Monday, August 24, 2009

Four People I Met In Hospital

Aside from bowel movements and incompetent doctors, I haven't said much about the week I spent in Ruvuma Regional Hospital. I certainly haven't told you about the interesting people I met there.

I know what you're thinking, but this post shall be a vomit and diarrhea free zone. I promise.

So, in chronological order:

1. The Local Health Officer

Aside from all the people I already knew piling up oranges and satsumas on my bedside table, I received one other visitor on my first day in the hospital.

I don't know his real name, but let's call him Phil. Because it's more amusing for me if this is as confusing as possible.

Phil walked into the ward with a lady who was probably a nurse. Let's call her Philippa. Don't worry, she didn't really do or say anything, so I won't mention her again.

Phil walked breezily into the room as if he was going to say hello and have a chat with whoever happened to be in the room. He introduced himself as a local health officer and asked me a little bit about myself - my name, my home country, my condition, that sort of thing.

And then he asked me if I'd heard of swine flu and whether I'd been through all the checks when I'd arrived at Dar es Salaam Airport. He was rather surprised when I told him I hadn't.

I discovered that at some point since mid-May they'd started getting worried about swine flu, and that about one week previously, a British man had arrived in Dar with the illness. He was the only one known to have the disease in the country, but they were getting increasingly jumpy.

Phil, on the other hand, seemed quite keen for me to have the flu. I like to think that for one day in July, I made his job a bit more exciting. Sadly for him, I had been in Songea for well over a month, and I was as likely to catch the flu there as I was to go to a shopping mall.

The single silliest question he asked me was, "Do you have any flu-like symptoms?"

To which my only answer could be, "Yes. But that's probably because I have malaria."

2. The Mzee in the bed next to me, and his entire family

"Mzee" in Swahili means "Elder". So on the first day I spent in hospital, I shared a room with an old guy, for want of a better English term ("elderly gentleman", probably). Before my second night, I was moved into the next room, to give him and his family more privacy.

You won't be surprised after that statement, when I say that everyone seemed to think he was dying. He was fairly old, he looked incredibly frail, and he was struggling to speak.

Tanzanian hospitals that are run by the Government don't have a very good record with old people or young children. Oswin told me, though not quite so bluntly as this, that if you take a child under 5 with malaria to a private hospital, you expect to take them home again. If you take them to a Government hospital, you don't dare to expect anything of the sort.

I only spoke to the Mzee once, briefly. Though that's not to say I ignored him, I just wasn't in the same room as him for very long and one or either of us was dozing off for much of that time. He asked me about what I was doing in Tanzania.

His family were nice. They seemed well educated and so presumably quite affluent. Which would be good for them as it cost 12,000 shillings (about £6) a night plus treatment to stay on that ward - a not insignificant amount of money given he also stayed there several nights.

This would be confirmed when I helped the Mzee's sons to put him into the front seat of their car when he left. There aren't many who own cars in that part of the world.

So, in conclusion:

* The Mzee had been brought Lucozade by his son. It was sat on his bedside table in a glass bottle with a metal screw cap and he didn't know what it was. He refused to drink it because he thought it might be alcoholic.

* This made me really want Lucozade. But when I asked Oswin to try and get me some he couldn't find any in the shops. This mystery may never be solved.

* The nice Mzee had lots of family, so I frequently had lots of people to talk to. This is because people visiting other people in hospitals also visit anyone else near them. Which brings me onto:

3. Rehema, and her daughter, Fidea

Rehema saw me one day in the hospital when visiting her friend's son and decided to come and say hello to me. She was very chatty and quite easy to talk to.

Before I knew it she had brought me a foot and half long papaya and promised to come and visit me at Oswin's house when I would go and stay there after hospital.

She didn't come and visit me at Oswin's house when I stayed there after hospital. This was possibly because it was just something people say, but I suspect it might also have had something to do with the look of disappointment on her face when I told her I was an atheist, and refused to let her convert me back to Christianity.

This didn't stop her sending her daughter Fidea come and visit me on my last morning in hospital however, almost certainly the most awkward of visits I had from anyone. She seemed nice and very pretty (I'm fairly certain Rehema was hoping for something from this visit), but we really didn't have anything to talk about.

At this point I might as well bring up My Admirer. While I was unintentionally receiving visits from eligible young ladies, My Admirer, who is a nurse, was threatening to come all the way from Dar es Salaam to Songea to look after me.

She continued to pester Oswin with phone calls about me throughout my time in Tanzania, and refused to take no for an answer from him. Later Oswin revealed to me just how much of a bunny boiler this young lady is.

Whilst living with a former boyfriend, she would not let him talk to any other girls, and if they had a female guest in their house, she would bring the stove into the living room so that she could watch them. She quite openly (and proudly) explained to Oswin that she would do exactly the same thing for me.

How could I resist such charms?

Then Oswin showed me her photo. Now, I'm not one to be mean about other people's appearances, but God knows how much she would frighten me in the flesh.

4. Frederick

Frederick is a lovely lad in Form Two of secondary school. His father arrived at the hospital with malaria after I had been moved, and was given the bed next to mine.

He's an intelligent boy - his English is very very good for a Form Two student. He was really interested in talking to me and learning more, as well as pinching some of the music off my phone.

But his parents had been struggling to pay his school fees this year, and with the hospital fees on top, he was certain that he would not be allowed to finish the year.

He was clearly really upset that his father being ill also had another bad effect on his life. I really really wanted to be able to tell him to apply to Hoja to pay for his fees, but he's from Songea town - with Hoja we only sponsor students from Tanga ward.

The best I could do was to tell him that Hoja were considering sponsoring some pupils from outside of Tanga, and that if he still had problems next year he could go to their office in town and ask.

That, and suggest he gets a job where he can put a little bit of money into a jar every week, and maybe ask his parents to do the same (they don't seem desperately desperately poor). Look at how much he spends on his mobile phone and other luxuries and be really strict with himself on it.

(At this point some readers may think, "Well, if he's got a mobile phone..." I'd rather you didn't. Phone credit is very very cheap, it's the only reliable way of sending messages, and you can't begrudge people all of their luxuries. I wouldn't suggest anyone get through life merely by being functional.)

I must remember to email him and actually stay in touch with this one. He's a good lad.

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