My Medical Mind Pt. 2

As a continuation of this series, I wanted to give a play-by-play of my “Polyclinic experience”. The local polyclinic is just the health clinic, called the hospital by most of the locals, and is situated about 5 mins ride from my work, about 20 mins bike from my home in Nangong-ayili.

Here follows the account of Polyclinic round 1 and 2. 3 and 4 were not so eventful.

At the Polyclinic, one of two clinics in town but the only operational one, the outdoor waiting area is filled.  It’s like people are waiting for a greyhound and not for a chance to see the one doctor here. And as I walk up to the admin desk, I am first ignored, and then told that I should go straight through.

Where does that lead? Into the room where the doctor is in the middle of treating a patient. He asks me what is wrong. In turn, I ask “Is he not finished?” and point to his current patient, sitting there mid-consultation. Everyone in the small room (doctor, 2 nurses doing paperwork, and patient) looks at me for a few moments, a bit puzzled and maybe sheepish on the doctor’s part, and then resume as if I hadn’t come in.

It’s incredibly awkward to be shoved into a position of privilege, but sometimes I can in some small ways shove myself out.

I’ve ridden by the clinic before at 8am, and there are close to 30 bicycles parked outside of the gates of this place. As my extension agent friend says “sickness does not wait”, but these people sure do, and as much as possible, so will I.

Polyclinic round 2. 45 minutes since I have arrived, a young man sits down behind the counter to take my information. He asks for my name, I am weighed, and he is writing it down when I mention I have been here before. He then asks me for my health card. “I don’t have one” I said, and he insists that if I’ve been here before, I must have one. “They did not give me one before” I insist, and he relents and writes me a new card. Waiting for the “MA” (medical assistant? doctor?) for a few minutes longer, the MA comes to the office and sits down, explaining that he was attempting to maintain the position of a man’s intestines whose (internal/external?) stitches had come out and so that is why he was busy.

I assure him that it is completely fine, and explain my poopy problem. I’ve gotten advice from my EWB coach as to what I should ask for in terms of tests, and it is definitely colouring my perception of this man’s expertise. I remind myself that I am by no means at all an expert here, and list my symptoms and durations, answer his questions, and head over to attempt to get the tests done.

By this time, it is about 6pm, and getting dark. I am sure that this is when the clinic is supposed to close, but the MA is here, the pharmacist is hanging around, as is the financial assistant to whom I pay my 6 cedis (about $4 CDN) for the two tests I’m taking to see what is perturbing my bowels.

The tech assistant tells me he will draw blood for one, and needs a fecal sample for the second. I anxiously sit and wait to see how he intends to draw my blood. He ties off my arm with a rubber tube, and is trying to find my veins, telling me I have very small veins and it is not good at all. Doesn’t really instill confidence in me. Alcohol swab, and freshly opened needle, and I’m ready to be poked.

The tech assistant, Ahamad, tells me that he is going to pray, and I should go to produce my fecal sample and use the bushes. I’m highly surprised, considering I have actually seen a sign in the clinic saying “Public Washrooms”, but I do not argue at this point because I know already that I am causing him great trouble by being here late to be tested. But really, considering they are a health care institution, I expected that they would be encouraging safe sanitation practices.

I sigh as I sit back down after we both return. Ahamad catches this and tells me that Ghana will soon send me home. Immediately I sit up and tell him that no, it won’t, which is the starting point for me learning that he is from Tamale, doesn’t want to be a lab tech, because it is tedious and inactive work, and you can contaminate yourself, but he has no choice, because a job is a job. Yet both times I have been to see him for tests, he has forgotten to wear rubber gloves. I ask him if it is better than farming at least, and he replies no! Farming is better because you are active all the time, tending your fields. And then he told me about the agglutination of white blood cells in my feces, and about the solution he mixed in recognizing the antigen. I failed to mention my university-level understanding of this concept.

My friend Rafik whom I’ve told that I went to the Polyclinic asks if they injected me. I was taken aback by this, and asked why they should inject me? His reply was, “Oh, they just do that sometimes.” Wow.

But this is congruous to what I’ve heard, in that pills and injections are what people expect from a visit to the clinic, regardless of whether they need them. Echoed by my director’s words, “When I went to the doctor my parents expected them to prick you. If you were not injected, the doctor has not done their job. They don’t believe in the drugs alone unless they are injected.”

Somehow my belief in this medical system’s efficacy isn’t high. But at least there is some small access, here in Karaga town.


About Janine Reid

What is Janine? -board game enthusiast -political observer -Vancouverite -questioner -listener -health provider
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