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Monday, March 7, 2011

still broken

Kenyatta hospital is huge, acres and acres of land. Dozens of doctors, hundreds of nurses and thousands of sick people

I once did community service there one day my friends and I went on a little field trip, we walked around for hours and hours never coming back to the same place. During our aimless wanderings we discovered this little hidden place in a quiet corner practically a crook in the wall and the legend above it read ”admissions.” We made fun of all the people who came to this place and lined up for hours sometimes days not knowing that they could just come here and ask to be admitted. Well a few years before that happened which was quite a few years ago, even before we were four was formed I was one of those poor suckers.

To wit I had broken my hand and my wrist was at a disturbing juncture. I finally understood what pain was and in this state I had come to this place, Kenyatta hospital.

The car we were in screamed into the parking lot. And I came out with my splinter in my hand the very picture of a dying dove. By now the spirit had left me I was willing to be sheeped around. casualty. We walked in and for the first time I felt like the spoiled child I was being. Sprawled in front of me was all the misery of humanity. At least that’s what it felt like to my yet protected eyes.

The casualty room at Kenyatta hospital is huge. There are a number of chairs on which people sit and wait to be served. Before me in turn there was a victim of a car accident, there were more broken bones than I could count. There was one guy who was lying down on the stretchers that ambulances bring people in and he was coughing helplessly, there was no soul in his cough, not a scrap of energy, it was a sound of such lethargy like he had given up the fight and was only waiting for time to be called so he could leave the stage. Yet he wasn’t attended to. That place had a sense of hopelessness about it, the despair settled on the walls and the people, it mixed with their diseases making them something more, something worse it felt like even the people who got treated here never got healed.

Its not that this place is filled with heartless characters, I know its not. Like I mentioned earlier I once did some community service here and I was stationed at the cancer ward. This one patient had a tumour on his head so big it looked like he was wearing a turban. I thought he was for the longest time till one day he went to the toilet and toppled over. He struck himself on the tumour and was soon bleeding everywhere. With conscientious professionalism they cleaned him up and took him back to his bed. While I stood frozen unable to do anything but look for a way not to be asked to do anything.

It’s just that there are so many people who are sick and close to death that it’s nearly impossible for everyone to be attended to. There are though a few bad apples. The radiologist was rotten to the core. After a while at casualty we were informed that we had to get x-rays. After finding directions in that maze, we made it there. I was x-rayed and the radiologist asked us to wait for him outside because he had to get through everyone else’s. I had been given some painkillers so I was able to wait the next forty minutes without crying out. Then the lady next to us tugs us and asks if this guy who’s leaving is the radiologist.

We’re sure he’s not but what the hell right? We ask and he remembers that he has not returned the x-rays. Something it takes him the next 2 minutes to do. This guy was ready to leave work and leave all of us poor suffering, broken bodies waiting because of a two minute job. I felt that balled up within him was the whole of African inefficiency and apathy. I was fuming and not just me either there were about 30 people there who would not have been treated but for that lady’s sharp eyes.

Now once we had the x-ray we were told that the only way to get treated is to roam the halls and if we should spot a doctor pull him or her aside and explain the situation, give out the x-ray and be healed. So we started roaming... and as luck and pure ods would have it

Setting a bone is a pretty crude procedure. It hasn’t changed much since the days when morphine was perfectly legal. The only difference is that now we don’t have the painkillers to handle that shit. The process was simple enough, someone was to hold my fingers straight out, another was to hold on to my shoulder blades to prevent me bucking up in pain. Leaving the doctor to do the rest.

Now a medical degree in Kenya costs about 500,000 shillings a year. They slog away in school for something like 6 years. They learn the anatomy of a man from top to bottom and they do this practically, everyone in the class gets assigned a cadaver and they bisect it to learn every nerve ending. They must know the names of every bone in the body and every tropical disease. It’s so hard they disappear in their books in first year and only surface to drink away the depression.

With all this training in her body and mind she grabbed hold of my wrist where it was broken and twisted it in place the way you would attach pipe to the mouth of a tap. I heard the bone snap back in place and that’s the first time I have heard a physical manifestation of my pain that wasn’t a scream. By the time the cast had been set the tears had dried up.

It had been five hours from break to set.