ER

Now back in Dar es Salaam I still felt rotten, and had come to the end of the erythromycin. We asked the receptionist at the Safari Inn (a much more down-market affair) where we might find a clinic with a laboratory that might do stool tests. She told us there was a place just around the corner opposite the Jambo Inn.

We walked just around the corner and spent 10 minutes searching before we found it next to a sign that said “Kokni Muslim”.

Inside a woman stood at a desk behind a set of bars. “Hello” she said gently. I explained my problem to her and she said “800 shillings”.

I handed over the money and she passed back a receipt and pointed to a door with a doctor’s name on it. We walked over to the door, and I knocked and entered. Inside the doctor was with a woman, so I ducked back out, and took a seat.

Shortly, the Indian man I had caught a glimpse of and assumed was the doctor held the door open for his wife, and gestured for me to enter. Inside the doctor’s face lit up and he started to chuckle. “How are you? How long have you been in Tanzania? Do you speak any KiSwahili? Kidogo Sana? Excellent. What is the problem.”

I explained again, and he said I would have to get a stool and blood sample taken. He scribbled in traditional doctors spider on my notes, and handed them back to me. “Take these to the receptionist then come back when you have the results of the test”.

The receptionist said “3000 shillings”, handed me a receipt and pointed to a window. I took the receipt to the window and the pharmacist handed me a small white wrap containing a sterilised needle. I looked blankly at her. Then the receptionist came out of her cell, and pointed me over to the lab window. The lab technician was also very jolly. He took my receipt and the needle, then jabbed my finger and smeared my blood casually on a slide.

He then opened a drawer, located a match box, shook it, shook out the matches, and handed the empty matchbox to me, followed by two matches. “These are special for picking up the stool” he said, motioning as if he was using two tiny chopsticks to pick up a piece of chicken.

“There isn’t really much to pick up” I said.

He pushed the matches into my hand and turned to his machines. “Where is the toilet?”. He returned to the drawer and passed me a pair of keys and pointed to the right. I looked around and saw two padlocked doors. I unlocked both and checked for a sit-down. No such luck. I opted for the men’s squatter out of decency and respect for the fairer sex, and tried to catch what I could in the matchbox. I didntt bother with the matchsticks.

When the results finally came, I went back into the doctor’s room, and he was still chuckling away to himself. I nearly tripped over a chair entering the room. “Ok, you have a little malaria in your blood, and there is something in your stool. You’ll be ok. We can give you medicine.” We explained we were due to go to Arusha the next day. “You are very weak. You will go on a drip to rehydrate you, and there will be antibiotics then you should be fine.” He muttered something about 3 hours, and spidered some more on my notes and passed them back to me.

The receptionist said “25,000 shillings”. I handed over the money, and a nurse led us up the stairs. The ward had 5 beds in it. The one facing the entrance was occupied by a rather broad Indian looking man with has naked hairy back turned to the rest of the room, and what looked like a pair of underpants draped over his eyes to allow him to sleep.

Another bed was occupied by a frail looking boy in denim on a drip asleep under his mother’s gaze.

I was lead to a bed with terrible stains all over it, so I walked past it and lay down on the cleanest bed I could see. I looked to see Yuki’s face which was clearly taking in the rattling ceiling fans, the Indian man, and the stains on the bed I had evaded.

I decided I would have to try and charm the nurses best I could. After all, they would be sticking needles into the back of my hand.

“What is your name?” I asked, smiling.

“Mary” she said. She took my pulse and noted it down on a clipboard. She walked away.

Another nurse, this one in a dark blue uniform walked over. She had a pronounced limp on her right hip which rotated that whole side of her body around a different axis to the other side when she walked. “Are you matron?” I asked.

“Yes” she said. She gestured to Yuki to come over. “What are you doing over there? You are the first nurse!” she said friendlily and limped over and carried a chair back despite Yuki trying to carry it for herself. I asked the Matron her name. “Mary” she said.

The first nurse walked over with a tin plate containing some boxes, some tubes, some bottles and the needles. They lay it down on the stainy bed and then the first nurse started looking around for a drip stand.

The mother of the young boy lifted one of the stands that held her son’s drips to show they had one spare. They awoke the little boy a little, and he stared at me from his pillow.

The first nurse fetched the drip stand and they started sorting through the paraphernalia. I craned my neck desperately searching for evidence that the butterfly needle they would be stabbing into my vein was still wrapped and therefore sterile. I saw the packaging and breathed a sigh of relief when they tore it open. Then they tied a plastic tube around my wrist, and waited for a vein to show on the back of my hand. Soon enough they found it, and they took my hand. I winced and looked away, not wanting to see them puncture me. Yuki later told me that the small boy watched this, and smiled before going back to sleep quietly.

The needle in place the nurses had to fix it. Someone had forgotten to bring the tape. Matron Mary sent Nurse Mary to find the tape, and I tried to make more small talk and not to look at the green plastic flaps that marked where the needle was buried in my vein up to. Nurse Mary returned with the tape, and started to cut off a piece about a foot long. “Economi, economi” Matron Mary shouted, which I guess means “Economy, don’t use all the tape!” in kiswahili.

Nurse Mary proceeded to cut the foot of tape in half, then again down the middle. Matron Mary then taped the needle to my hand with two strips, then attached the drip tube to the needle’s tube, and taped that to my forearm.

She took one of the large plastic bottles (it held about a litre) and hung it upside down from the drip rack. She stabbed the neck of the bottle with the other end of the drip tube, and then took out another syringe, this one with a long, coarse looking hypodermic.

“We are going to give you some vitamins.”  The hairs on my neck did a Mexican wave around the stadium at the thought of being given an injection with that elephant needle. But the nurse took the needle, and stabbed the base of the drip bottle with it, to allow air in. She then filled the syringe, and injected it’s contents into the drip bottle. It was a dark yellow colour. The only thing it looked like was urine. The corners of my mouth turned down, but they started the drip dripping, and I lay back in the bed.

Yuki clearly needed a brief change of scene and asked me if there was anything I needed from outside. “Some Bananas and a copy of Newsweek or something” I said. She headed off.

I lay back and watched the fan turn, listened to it whir violently. In Iraq bombs were dropping. Terrible things were going on. I was completely detached from it, sitting in the Kokni Muslim Medical Centre, trying to see if I could feel the yellowy liquid rehydrating me…

Read on

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