Friday, 8 March 2013
Unprocessed Events of a Weekend Past
Long weekends are suppose to mean an extra long rest period. I had been looking forward to the March 3rd Martyr's Day Long Weekend since I went back to work in January. Not that I hadn't taken a few afternoons off here and there over the last two months, but I was looking forward to an extra morning of sleeping in and lazing in my p.j's.
I suppose you wont find it surprising then that at 6am on Monday morning I received a phone "flash" from a co-worker (meaning, whoever is calling you does not have money to pay for the call, so they "flash" you their number and expect you to call back), which I ignored, and at 7am, Florence texted me asking: What is our plan for today?
Isn't that how it often works with our best laid intentions to sleep in?
Now, let me back up a little, to late Saturday night.
Florence texted me in pain. She didn't elaborate, but her text sounded urgent. When I talked to her, she minimized the pain and discomfort and confessed she was sure it was psychological due to now knowing her neck was indeed fully fractured. She had just been wondering if the whole "surgery" process could be sped up some.
Sunday morning I woke up and immediately texted her to find out how her night was. She was completely fine and no longer in panic mode. That was great, but having already contacted the doctor who got us the updated x rays, I now knew that the surgeon in Blantyre we were suppose to be seeing, saw her case as extremely urgent and serious. He wanted her to come to Blantyre by ambulance asap!
When I told Florence this, she cringed. Her idea had been taking a car to Blantyre. Because she was able to move and had been mobile for a month already, the idea of being confined to a back board and unable to attend to simple movements or needs, was daunting and discouraging. The drive to Blantyre, though only 300km, is at least a four hour drive...if lucky. The maximum speed is 80km and at every town that you pass through, the speed limit drops to 50km. There are pot holes, rumble strips, bikers, goats, walkers, cattle and police stops at random. A four hour drive is generous.
Anyway, I spoke directly with her and her family. I explained the doctors position on the situation (as I had somehow become the correspondent between the surgeon, the private clinic who did her xrays, and Florence), and strongly suggested we err on the side of caution and take an ambulance.
I had some money to offer toward the cost and thought it would be wisest to proceed immediately.
I contacted the ambulance company (private service) and was quoted a price of nearly $1000 for the drive to Blantyre. Suddenly, I didn't feel so competent! $1000! I did not have THAT much to offer. I felt horrible. I felt I had let her down. I felt like a pea. I hated to have to call and tell her the cost. And when I did, she was immediatly against taking the ambulance.
The day continued in this whaffing, oscilating manner. I will spare you the continued dialogue between myself, the clinic and Florence, because it felt like it went on forever and ever.
I did manage to discover that the first man's quote was way over priced and in reality, it would only be about $500. However, that was still too much for Florence to consider being spent on her behalf and she downright refused.
We had attempted to contact the surgeon directly and clarify his understanding of the situation. He was under the impression because the x rays had been sent to him from a private clinic, that Florence would be a private hospital patient.
I had to explain to him that she would not be coming to his private hospital...but she would be a patient at the public government hospital where he also worked. In explaining this, I also explained that paying for a private ambulance was not feasible.
So, we were back to waiting. Waiting to hear what the surgeon suggested, waiting for a chance to possibly get a second opinion. Florence, proving to be much more patient than I, left things Sunday night by telling me to relax and trust God. She said we would wait to hear from the surgeon before making a decision.
Thus, when I got a wake up text Monday morning asking me what we were going to do, I was a little bit annoyed at having been woken up! Truthfully, I had figured that because it was a long weekend, we wouldn't hear from the surgeon until Tuesday and we would have to make plans to go to Blantyre later in the week.
But, by 7am Monday morning, Florence had decided she wanted to get on with it, and drive to Blantyre TODAY!
Suddenly my relaxing day was replaced by a frantic morning of packing, arrangement making with steadfast prayers that she would be safe in my car! The responsibility of driving a patient with a broken neck on the Malawian highway was not something I took lightly. I constantly had to remind myself that God had brought her safe thus far, He was not going to let her down now!
This whole experience has already brought to mind so many questions for God, but at this moment I needed a bit more understanding.
Was my willingness to drive, and Florence's steadfast assurance that God would protect, foolishness, or just an overwhelming strong faith!?
I wanted to believe it was a strong faith, but I wondered at the same time, was $500 really that much money to spend in order to be more safe?
I realize that there is a country full of people that have to make these decisions in faith because they have no way to financially support the other option.
But had God put me in Florence's life and allowed so many people to give toward her needs, in order that we opt to drive to Blantyre instead of taking an ambulance?
Unable to sway Florence's determination, I chose to err on the side of FAITH and completely abandon all fears of the potential dangers and trust that God would be with us.
Our agreed departure time was 10am, so I had a couple of hours to find myself a place to stay in Blantyre. I know no one there. And the one missionary family that Matt (my guru) knows was actuallly facing a crisis of thier own. The husband had been diagnosed with one of the most dangerous stages of Malaria earlier in the weekend, so of course staying with them was not an option.
Still not having heard from the surgeon or from anyone taking pity on me for accommodations, I set out to pick up Florence. I was a few minutes late and felt bad that I was running behind schedule. But no worry was necessary. We didn’t leave until 11:30 – perfectly on-African-time!
