnesses have a spiritual cause. Removing the cause would then make the person well.

Through her research, Flanders came across a wide range of beliefs.

"That was the most interesting part of it," she said. "I found out there were lots of types of traditional medicine."

She was able to talk with traditional healers from both ends of the spectrum. One healer, who called himself "The Professor," claimed that he regularly raised people from the dead and scared away evil spirits. An herbalist discussed "helping people help themselves," and used mixtures of herbs given out at modern medical facilities.

Flanders found that more educated people were more skeptical of traditional medicine. Several university students and a professor from the University of Buea discussed their mistrust of some of the practices with her.

Though healers like "The Professor" made claims, Flanders didn't come across any scientific evidence to back them up.

The majority of people, Flanders found, use a mixture of traditional and modern medicine. The traditional medicine is used for certain fevers, while ailments such as broken bones are mended by modern doctors.

Also, Flanders learned that even though traditional healers cost about half of what modern doctors charge, the choice of care was typically based on belief and not on finances.

Flanders will write a report on her findings and receive four college credits for the experience.

"I was sad to leave," she said. "It wasn't like a normal vacation that you could do on your own. There were so many people that helped us out and let us see all we did. It was a weird feeling knowing I might never get the chance to go back."

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