Of Spirits Madness: An American Psychiatrist in Africa

Linde, Paul R.

Published by McGraw-Hill Companies, 2001
ISBN 10: 0071367349 / ISBN 13: 9780071367349
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Synopsis: Notwithstanding four years of medical school and an eight-year residency, a psychiatrist really learns his trade from his patients. After five years of practicing in San Francisco, including stints in the emergency room and the city jail, Paul Linde thought he had seen it all. When his pediatrician wife decided she wanted to practice medicine in Africa for a while, he went along for the ride, not expecting that the experience would transform his life. Of Spirits and Madness is Linde's account of his year spent practicing psychiatry at Zimbabwe's Harare Central Hospital. With compassion, good humor, and growing insight he describes his patients and their demons and difficulties. We meet Winston Chivero, who injures himself by sticking needles and nails into his leg in order to protect his community from a bewitchment; Sister Pagomo, a Shona nurse suffering from kufungisisa, or "thinking too much"; Esther Mawena, who tries to kill herself after her husband gives her AIDS; Samuel Rugare, a 28-year-old laborer driven mad by too much mbanje, or cannabis; and many others. Overwhelmed at first by the press of suffering humanity waiting patiently in his clinic to see him, Linde gradually comes to understand how mental illness cuts across cultures. He also sees the devastation it can cause in a country where psychosis is severely stigmatized as a contagious spiritual illness caused by witchcraft. Most of all he is left with many important lessons from his patients who endure poverty and illness with incredible patience and spiritual dignity.

From the Publisher: OF SPIRITS AND MADNESS
An American Psychiatrist in Africa
By Paul R. Linde

Following his pediatrician wife to Africa, Dr. Paul Linde found himself working in Zimbabwe’s capital as an attending psychiatrist at Harare Central Hospital. Relaxed from months of travel and enjoying limited expectations, he was startled right from the start - shocked by his workload, confounded at the conditions and confused by the beliefs of his patients. Slowly, Linde discovered an unseen realm of spirits lurking in the madness.

OF SPIRITS AND MADNESS: AN AMERICAN PSYCHIATRIST IN AFRICA is a literary debut and scientific memoir that recalls a year in the life of a doctor trying to cure (as best as he could) hundreds of Zimbabweans suffering from mental illness, his task made more difficult by a system stricken with poverty and adversity. Linde’s learning curve about Shona culture climbed steeply; he learned through trial and error how to best handle his patients using a skillful blend of Western remedies and appealing to their belief system of spirits, witchcraft and animism.

Many of Linde’s patients were caught in the throes of the supernatural. The nurses explained to him about n’anga and profita, shamans of Shona culture, who are believed to be able to cast out evil or angry spirits and cure anxieties and depression. Seeing a psychiatrist was regarded as a patient’s last option. Linde had to walk a fine line, filtering through patients’ symptoms and learning to clarify their origins, while interpreting the “spirits.” His patients suffered in part from the larger problems inherent within Zimbabwean society: poverty, AIDS, unemployment, misogyny, domestic violence, tropical diseases, malnutrition, unchecked psychoses, depression, kugungisisa (“to think too much”) and more.

This book is arranged in clever fashion: each chapter tells the story of a different patient and shows Linde’s personal transformation as he comes to understand the Zimbabwean spirit world. In several instances he reaches tragic medical impasses that speak of the chasms between the applications of Western medicine and Zimbabwean culture and sociology.

Linde’s final chapter demonstrates how his worldview is genuinely transformed as he learnes to think like an African – “to see how the day goes.” As he prepares to leave Zimbabwe, he befriends patient Wonder Kasimonje and begins a process which, eventually, successfully relieves Wonder’s symptoms of depression. After Linde returns to America, he grapples with an array of problems ranging from marital to professional to existential. By way of regular letters that he receives from Wonder, Linde continues to better understand the African mindset. In spite of Zimbabwe’s devastated economy and blossoming AIDS crisis, Wonder thrives and repeatedly gives thanks to the spirits that have renewed his optimism and granted him a new life. Here, Linde finally comes to grips with his own spirituality. Wonder’s (and his fellow Zimbabwean’s) steadfast patience and strong belief systems, which took Linde so long to understand in Harare, makes Linde’s life in the West seem numbingly void in comparison. His experience in Zimbabwe, he realizes, has changed him forever.

A thought-provoking debut about the nature of madness and one man’s foray into the Zimbabwean culture and “outer-mind,” OF SPIRITS AND MADNESS tells of a psychiatrist who comes to recognize the spirits in his own life.

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Of Spirits Madness: An American Psychiatrist...
Publisher: McGraw-Hill Companies
Publication Date: 2001
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Very Good

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