No mess, no fuss, no needle

(Photograph: Allegro Medical.)

(Photograph: Allegro Medical.)

MY mother was a nurse, by which I mean she doesn’t suffer wimps gladly. And by wimps I mean anyone who complains of discomfort and pain. She made an exception for my father when he lopped the top of his pinkie off with a circular saw and for my grandfather, who, pinned under a tractor, cracked his spine. In all other instances, it’s important to her that one doesn’t “fuss about nothing”.

She was thus disappointed when one of the fruits of her womb – she produced three without a single murmur – turned out to be a wimp.

Yes, I am the family wimp. I yelped when, while playing hockey with a golf ball, said ball lifted and, hurtling at about 150 km/h, stopped, embedded in my face. My nose broke and an eye swelled shut for days. But, really, “let’s not fuss about nothing”. And when I fell off my horse and broke my coccyx…was it really necessary to hobble home sobbing?

But, what saddens my mother most about my wimpishness, is that I’m trypanophobic. That doesn’t mean I’m nervous about trying out saucepans: I fear needles. And by needles I mean those attached to syringes. (Although I’m useless with sewing and knitting needles too.) This upset mother because, as a nurse, she’s concerned about her family’s health. And by concerned I mean she likes to administer injections whenever possible, her favourite being the vitamin B12 jab.

To her delight, my sporty brothers welcome the shots and even request them to boost energy levels. You’d think then, with two boys to puncture and knowing my feebleness, she’d let me be. But no, whenever I came home for the holidays, she’d greet me with the same words: “Pen, you’re looking peaky. Let me give you some vitamin B.”

Usually, I’d distract her and avoid further harassment. But once, I was apparently peakier than ever and she was determined to dispense the jab. For days, she stalked me with a loaded syringe. When I thought she’d given up, I’d spot her prowling through the house, dripping needle in hand. One day, thinking she was out, I let my guard down and, as I searched for my shoes under the bed, she pounced. I passed out as the needle seared into my buttocks.

My mother isn’t the only one who has gone the extra mile to perforate me. An insurance salesman once brought his own nurse to my office in search of blood to test. It took hours of cajoling to extract a drop. I passed out as the needle touched my arm.

But, thanks to students at Makerere University in Uganda, the days of blood letting might be over. Earlier this month, they won US$12,000 in the Microsoft Russia Imagine Cup for their needleless malaria testing application, Matibabu.

The idea came about when team member, Brian Gitta got malaria and needed “repeated costly and invasive prickings”. The app connects a light sensor to a smartphone so users can test themselves for malaria quickly and painlessly. It sends results to doctors via file hosting service SkyDrive, expediting early diagnosis for effective treatment.

Matibabu gets a thumbs-up from me for not requiring a thumb prick. It’s the ultimate “let’s not fuss about nothing” app.

This was first published as my column on Business Day’s Business Life page in July 2013.

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About Administrator

Freelance writer based in Hout Bay near Cape Town in South Africa.
This entry was posted in Inventive Africa, Technology touch. Bookmark the permalink.

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