Posted by: Claire Liew13 APR 2013
The wazungus were invited to a big hospital meeting this week although we had no idea what it was going to be about. In the meeting room everyone seemed very solemn except for the woman asleep on a desk in the corner. It was held in Swahili so I am still none the wiser. I understood every 20th word, "....because.........but.........then........extra duty (that one was in English).....holiday......problem". It may have been something to do with the hospital having no money which seems to be a recurrent predicament wherever I work. I spent the time people watching. I still don't know many names but the man was there who looks like a human Hush Puppy and so was the guy who is always chewing a toothpick. Someone else fell asleep and I stared at Hush Puppy man. Then it was over.
Today's Swahili lesson day was called At the hospital. I now know how to say My private parts are aching (Ninamaumivu sehemu za siri) and The tests show that you have gonorrhoea (Vipimo vya maabara vinaonyesha unaumwa kisonono). I am also good with Swahili anatomy. E.g. breast = titi. More than one breast = matiti. The list of vocabulary that I had to learn included test(s) which I initially thought said testes in which case I was going to tell the teacher to forget any further classes. There's no doubt people passing the room wondered why I was repeating breast, breasts, private parts, itch, diarrhoea, gonorrhoea, I have diarrhoea, you have gonorrhoea, nurse please come and take him to the laboratory - after that we will know what he is suffering from, breasts, itch, privates....Next lesson is going to be a big anti-climax.
I also went for my first run today. Waited until 6pm so it was less hot (30 degrees). Everyone was very smiley as I dragged myself onward, soaked and wheezing. They waved and shouted "Hongera!" (congratulations), but they probably thought, crazy muzungu. Four young girls ran alongside me in school uniform - they stopped when I stopped, ran when I ran, (cried when I cried). It was really cool. But they didn't break a sweat and were chatting and probably doing their homework all the while. Saw some beautiful countryside which is so green at this time of year. Sadly, my IPOD got stuck on Africa theme so Circle of Life and Hakuna Matata were playing on loop...I refer here to an earlier post that explained my playlist was selected by someone else...
At work (for it is not all play, I promise) I went on the surgical ward round with the doctors. My only saving grace was the fact I'd had a light breakfast. It's hard to describe what you see on the wards. Patient after patient with open fractures after falling from a mango tree, a coconut tree, or after being in a piki-piki (motorcycle) accident. Wounds exposed to the air - bone, muscle, flesh - with the traction weights consisting of plastic bottles filled with sand. The man with an incision from sternum to pubic bone, fastened together with huge, crude, metal staples. The man whose face had been half eaten by a hyena. He has no eye or nose, cheek or lips. The woman who has spinal injuries and can't walk, but because there is no such thing as rehab here, gets sent home. There's only one wheelchair in the hospital, the physiotherapist told me. The man with a colostomy bag made out of an empty cashew nut packet, stuck to his skin with glue. The children with amputated limbs courtesy of gangrene. I could go on. The saddest thing of all is that no-one ever cries not even the children, but you can see from their faces they are in agony. As we left the ward, a woman was wheeled past us on her way to the ICU. I remember her face clearly; her eyes wide with fear. She was staring, unblinking, grasping the hand of a woman walking with the trolley (Nurse? Relative? Did she even know?). In the medical meeting the next morning I heard she'd died of an asthma attack.
It is a good thing I go on these rounds. Both from a clinical pharmacy point of view and the simple fact it's a stark reminder of the lack of quality healthcare the average Tanzanian has and Nyangao is the best hospital in the region for surgery. People travel from as far away as Mozambique to be treated by Dr Janki, the renowned Nyangao surgeon. My memories of it are dirty bed sheets, human bone, flies that won't fly away, and the smell of rotting flesh.
On a happier note, I now have mushrooms growing down the walls in the bathroom so there is a lot more variety to be had at meal times.