Tuesday, September 06, 2005


“No, not that bump, please don’t drive there.” I was sending mental instructions to my boda-boda driver. “Not this bump either, aieeeee!”

I was miserable and sicker than the proverbial dog. I’d woken up two nights ago with diarrhea, vomiting, fever, joint pain, and a host of other less-than-pleasant symptoms. I’d thought briefly of Peter, the night clerk on reception, whose office was next to my bathroom.

“No one should have to listen to this,” I thought, also recalling writer Peter Moore’s description of his girlfriend’s illness in Central America in his book, “The Whole Montezuma.” He’d discovered that she could make Donald Duck noises with her butt (apologies to my Gemstone/Disney comics editors).

But there was no time for regrets between my frequent visits to the bathroom that night.

Did I have malaria? Every faint flu-like illness must be treated with great seriousness in Africa. Especially as I was on doxycycline as a prophylaxis, and this would mask most symptoms (not that anything was masked at the moment).

I spent the day as a sick day should be spent—lying on the sofa in front of the television. I was treated to an inane soap opera called “The Bold and the Beautiful,” Oprah re-runs, and “Growing Up Gotti.” My stomach looked like those bloated stomachs you used to see on kids on those Sally Struthers ads about sponsoring an African child.

Finally, there was nothing left in my system save a little flat Coke that I’d be consuming. I was able to drag myself up the road to a tiny, rundown clinic in Bbunga.

“I’d like a malaria test please.”

A slow, bored Ugandan man poked my finger and dropped the blood on a slide. He went into the lab and gave it to an older man who was busily playing computer solitaire. The door shut and I sat on an old chair in an unlit waiting area.

“You don’t have malaria.” The younger man came out with a piece of paper stating with a handwritten statement saying exactly that. I paid 2,000 shillings (about $1.20) and slowly, painfully began the short walk back to my accommodation.

I felt better already. I’d had brief bouts of food poisoning before. But could this be giardia?

I watched some more Oprah and ate nothing. The night passed uneventfully. In the morning, I ate some plain rice and kept it down.

I’d made an appointment to see the new chiropractor at the International Hospital and already re-scheduled once. I’d go to see her and get my gut checked out at the same time.

I took the mini-bus taxi to Kabalagala and, not that anyone really wants to read this, but my stomach felt like a hot air balloon by the time I got there. I tentatively boarded the boda-boda, or motorbike taxi, and said “International Hospital please.”

The road sucked. It was dirt and riddled with potholes. There wasn’t a level spot in the whole 1.5 km distance to the hospital. Every time the motorbike bounced, I winced.

How the hell does an ambulance make this trip, I wondered.

I saw the chiropractor, and then attempted to see a doctor. This involved first sitting in a waiting area, then being interviewed by a young woman wearing a name tag that identified her as “health officer.” So she was a kind of screener, giving prescriptions to those with easy problems and figuring out who really did need to see the doctor.

She wanted me to poop in a jar and then hand it to a man in the lab. But I’d taken Immodium to get to the hospital. There would be no poop, plus how the hell does anyone get it into that tiny jar? I gave them the other stuff they asked for and then sat in the waiting area for ages.

Finally another young woman talked to me some more. She too nodded as I described my symptoms, and then said without a stool sample, there would be nothing they could say or do. I paid my bill, took the jar home, and bounced painfully on the boda-boda to the coffee shop to do some uploading. “A little gas is not big deal,” I thought. “I’m all better now.”

Au contraire, as I discovered mid-way through a BLT and fries. Oops. I visited two bathrooms before flagging down a boda-boda for the painful trip back to Kabalagala.

Peter again had a charming symphony that evening and night, while I had no sleep.

Disenchanted with my visit to the International Hospital, I took an Immodium tablet again the next morning and caught a boda-boda to The Surgery, a clinic that caters to expats and has all kinds of modern equipment.

I asked to see a doctor. I was let right in to see British Dr. Stockley, the head of the clinic. Again, I had the lack-of-stool problem, but he listened to my symptoms and suggested food poisoning as the culprit, and then gave me input on various other problems and malaria phrophylaxis questions. He gave me a few options, including “wait five days for it to go away.” I choose the one that involved a needle, instant gratification, and the fewest side effects.

A few minutes later, I found myself prone on a cot while while a nurse stuck an IV into my vein. She pumped two bottles of this stuff into me and it hurt as it went up the arm. But it worked.

Total bill for this prompt and efficient medical care: 68,000 Ugandan shillings. Only $37.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh dear heaven! Marie! nothing is more "interesting" than being sick in a 3rd world country. You escaped with much lesser "charges" than u'd get in the US. I was all excited to see charges for healthcare & dental taken out of my wages just recently (not that I checked to see if the pay was correct - must get on that!)
Hope U R feelin better soon!!! what type of anti malaria stuff do you take on a regular basis?
Paula B.