The disheveled old man came into the consultation room and sat down on the chair. Two male family members had brought him to the clinic after he had gone missing from his home for more than a week.
“Uncle Buck just walked out the door,” they said.
The scouts of Conservation South Luangwa had found him on a routine patrol while searching for poachers and snares.
He avoided my gaze and didn’t answer my greeting. “He’s not right, doc,” said his relative. “He used to be a miner in the Copper Belt but ten years ago something happened to him, we don’t know what, and he stopped talking. He came home and hasn’t been the same since.”
This is not a rare event. Some Zambians feel that this withdrawal into silence and passivity is the result of witchcraft. Perhaps he felt alienated working underground in a harsh environment. I considered more medical causes, such as psychosis, dementia, encephalitis, cerebral tuberculosis, a stroke or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Uncle Buck gave us no clues. His rheumy eyes seemed to stare past me. I did a physical examination and reckoned that he was in good shape for someone who had been without food or water for nine days. “Do you think he used bushcraft to find food and safe water?” I asked. “No, he is not capable of doing that,” his relative replied.
He is lucky that he has a family who cares for him, gives him sustenance and shelter because there is no government social support.