Then came a dog

A fragile-looking old man hooked me up to antibiotics. The sight of the needle made me queasy and I squeezed my eyes shut. The local surgeon, Dr. Veten, gave me two anesthetic shots and started stitching up the wide gash under my nose that tore into my lip. When I opened my eyes every few minutes, the frame of his glasses filled my vision. I couldn’t stop asking him if I’d get a scar. Each time, he confidently said, “No, not at all,” in his steady French tenor, as he strung the needle in and out of my skin. I learned why a doctor’s voice is important.

Dr. Veten, one of the country’s two oral and maxillofacial surgeons, was in his mid-thirties and looked like he could be on the cast of Gray’s Anatomy. My friend Gina told me he was a “White Moor,” as Arabs are known in Mauritania. I removed the blood-drenched flower-patterned toilet paper and showed him the wound. My elementary French had stayed at the scene of the accident and Gina had to translate, “It’s going to be fine.” He asked if the dog had been vaccinated. Gina said yes.

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