Saturday, March 14, 2009

A visit to the ER in southern Africa

The day before I visited the deaf in Ndirane, I decided to go to the emergency room to get the itchy hives on my neck, shoulders and arms checked out. The Kabula Lodge recommended the Adventist Hospital catering to those who can afford medical care. The hospital is on the intersection of Michiru Road and Kabula Hill Road so it was only a 15 minute walk for me. I set out first thing in the morning hoping the wait would not be too long. In the US, the average wait can range from an hour to three hours depending how you are triaged. I once went to one in Bristol, UK for a case of nasty food poisoning. The visit at the Adventist Hospital is probably and my only shortest visit ever. I was out with prescription pills and creams within 50 minutes.

At 8:30 am, the waiting room was already packed by those waiting for appointments and others, like me, needing treatments as a walk-in. Several long and navy blue banners trimmed with white or silver, hung from the ceiling with verses from the Isaiah book of the Bible. Something about God is watching over you. A South African morning news show played on the television. The majority of the people, judging from the way they looked and dressed (not all women had chitengas) were working class and upper, and there were a couple of elderly white men among the people.
Portraits of Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika, hung in each room (as in every other public place in Malawi, including banks) and another portrait, nearly equaled in number was a woman to direct complaints to. I recognized her when she came to the cashier’s office – she made a point to wave at me that all is well, although I was being shuttled from one place to next with efficiency.

At the reception, I wrote a brief note signifying my deafness and purpose of visit. Someone handed me a form with clipboard (how familiar is that?). I filled out the necessary information such as origin of place, my name, date of birth, purpose of visit and so on. A form was made available for me to sign promising to pay for services rendered (I gulped, hoping that 2,000 Kwachas I had on me was enough). A document, very much like a HIPAA back in the States promised me confidentiality of my visit. Several minutes after I handed in the completed form, a staff escorted me to a cashier’s office and I paid 800 kwachas for consultation fee, then directed to a different waiting area. Not a minute a nurse took me to a room to take my vital signs. I couldn’t see what my BP was and it was the first time I read my weight in kilograms instead of pounds. A thermometer was inserted in my armpit, not my mouth. It was awkward, not moving my arm out of fear dropping the thermometer. She took a look at my hives and wrote a note in my file. The nurse instructed me to wait until a doctor is available to see me.

Five or ten minutes passed after discreetly sitting away from a young woman looking feverish and coughing, a doctor beckoned me to come in. She appeared to be Indian. I wrote down when the hives first appeared and I’d been scratching non stop at night since Friday. The doctor gave me a look over and diagnosed that I had an allergic reaction to something. She told me she will write a few scripts and give them to the pharmacist. I went back to the waiting room. Some minutes passed and I was told to go to the cashier’s office and to pay 600 kwachas for three different medications (one oral and two topical). The total dollar I paid amounted to around 12 dollars. Shocking. Lastly, I was told to go to a third waiting room where people were waiting for their medication to be dispensed to take home. I did not wait long to receive mine.

“Is there a place I should go to next, or am I done?” I asked the pharmacist desk. He told me I’m done and can go home now. I think my deafness and as a foreigner contributed to the speedy visit. It’s been said that many hospitals and clinics (well, probably those that catered to the poor) that treated Deaf Malawians, would put them off until the end of the day, or asked to return the next day. The Adventist probably wanted me to get treatment quickly and be done with.


Blogger MCC Brazil! said...

Did the medication work, Kate? You okay now?

3/18/2009 8:56 AM  
Blogger Kate O. Breen said...

Hey. Yeah it did, mostly. The hives are gone and I finished the topicals few days later. I may have scarring for some time from my impatient itching. I think i have some bumps left on my hand... I thought Minnesota was bad.

3/19/2009 12:15 PM  

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