I spent the day at a Leprosy Hospital yesterday, and it was truly an amazing, unforgettable experience. I decided not to write about it immediately, as I think I needed to digest it a little before doing so.
Short med side note- Leprosy is caused by a bacteria, but most people exposed to the bacteria do NOT get ill, only @ %10 or less of the population is genetically pre-disposed to actually coming down with leprosy if exposed, and true exposure is rare, even for those with close relatives with the disease- and its cureable- if caught early all is good, if caught later the nerve damage is irreversible, ( so if your hands and feet are totally numb- they will stay that way, but usually meds stop the disease from progressing)- an example of the worst form of the disease- if you have ever seen Kingdom of Heaven with Orlando Bloom, the young king who wears the mask has sever e leprosy- thus the appearance of his face, and the story of how the previous kings adviosr saw that the boy could not feel a bad cut on his arm, and thus informed him that his son had leprosy
Some History- there is still one hospital/home in the US for people with Leprosy- "Leper Colony" is an extremely offensive and very politically incorrect term I learned- in the US in Carville Louisiana, where, even into the 1950's, patients arrived from all over the US IN CHAINS, like prisoners, even though their only crime was suffering from leprosy
Families traditionally disown children/siblings/husbands with the disease, so the leprosy hosptals had a sort of multiple use as a place to get treated with meds, have any corrective surgeries which may help the patient function at a better quality of life, learn ways to prevent further damage to their numb limbs, and then, a home for them to live in and a community safe from prejudice
Even though the main medical center here in is the middle of a nice size city- the hospital for leprosy is a 45 min bus ride into the country, as no one would allow a leprosy hospital near their homes in the 1950s when it was built. THe buses which take people to and from the compound read "Leprosy is a Cureable disease" on the back. There is an interesting connection between Leprosy and advanced Diabetes- no they are not related at all, but research for one can benefit both, as the mechanism is totally different, but the end stages of both diseases have patients unable to feel their extremities, which leads to injuries, blisters, ulcers, infection, and evenatully amputation, whether at the hands of doctors or (I'll stop there as some of you really dont want to know what can happen to hands and feet with leprosy)
The scholarship we all got from our school to come here is named after Dr. Paul Brand, an orthopedic surgeon who basically changed the way leprosy was viewed, proved there were many methods to help and even cure the disease, and gave his entire career, both in India and Louisiana, to bringing people with leprosy back into society as functioning human beings, instead of the "untouchables" they had been throughout history.
example of surgery
a person cannot move or feel their thumb on one hand, so cannot grip anything/work/eat/etc., so the patient is told to practice moving his ring finger up and down, for a few weeks, to strengthen the tendon and muscle, then, the patient has surgery, which detaches the tendon of the ring finger (but NOT from its nerve supply), and attach it to the thumb, after a few weeks in a cast, the patient is told to move his ring finger like he had been, but when he does (his mind tells his finger to move), the thumb moves in its stead, as it is now connected to that tendon's original nerves, but has a whole new location! So the patient can now grip things!!!
Physical therapy and Occupational therapy really become the major factors in the quality of life of a person with leprosy,
example of this-
since fingers get contracted into "claw hands" with no extension, special excercies and braces help stretch out fingers if caught early enough
always wear gloves or use a special cup holder when handling hot coffee or tea- its served HOT here- to prevent injury/blister/infection/finger loss
if fingers are already lost, they are fitted with special straps for their palms for using forks, toothbrushes, etc.
each patient can have very special shoes made, they are really prosthesis of varying degrees, depending on how much of the limb is lost-I have pictures of this I'll send
There is so much more I could say- but I'll wait until I have some pictures- and I'll include a warning for the really graphic ones for those of you who really can't stomach that sort of thing