Where There is No Doctor: a medical handbook for everyone

Every Peace Corps volunteer in The Gambia was given a copy of the book Where There is No Doctor: A village health care handbook so we could find the answer to our prayers in its pages. When one lives off in a village without easy access to medical help, one has a lot of prayers. Rashes, infections that won’t go away, stomach ailments, fevers etc., etc. Knowing how to pay attention to one’s body just to see if “this too shall pass” in a day or two and how to treat ailments oneself–or if a visit to the Peace Corps nurse is needed was part of the two year job that was once called, “The toughest job you’ll ever love.”

I poured over that book. Once, just a week after I moved to my post, convinced that I had maleria, I read the book to check my symptoms, began treating myself and took the next possible vehicle to Banjul, the country capital where the Peace Corps office, thus the nurse, was located at the time.

The journey was a combination of a sedan car taxi service from my village to Kerewan, the province capital, a ferry crossing at Kerewan, a pick-up truck style taxi ride (in the back of the truck) to the mouth of The Gambia River and then another long ferry crossing from one side of the river to the other, and then another taxi ride to the Peace Corps office. I can still feel every bump of the road and taste the red dust that dusted me by the end of the ride. I looked and felt like hell.

Another volunteer from my training group was also down for possible treatment. He had been bit by a monkey and wondered if he should get rabies shots. I can’t remember the details about his shots, but I do remember that I did not have maleria. I did have wicked dreams because of the medication I had already taken.

After I lived in the village for awhile, my visits to the Peace Corps nurse were infrequent, mostly just for booster shots. Where There is No Doctor came in handy. I learned that an infected blister will clear right up if you soak the infested area with hot water, for example. Pushing against the wound to get the pus to come out is a real no no.

Besides teaching me about my own body and health in an accessible way, it was a good read for understanding health concerns on a village level. The book was written for health care workers in the field who were in a village to help assist with medical care. If you’re going to be traveling in a remote area or, even if you’re not, Where There is No Doctor is a wonderful resource to have on hand.