Thursday, June 11, 2009


This post is not intended for the faint of stomach!
The sunset looks like absolute paradise, right? I thought so, too. It's a picture of the island Moloka'i, part of the Hawaiian islands. What you might not know about the island is that it has a quarantined colony of lepers inhabiting the northern tip of the island, Kalaupapa.
When I went to Toronto a couple of weeks ago, Bishop Wilson told me a story about Moloka'i. He said that his grandfather bought a house on the island after he retired; so, when Bishop Wilson was about 20 years old, he went with some of his friends to visit his grandfather for about five weeks during the summer.

The island was only inhabited by lepers on the northern tip, which was separated from the rest of the island by a mountain. The colony was only accessible by boat or by riding a donkey up and down the mountain, so there was no real danger of getting leprosy for everyone else on the island.

Bishop Wilson's grandfather was a dentist, so everyone called him Dr. Matkin. People were constantly asking him for medical advice and wanted him to help the lepers until they found out he wasn't a medical doctor. His grandpa did hear some interesting stories while he lived there, though.

Apparently, leprosy kills the nerve endings on fingers (I'll use fingers to represent any affected body part) and then that decay spreads to the rest of the finger until it finally falls off. One doctor had an idea that he might be able to save fingers. Because diseased fingers were attached to dead nerve endings, he thought he could take fingers that had just fallen off and save them by reattaching them to the hand and connecting them to nerve endings that were still alive.

The doctor went to the leper colony and explained his plan to the lepers, that he thought he could help them to save their fingers. He told them to call him immediately if one of them had a finger that fell off so he could come and try to reattach the phalanges.

He waited for about a week, but no one called him. He went back to the colony and saw that a lot of people had lost fingers during the week, which made him mad. "Why didn't any of you call me?" he asked. "Don't you want to try to save your fingers?"

"We do," the lepers responded, "but the problem is, we don't know when our fingers are falling off. It seems like we just look down one day and they're gone."

They couldn't exactly put their fingers on it. So, they decided to start watching for each other to see if they could detect where their fingers were falling.

As it turns out, rats were stealing them. Rats could smell the fingers that were about to fall off and would swipe them from the slumbering lepers. When lepers arose the next morning they would approach the day with one less finger.

*dry heave*

Sort of made me feel bad for telling jokes and the leper in the hot tub named Stu and the leper that couldn't take a shower because he forgot his head and shoulders.

It also made me realize how disgusting and crazy leprosy actually is. When I think of the Savior healing the ten lepers, I am dumbfounded that only one returned to thank Him for releasing him from the grasp of the contagious and degenerative disease.

So, I hope you enjoyed my story of Moloka'i and that it wasn't too gruesome for you. It could have been worse, though. I actually did a Google image search on leprosy to see if there were any good pictures to use, but I never should have done that.

Seeing those pictures was almost as disturbing as watching the Born Without a Face documentary on TLC.


Krista said...

I think I'll skip the "born without a face" (gag me) but seriously interesting about leprosy there. Did I spell that right?

Bobby said...

Yeah, Born Without a Face was hard to handle. Yeah, it is interesting about leprosy on the island. My roommate's older sister actually served part of her mission on that island. And yes, you spelled leprosy correctly :)

Angelica said...

After watching Ben Hur one evening as a child, I asked my mom how one got leprosy. She said, "By not bathing daily." I think I immediately jumped in the bath tub. What a way to freak your kid into being clean, huh? It wasn't until I was in my teens that I found out it wasn't true. Almost as bad as BYOB, huh?