If you live in Uganda, just don’t fall sick
My uncle had an accident a week ago. He was riding a motorbike, at dusk, rushing to get home when he lost control and slid off the road after the bright lights of an oncoming truck scared him.
We are back in hospital! Our old man who passed away at the end of April had been a regular at the Uganda Heart Institute (UHI); so we got to know that end quite well.
UHI is clean and seems well staffed because there are always medical personnel available and ready to give explanation or information about a patient. The emergency and recovery areas in UHI also seem well stocked to a non-medical eye like mine. Beds are wide and adjustable and there are machines around patients that make you believe something is being done.
Consequently, whenever we visited the old man, we were left with a feeling that he was on the road to recovery. The only downside was that the two operations he had at UHI cost us an arm and a leg. Interestingly, it is not his heart that killed him; so UHI must have done a stellar job on him.
As if that was not bad enough for the family, my aunt, who is estimated to be between 103 and 107 years old, has been to Mulago in the orthopaedic ward twice in the last three weeks. One of her legs was amputated the first time she was there and a week later she was in for further amputation of the same limb!
Ironically, she feels a lot better! She had constantly been in a lot of pain but the loss of part of her leg has given her some relief. So we are thankful to Mulago’s orthopaedic ward that has also rendered good service to the family. It is obvious that that hospital is working wonders for our old aunt. And at the time of the old man’s passing, he only had praise for Mulago.
Therefore, it is understandable that we all had high expectations of what is possible at Mulago after my uncle’s accident. Our high hopes were soon unceremoniously dashed. My uncle spent the first night after the accident in Nkokonjeru hospital because it was the nearest health centre. It seems like nothing was done for him whilst there because when he was brought to Mulago he was still muddy, with all the dirt from his fall, and bleeding. This was 12 hours after the accident!
He arrived at Mulago’s casualty ward by ambulance at about 11am. Thankfully, a CT scan was done two hours later, which showed that he did not have any head injuries. And that was it! At about 6pm, following a quiet family meeting, we decided to sneak him out of Ward 2B. He was still bleeding from a small wound on his lower right leg 24 hours after the accident!
Some family members were persuaded that if he stayed there any longer, he would die. These were not idle thoughts. In the short time we were there two people died, one of them just after she had been admitted.
There were no doctors or nurses standing by the patients in the final minutes of their lives, just their bewildered families. Actually one of them had asked me earlier if I was a doctor who could attend to her brother. Sadly for her, I could not help. She still went ahead and told me what was wrong; I think she needed to share.
Ward 2B is a very sad place. It is evident that there is an attempt to clean up the rooms but this is impossible because it is full. On the day my uncle was there, there were beds lining up the corridors as well, leaving just a small walk-through ‘path’.
Of course 2B smells – too many patients. In the four hours I was there, I did not see any doctor. Just two nurses, who I think were overwhelmed. Some carers were annoyed with the nurses’ seeming lack of empathy but what can two nurses do in a room full of seriously-ill people?
I called a doctor friend who told me in confidence that people only go to 2B when they have nowhere else to go. We literally ran out of that place. Thankfully there are a couple of new affordable private hospitals on Entebbe road that I now highly recommend.
As the wheel of fortune would have it, my brother, a young lawyer, died at the end of June. He had battled with ALS, a rare but fatal disease. He passed away at Kampala Hospital in Kololo. I visited him at the hospital on the day he died.
The hospital seems well equipped with large rooms and DSTV. However, the hospital must do more because services offered do not seem to match the standard of the physical infrastructure.
The moral here is that if you live in Uganda just do not fall sick and if you do, you will need plenty of luck. “Fortune, good night, smile once more; turn thy wheel!” William Shakespeare.
The author is one of the founding Kigo Thinkers.
**This article was first published in The Observer newspaper: http://www.observer.ug/viewpoint/38837-if-you-live-in-uganda-just-don-t-fall-sick