Injured in a Foreign Land

As per the request of one of the previous Interns here, Amanda over at A Crowing Hen, I’ve written a detailed story of my experience with my Kisangani ankle injury.

I’m the third person working on this project to seriously injure a foot and require x-rays, so I don’t feel all that clumsy even though I know I am.

I now know that work boots would have been the correct choice, and the completely uneven ground we tend to work on when evaluating jungle clearing can be quite unpredictable. When a portion of land gave way my left leg shot out to get footing. Sadly, it landed on its side and I instantly knew – the stabbing pain shooting through my entire body left me know – that I was not going to be walking much for a while.

Getting an X-Ray in Kisangani:

First of all, I had to see Doc, the medic at the American military training base, to have him check it out. He told me what I already knew: We’d need to get an x-ray. Then I spent the next four hours at the base reading a book while my boss checked on the status of our project. When we did make it to the hospital it was closed.

Mind you, it was 2:30 in the afternoon, and the x-ray facility was closed. They said that the x-ray technician’s sister got sick so he went home. Good thing I didn’t have a serious need for an x-ray. We were told to come back at 8 or 9 in the morning to get the x-ray done then.

We made it there at ten til 10 and the x-ray technician hadn’t materialized. When we asked when he would arrive they said that maybe 10 or 11, African time.

Just when we were about to leave to run some errands, he pulled up, and he was immediately followed by a group of locals carrying a pregnant woman on the stretcher. They laid her down outside the building in the shade and all sat around waiting. I immediately thought that her injuries should take precedence, but the doctor took me in first and led me to a back room. When I sat down with the doctor I inquired about the girl. He told me that her leg was broken and they were waiting for a different doctor two come and perform the scan of her leg.

On to the x-ray room:

First of all, they had recently upgraded their x-ray machine from a 1968 relic to a 2003 Italian-made device that looked as if it hadn’t been cleaned since it was first built. It’s sad to think that a new device, which they obviously must have saved a ton of money for, could be so mistreated.

The room itself was a back room in a cement building. The floors were slightly damp and the acrid smell of urine hung in the air. The ceiling looked to have been recently replace, which is to say that there was no ceiling before, and they decided to breakdown the wooden box the x-ray machine came in to build a proper ceiling. You could still see the product description above my head.

The doctor himself knew what he was doing, though, and lined up my foot in order to take a top and a side x-ray. He used a slab of lead in order to protect the second half of the film from the radiation (nothing for me) and took both shots. He even went behind a wooden barrier to press the button.

Developing the X-Ray:

Now, most of the time this sort of thing happens in those dark rooms we never look into, and then a nurse or assistant comes out and hands you your x-rays. This is what happened when I had my back scanned last summer.

Not so in Kisangani! In fact, we went out to the car to wait, and not five minutes later did a man emerge with a piece of film to dunk into a bucket that was being filled with water by a faucet outside.

Once he was satisfied that the sheet had been properly washed, he laid it out on the grass to dry. It turned out that this was someone else’s x-ray though, so we left and I sent a driver back later to retrieve mine.

The results:

A perfectly fine ankle, other than the muscle and tendon damage which most likely occurred.


2 thoughts on “Injured in a Foreign Land

  1. Hi John,

    I was wondering if I could ask a favor. I’m finishing my bachelor’s degree in architecture and I’m basing my thesis project partly off of the agriculture initiative at Camp Base. I was wondering if I could ask you some questions about Kisangania.

    The scheme is a combined facility shared between the university and the military whose focus is architecture and construction. The goal is to train architects for DRC through the university and also train a company of soliders in construction, and strengthen ties between the military and civilian institutions, and also repurpose the military as a constructive force in the country. Lofty goals, I know, but I’m really just looking for ways architecture can bring about social change.

    I’d love your feedback, and any help you could give would be hugely appreciated, the information on the internet is largely in french and out of date, as I’m sure you can imagine.

    my email is

    Stay safe,

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