**Warning over-sharing contained below. May refer to bodily functions.
We’ve often said that we personally wouldn’t go to the local hospital here for much beyond a malaria test. Of course that’s because we self-medicate and have a choice to get in the car and drive to Malawi (or even fly from there to South Africa if serious). Our local friends don’t have that choice so they go to the hospital and hope that the staff can diagnose and treat whatever is going on for them.
A couple of weeks ago we broke our own rule and I went to the local hospital…
It began in Malawi, where I came down sick, really sick. I was out at a birthday party when it started, just some diarrhea and vomiting, a bit of fatigue, a small headache. All going to pass I thought. Oh boy was I wrong. That night I slept in the bathroom, caring less about the mosquitoes and more about my proximity to the toilet bowl. Morning came and we packed (well Scott & our teammates did while I lay on the floor groaning and crawling to the bathroom) and then headed home to Mozambique.
Why, I hear you say, did we do that and not go to the more decent hospital found there in Blantyre? Honestly right now I’m not sure what the decision making process was on that one (perhaps none, I was sick remember) – just sticking to our plans, desperation to get home I think (we’d been away a few days) and hoping/believing that it would pass.
It didn’t pass. The normally six-hour drive home became a whole lot longer as Scott stopped the car beside the road with regular frequently
There’s such a tension between stopping quickly when required but also trying to avoid heavily populated areas so there isn’t an audience….or you can take the other approach of finding suitable houses to ‘borrow’ their long drop but have to balance that with possibly being required to then sit and greet whoever is present in the yard which slows you down.
I thought we were going to be travelling forever. We finally arrived home and I went to bed. Apparently Kath (neighbour, colleague, friend) came in and saw me – I don’t remember. Apparently I talked incoherently – I don’t remember that either.
The next morning I knew I needed urgent help so Kath took me to the local hospital. By this time I wasn’t stringing words together or even able to stay upright. Poor Kath, she had to talk to the hospital staff (find someone to see us, answer questions, sometimes tell them what to do), get me to and from the toilet (a fair distance through the rain from the ward), supervise treatment and just sit waiting all day. We both knew I was improving when I was finally able have a conversation in the early evening with her. That was after two different IV canula insertions (the first one was terrible and eventually fell out), non-stop drips and a couple of random injections (still not exactly sure what they were). Even that sick I can tell you that a little more bedside manner – like warning someone before you stick a needle in their arm (not to mention telling them what was in that needle) – would have been appreciated.
I went home to sleep that night, against medical advice. Didn’t fancy sleeping in a small shared hospital room overnight without a mosquito net and two beds over from an elderly man who hadn’t stopped coughing all day.
As an aside we almost didn’t get home, the road was so bad from the rain that Kath had to negotiate in the dark past a truck stuck on one side of the road and a car that had slid off the other side as it tried to pass the truck. Seriously slippery.
Oh and to make an awful few days worse, while in the hospital my iPhone, which had been a gift, got smashed, leaving me communication-less and unable to do anything about it.
Next morning Scott took me back there hoping for the promised tests. No luck. More drugs, same other patients to commiserate with, same nurse doing a 36hr shift, same guessing game of what was wrong with me. When that afternoon the IV blew the vein and my hand swelled up, we opted out of them reinserting it again and self-discharged.
While I greatly appreciate the medicines I was able to receive and the rehydration that happened which was so desperately needed, there are good reasons we don’t use the hospital here and would be very reluctant to take any of the kids there. Limited testing (they didn’t do any), limited drug availability, lack of information, lack of well-trained (or interested) medical personnel, lack of bedside manner, high risk of catching other diseases, risk of infection (I got one from the IV line). No running water, no power for most of the time.
To be fair, I was offered lunch the second day, but then the offer was withdrawn when they realised I didn’t have my own dish to put it in. Apparently it’s BYO bowl. Probably worked out best for others anyway, as I noticed the amounts they were given were very small and the talk was that the food had run out before all received some.
A number of local friends who visited me in hospital and since, have expressed great surprise that we would even have gone there. Would we do it again? Yes, if it was absolutely necessary, but it certainly wouldn’t be our first (second or third) choice.
I’m still recovering – finishing a course of antibiotics for an IV line infection and dealing with extensive bruising up one of my arms. But I’m alive, almost well, and thankful to have received the help I needed.
Perhaps the biggest lesson in this all is next time we’re sick in Malawi we should just stay there.