The drive felt long; it took us five hours – which is remarkably good time – but seemed to be forever. It was hot, and then it poured rain. We were stopped by the police twice, just because. Florence in the front seat with her neck collar helped the cause as the police didn’t bother us for much more than a quick “hello” and registration check.
But by the time we got to the hospital just before 5pm, I was wasted. I had heard by then that there was a lovely lady willing to let me stay at her place, but until Florence was checked in as a patient, I wasn’t willing to go anywhere.
I’d like to paint a lovely picture of myself at this point. One that depicts me drawing from the well of reserved patience and kindness and being overwhelmingly supportive. But truth is, that would be a bold face lie!
I was so beyond patient by this time that the government hospital system nearly did me in.
It took one and a half hours for us to be registered.
Absolutely NO ONE was willing to help….
Each person we asked for assistance passed us off to another line, who passed us off to someone else because they were on break, or it was shift change. Finally they told Florence to sit against a wall and wait. Well, that was stupid…we hadn’t even given our names yet. So who were we waiting for? It was completely obvious that the staff were not willing to work unless it was literally staring them in the face, so sitting off in a corner was not going to get us any help.
Internally I struggled with pushing for the kind of care I expect at home and practicing African patience. I have watched the azungu in this country demand a lot in name of “proper” care. I’ve watched them bully their way to get preferential treatment and to belittle those around them who are not willing to speak up for themselves. My biggest concern was Florence, and I knew she needed to be seen by a doctor. But I also knew that any movement I made at all while in the hospital would be observed by everyone. I was the only mzungu there.
And I did not want to be a stereotypical pushy and rude and arrogant white person!
After an hour of waiting in numerous places, with no further assistance than those who had just walked in, I decided to just stand in line. Even though I was pretty sure that it wasn’t the line we were supposed to be in, I thought if we could at least get our names on a “list” we would eventually see a doctor.
And once Florence was registered, it took less than twenty minutes for her to have a bed in the ward.
I couldn’t believe it!
If only I had ignored all the original instructions we were given and just stood in this line from the beginning. No one would have ever known I was impatient at all!!!!!
The reception area where we sat for an hour and a half was a very nice clean hall. It was spacious, with many benches (not individual chairs) and about seven private triage rooms for the incoming patients to be assessed.
It gave the illusion that the hospital was in better condition than the government hospital here in Lilongwe.
Florence even commented on how nice it was.
However, sadly, as is the case I have found all too often, that what is on the outside is not necessarily a true reflection of what is on the inside.
The moment we walked out of the main reception area and headed to the orthopedic ward, a whole new image was painted.
And our spirits fell.
The hallways were blue painted cement with fading directions. The floor was nothing more than a concrete slab. The door to Ward 5B opened and the putrid smell of body odor immediately filled our noses. There were about six to eight private-ish rooms along the corridor, each filled with three or four patients. These might have been the rooms one could pay extra to stay in. At the end of the hall, another set of swinging doors opened to the massive hall of madness and mattresses.
Nearly fifty beds lined the walls and created a center aisle down the middle of the room. Women on each bed, some care givers attending to them. Few with blankets, most just lying on the plastic covered foam mattress. Those who were not able to get a bed frame, were laying on their mattress on the floor, in between the beds of others. Those with IVs had the bags hung by a nail in the wall and sat idly under their drip.
This room smelt even worse. The body odor was masked by the smell of dirty bodies, feces and vomit.
In government hospitals nothing but services are free. There is no food provided and one must bring their own bedding and personal hygeine items.
Not one medical person could be seen. No nurses, no reception desk. Nothing to show us where we might need to go or who we should talk to. Unable to be patient any longer, I walked around through the rooms looking for someone who was wearing a disposable white apron. I found no one, and was greeted by so many stares of indignation and curiosity that I actually felt uncomfortable. I walked back to the bench where Florence and her sister were waiting, took one look at their faces, and cringed.
Was I really going to have to leave them in this place, Lord?
Florence’s first comment was a recognition of being duped by the front reception, but before I could apologize, she immediately told me not to even think twice about leaving them there. She was going to be seen by a doctor, get the medical attention she needed and it was all going to be okay.
Ah, to glean from that sort of attitude!
A few minutes later, nurses appeared and a few more minutes later, she had a bed. Thankfully she wasn’t in the big open hall that greeted us, but in behind, in a semi private room with only seven other patients. The doors could be closed ensuring that at least some of the noise from the other fifty women would not keep her awake at night.
As her sister and I brought the luggage from the car, I was overwhelmed with emotion. The conditions of this hospital were deplorable. If a Canadian hospital looked even twice as good, it would be shut down and condemned. I couldn’t imagine myself staying in such a place and it broke my heart to consider that no one in our country would ever be grateful to have a bed in those conditions.
How is it that such a place exists? And how is it that one country can attend to its citizens with such pompous care that they continually demand better standards, while another country in the world neglects its own mothers and fathers and children? This is so much more than an issue of money, or resources or human rights violation.
And until I can process this further, its where I'm ending today.
I welcome your thoughts, your opinions and even your challenges to my words. I need to process and am willing to dialogue if you have some ideas to share (if you dare!)