I've not been writing much lately because for the past few weeks I have continued to be sick and I'm trying to stay away from being whiny and all "woe is me." But I thought I might make a few observations about my experience because going to the doctor's here is totally different than in that states and it's probably nothing like you might think.
- Most of the hospitals in Mwanza have a lot of up-to-date technology. Now, they don't have everything that we have in the states (i.e. dialysis machines) and what they do have is not kept up properly. But some people may be surprised to know that I got x-rays and an ultrasound on equipment that's just as nice as in the states. Unfortunately, the power is not always consistent, so when I was laying on a table getting an x-ray, the power went out. So I had to lay in the dark for about 30 seconds until the generator kicked on. It was no big deal to me but I just wonder what happens to people who are on life-support. What can 30 seconds of not breathing do to a person? And it's horrible to think that a nurse probably has to choose which of the people in her care she will manually push oxygen. Horrible. This just shows how important infrastructure is. I have a TZ coworker who always says, "No power, no life." That's literally true in this case.
- You can't really go to just one hospital and have everything done that you need. I think I went to 6 different places to have various tests. This can make it extremely confusing because there is no one consolidated medical record for me. I had to start charting my own record in a notebook I have at home so as be ensure that I'm not missing anything and so I could tell each new doctor the whole story. I can't imagine how difficult this process would be if a person did not know how to advocate for themselves. How can doctors see trends and know the whole story if there is no record on file? I only realized that some things that were done had been done incorrectly once I had everything written in one place. No one would've ever caught that had I not done it. Again, Tanzanians have such a high mortality rate. Gee, I wonder if this has anything to do with it?
- The people at each hospital I went to throughout this whole time were all super sweet to me, calling me their sister and welcoming me a million times to come back again (I hated to say to them that I hoped never to return). For example, when I had to put a medical gown on, the nurse locked the door and had someone outside standing guard while she stood guard inside. I don't know that it was necessary to do all that, but I do appreciate the gesture and the privacy. I wish they'd done the same for Tanzanians. Two times I was brought through a room where a Tanzanian person was partially undressed and getting an examination and one other time they left a door open while another really sick woman was getting dressed in a chair. Guess there's no such thing as HIPPA here.
- This is no war-zone, so when you go into a big hospital it's not like there is blood and guts everywhere. However, because there is a lot of disorganization and people are pretty much left to their own devices to go from one section of the hospital to another, you'll see really sick people just sitting/walking around. I saw a little kid with a whole cast on his arm (fingers to shoulder) just whimpering in pain; another skinny skinny skinny kid with a huge growth on her neck that obviously impaired her ability to eat or turn her head; a guy laying by himself on a gurney in the hallway, eyes rolled back in his head with a catheter bag in (I know this because the bag was sitting on the bed 1/2 full); one woman was sitting in the waiting area behind me and I guess she just got too tired because she just slumped off her chair and onto the floor and laid there, head down and all. I guess I'll stop there, but you get the picture. Sad stuff.
- It cost me less than $300 USD (paid in TZ shillings, of course) to have all of my medical tests done, including consultations and medication. That includes an ultrasound and about 10 x-rays. Crazy!
- I love the fact that in Tanzania you can just show up at a hospital and get something done. You don't have to schedule an appointment or anything. By word of mouth I heard that there was a pretty good urologist in town. My colleague and her TZ husband took me out to find the place. We just walked right in and he sat me down to talk about what was going on and give me advice. Not only that, I saw him 3-4 times and texted and called him a bunch and he didn't charge me a thing. Awesome!
- You don't need a prescription for medicine in TZ. There are tons of pharmacies on every street and you can just walk right in and ask for whatever you want. Most pharmacies just carry the basics to treat the most common ailments (malaria, amoeba, cough, etc) and it's all ridiculously inexpensive. Unfortunately, the medicine that I am on for the next few weeks isn't easy to find and it's not at all cheap. I went to a big pharmacy in town that usually has everything. I told them what I needed, they gave me a bag of medicine and sent me on my way. Before I left the store, I clarified which medicine was which because they had put some of it in an unmarked envelope. But once I got home I realized that they'd sold me the wrong stuff. I had to drive the 1/2 hour back into town to return it. Once I got there they insisted that it was the right one. They have these 2-3 guys that sit at a desk in the corner and their job is to look up in a medical book what prescription you want and then give you the equivalent that they have. Unfortunately, the "equivalent" that they had was completely not the right one. They gave me medicine for heart failure instead of for bladder problems. I insisted it was wrong and returned it. Again, here in TZ you have to be your own advocate. Thank God for Google and my forethought to actually look at the literature inside the box.