MarySmith’sPlace – Afghan adventures #11

A shorter post this weekbecause I’ve been running around like a headless chicken with the book launch. Plus, I felt this particular story needed to be told on its own.

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One day, Rosanna was awaiting my arrival at the field hospital with great impatience. A young woman had been brought to the hospital after a wall of her house had collapsed, burying her completely in mud and rubble.  She couldn’t move her legs and Rosanna needed another woman to help her lift and examine the girl. She was afraid the girl’s mother-in-law could not understand the need for minimal movement to avoid further damage and, although any one of the Translators could have done it, the women would not allow a man to be present for the examination.

Together we undressed her carefully. When at last her tunban – baggy trousers – were removed, we discovered the village women had administered their own form of first aid. From waist to thigh, back and front, between her legs, the girl had been plastered with a homemade compress of cow dung and mud which, dried to a hard crust, took forever to clean off. It was clear as we soaked and sponged the girl could feel nothing from below the waist. There was no response, no flicker of movement.


Rosanna was pessimistic, but held some hope that after the initial trauma had passed the girl might recover the use of her legs. She inserted a catheter, teaching the mother-in-law how to empty the urine bag and promised to visit her at home the following week. She carefully explained the girl must be kept flat on her back, not moved in any way, until her visit. The family agreed.

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Not easy to keep someone lying flat and immobile on roads like these.

She asked me to go with her on the house visit a week later. As we bounced over the potholed, boulder-strewn road I winced at the thought of how it must have been for the family trying to keep the young girl immobilised on their return home. As she examined her patient, Rosanna’s face reflected a mixture of anger and compassion.

Indicating we should move to another room, out of earshot of the girl, she asked through Iqbal the translator what they done. The girl’s mother-in-law said, ‘We couldn’t do nothing. She couldn’t move, couldn’t walk. We had to try something.’

‘What did they do?’ Rosanna asked again.

After a few moments, Iqbal translated, ‘They waited for two or three days but when she showed no improvement they called in a local healer. He manipulated the girl’s spine. They say it made no difference.’

To me, Rosanna muttered, ‘It made a difference all right. He’s inflicted such damage, there’s no longer the slightest hope she’ll ever walk again.’

She was eighteen and had been married for just one month. Her husband had gone to Iran to earn enough money to allow them to build their own house.

He would know nothing of the tragedy until he returned, perhaps after one or even two years. Custom does not allow bad news to be sent to a person who is far from home. Many a migrant worker has returned home, money for the family in his pocket, to a tearful reunion with loved ones. All too often they are tears of sorrow as he learns that, in his absence, his mother died or his brother was killed in action. His hard earned savings may well have to be spent on ceremonies to commemorate a death rather than provide for his family.

The return journey was subdued. Everyone’s thoughts were with that young girl. She had not uttered one word of complaint.  I wondered if, when alone, she raged and cried out, as I wanted to do on her behalf, or if she calmly accepted what life had dealt her?

46 thoughts on “MarySmith’sPlace – Afghan adventures #11

    • It really was, Lynn. We don’t know if she would have walked again but there was at least a chance. I don’t know what happened when her husband came home. He may have stood by her but I suspect after some time he would have taken another wife because he would have wanted children. I often wonder about her.

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  1. Dear Mary you absolutely did right talking about this. I can sympathize with you and the Dr and with the family who did what they did thinking it was best.
    I have broken my back twice, the second time the spine exploded and I had two operations, then another a year later. I have been threatened with a wheelchair more than once. I won’t go into detail but I had to lay flat in a cast for a fortnight before they operated I was in hospital but mistakes where narrowly avoided. There but for the grace of God. Bless that poor girl I hope she survived. We are stronger than we think . 💜

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  2. I was reminded of my Dad’s stories about ‘quack medicine’ in India during the war. He used to spout the well-worn phrase, ‘you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’. Local people would come to the Army base for medical advice, and then go home and ignore it. Your poor girl was a victim of her own culture, sadly.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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    • Sadly so, Pete. The other thing which happened there, which I saw a lot over the years, was people buying antibiotics and other drugs over the counter. Everything was available from Rifampicin and Streptomycin to Prozac. It was almost impossible to convince mothers that antibiotics would do nothing for their children’s diarrhoea.

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  3. Pingback: Afghan adventures #11 ~ Mary Smith | Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

  4. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blogger Daily – Friday December 6th 2019 #Reading/Writing Nicholas Rossis, #Afghanistan Mary Smith, #Writing Tips Shelley Wilson with Owen Mullen | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

  5. I’m glad that you told this story, Mary. It’s so heartbreaking, but it is representative of a world many of us know nothing about. In my mind, I tried to put myself into the shoes of a soldier returning home to find out about the death of a loved one or not being able to console a spouse. It’s hard to fathom.

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  6. Such a sad read but a story which you were right to tell…Unfortunately, traditions are a hard one and I see it here…Many medicines are sold over the counter here and there is an acceptance to never ask or query what you are being given which to me is scary…

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  7. So sad, but although I haven’t lived through it (thanks for sharing your experiences) I’ve sometimes seen the evidence of these attempts at healing in some of the patients we treated in the UK, and it’s not difficult to imagine the kind of desperation that can make people try anything. Poor girl. Thanks, Mary.

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    • Thanks for dropping by and commenting, Olga. It’s easy to think such medical problems always happen somewhere else – ‘over there’ but things are not all fine and dandy in the UK, either. A friend is currently in hospital after surgery on her hip which has left her with one leg shorter than the other and a long time of rehab and physio ahead of her.


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